What can an iconic brand like Levi Strauss learn from listening to its customers? As it turns out, plenty!

The Disconnect Between Companies and Customers

As companies grow, there are inherent challenges to gathering and acting upon meaningful insights from customers. Some structural (ex. multiple layers between decision makers and front-line personnel), others cultural (ex. overestimating the power of brand relevance in a hyper-competitive market), while others are operational (ex. lacking systems and technology to gather and share data).

Understanding Your Customers

Whatever the case, building a successful marketing function within your organization requires putting your customers front and center of all your marketing activities. It’s the only way to truly understand how they use your products, what features and benefits they care about most, and the words and phrases they use to refer to your brand. Priceless information. Information you typically won’t have at your disposal unless you seek it out!

Levi’s Listening Tour

In the case of Levi Strauss, newly appointed CEO Chip Bergh went on an extensive listening tour. During his first month on the job he met with every top executive. During the second month he scheduled an in-home visit with a customer in Bangalore--and that’s when he struck marketing gold. As he met with her, he learned she had 10 pairs of jeans representing a range of different brands. They talked about each and every pair. What she liked, what she didn’t, and when she wore them. It was during that exchange she said “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s.” Boom! Just like that, Levi’s had a new advertising tagline. All from taking the time to listen to a customer.

I still get goosebumps when I recall that moment. To me, her words captured the essence of our brand.

Chip Bergh, President & CEO Levi Strauss

The Key to Gathering Customer Insights

Listening to your customers is one of the absolute easiest and inexpensive things you can ever do. Something that can help shape the direction and success of your marketing campaigns, refine your messaging to better reflect your customers’ wants and needs, and build deeper connections with the people that buy your products. As the Levi’s example points out, listening to your customers doesn’t have to be complicated or labor intensive. Here are five tips for listening to your customers:

  1. Start with broad questions about lifestyle and interests. This not only helps to serve as a conversational ice breaker, but it can also provide incredibly useful insights into the experiences and views that help shape how and why they use your product. For example, where do they live (on their own? with their parents? with a partner?)? Where did they go to school? What industry do they work in? What are their hobbies?

  2. Narrow down your questions to focus specifically on how they use your product as well as those of your competitors. In the case of Levi’s, Bergh walked through every pair of jeans the customer owned—not just their brand of jeans. Without that distinction, their conversation likely wouldn’t have gone in the same direction.

  3. Ask follow up questions as needed based on the flow of the conversation. When we interview customers on behalf of clients, this is where we always find the best insights. We’re always listening for those hidden gems that only come from real-time conversations.

  4. Review your responses. Here the important thing is to look for anything that immediately jumps out. If you’re lucky enough to hear something as powerful as “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s” you’ll know right away you have something special. Other times you have to dig a little deeper to identify the right themes and takeaways.

  5. Take action. Listening to your customers is only the beginning. To have a real impact, you need to put their words into action. Identify the right internal team and work together to develop and execute a cohesive marketing strategy.

In-home visits were once commonplace for most CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies, but the rapid shift in focus to digital marketing, increasing internal complexities of gathering and sharing actional insights, and budgetary constraints have stolen some of their thunder.

Regardless there’s still no substitute for listening to your customers first hand. Even if you’re faced with time and resource constraints, customer interviews don’t always have to be an in-home visit. Depending on your business and your products, you can always schedule a phone call or ask customers if they have a few minutes to share their thoughts on your products the next time they visit your business.

Next Steps

Want to learn more about how Chip Bergh is leading Levi’s brand back to growth? You can hear the whole story in this great write up in Harvard Business Review. You can also check out their #liveinlevis campaign on Instagram. Have questions about listening to your customers? Drop us a note.