The most proactive CMOs are trying to understand individuals as well as markets. From a value-driven perspective, this is particularly important because value is the net positive experience customers gain in interacting with a company and using its products and services. It has many dimensions. Sets of desirable experiences vary from individual to individual because everyone’s circumstances are different.In order to improve, you need to understand what types of experiences your intended customers are having and what types they want to have. Market research reports and sales analyses can only show customers in aggregate, offering little insight into what individual customers need or desire.

A recent Global CMO Study by IBM reinforced this point. They concluded one reason most organizations struggle to get the customer insights they need is that they still focus on understanding markets rather than individuals. New social media sources have the potential to help companies discover what individual customers want. Blogs, consumer reviews and third-part reviews disclose what discrete customers are seeking. They provide a rich source of information about customer sentiment, with context, that can help companies more accurately predict demand patterns and gain crucial insights into how customers and influencers think and behave.

Unfortunately, the study reports that relatively few CMOs are exploiting the full power of the digital grapevine. Only 26 percent are tracking blogs, only 42 percent are tracking third-party reviews and only 48 percent are tracking consumer reviews. One explanation is the tools, processes and metrics these companies use are not designed to capture and evaluate the unstructured data produced by social platforms.

I’m not arguing you drop the practice of market research and focus only on individuals. Studying the market and individuals in that market both have their place in your inbound marketing activities. After all, you must provide value to a sufficient number of individuals to survive and grow as a business.

What you can do?
- You need to enable employees to engage with customers.
- Find the wikis, forums and digital communities where your customers gather digitally.
- Use Google Alerts and similar automated tools to help identify references to your company, its products and services.
- Assign employees to monitor and interact with the relevant social media in your industry and segment.
- In assessing feedback, consider if the speaker is representative of your target market and if the feedback is indicative of a trend or if it’s an isolated case.
- Define a way to capture, store, analyze and share the descriptions of positive and negative experiences your intended customers are having so everyone can benefit from these insights.

Most likely, your customers are digitally sharing their positive and negative experiences in using your products and your services. You can ignore it or you can listen and learn how to improve those experiences in order to increase the value your offer your customers. The choice is yours.
 
 
In my last two blog posts, I described how an unfortunate series of negative experiences in setting up a trial subscription to a digital newspaper overshadowed the high quality of the newspaper itself. It’s a good example of how value is defined by the sum of the experiences and is not exclusively related to the features of the product itself.
 
I thought I was ready to put this frustrating situation behind me. As I reported earlier, I decided not to renew the trial subscription. So I carefully counted the days of the trial period and made sure I cancelled prior to its conclusion so I wouldn’t be billed for any additional service. The trial ended on a Tuesday so I cancelle  on the day before, Monday.
 
Guess what. When my next credit card statement arrived, I had been charged for another month of service at the regular rate. This was frustrating for three reasons; first I had cancelled prior to the period for which they were trying to charge me; second, the charge was $35 for one month which is significantly more than the $0.99 I paid for my 90-day trial; and third I had received an email confirming I had cancelled the subscription so I was not reading the digital paper for which they were charging.
 
After I counted to 10 and took a couple of deep breaths to calm down, I called customer service to correct this obvious mistake. There I learned that the billing occurred on a Saturday, three days before my trial subscription ended and two days before I cancelled. I politely explained this was inconsistent with the terms of the trial and that I had cancelled prior to its conclusion. Although courteous in tone, the customer service rep did not seem at all sympathetic and explained that the billing cycle is on Saturdays and that’s when I was billed. After a couple of slow and detailed attempts to explain why this was not logical, I was told there was nothing he could do to remedy the situation.
 
So I resorted to my previous tactic of sending an email to the VP of Customer Service and carefully pleaded my case. To his credit, I received a response within12 hours which included an apology and a complete refund for erroneous charge.
 
Now I think this trying journey is finally over. It was infuriating but reinforced two valuable lessons. Value is the sum of the experiences you have and there is a strong emotional element in assessing the way you are treated. These can overshadow the benefits of an innovative and unique product.