Don’t Miss Your Industry’s Brexit

November 21, 2016 by Sean Rice in Content

This year featured a couple of unexpected election outcomes in the U.S. and abroad. Learn how to apply lessons from these elections to answer this question:

Do you know who your customers are and why they should vote for you?



If the surprising election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has taught us anything, it’s that the majority of pollsters, reporters and politicos were listening to (and reporting on) an incomplete set of voters. As the the U.S. media looks back on this, the consensus appears to be that the experts listened too closely to others like themselves, and not closely enough to the voters outside of their normal circles, who turned out in unexpected numbers. Because of this, nearly everyone, regardless of which way they cast their own vote, expected Clinton to win.

This bears resemblance to another major political upset that happened across the ocean a few months ago: the Brexit, when the U.K. voted (to the surprise of the British media and government) to exit the European Union. And it will happen again, perhaps as a major upset in your industry.

Your customers vote with dollars

If we take what the political pundits are learning about this year’s presidential election and apply it toward your marketing, it becomes clear that your voters are your customers. They vote by spending money with you instead of with your competitors. Do you know who your customers are and why they should vote for you?

Causing the upset

Let’s face it, you’re not reading this because you want to run with the pack like everyone else. You want to emerge at the front. You want to cause the upset. You want to be the Brexit — and catch your competitors off guard. Here’s how you do it.

1. Get in sync internally about who your customers are

Form a cross-functional working group. It’s important to include people who deal directly with customers as well as people driving the marketing and product vision of the company. Start by defining your core demographics, and explore the lives of these potential customers. What drives them? What other products do they buy? Why?

2. Look for groups of people that are underrepresented in your customer base

It’s time to get hyper-focused. If you think “millennials” is focused enough, you’ve got some work to do. You should have some groups like “train-commuting twenty-somethings who trail run on the weekends” or “cellphone-addicted, environmentally conscious snapchat junkies.” These people should have a compelling reason to buy your product, but don’t make up a large enough portion of your customer base.

3. Find these people and talk with them at length about their lives, preferences, wants and needs

First, determine if you want to talk to existing customers or potential ones. Then find some people in each group (you may need to go outside of your normal circles) and have some conversations. Schedule phone interviews, buy a few strangers coffee. Always record everything. Try not to take too many notes. Active listening is key.

4. Mine these conversations for hidden behavior or preference patterns

When you’ve got a good sample size (start with five from each group, although you may need many more), take your recordings and scrub them for data points. Are you seeing patterns emerge?

5. Pivot your marketing or product to target these patterns specifically

One of our clients, Dime Bank, realized that despite their best efforts to market to millennials, they were underperforming. Through a process of engaging actual customers, they realized that millennials interested in their product were not getting the information they needed from their product pages to make a decision on their product. With our help, they made a course correction in their design and content, and saw their millennial account openings increase dramatically.

Who are you listening to?

Are you reading market research that groups people by age, gender, location, ethnic background and social strata? That’s all well and good. It’s table stakes. Your competitors are doing the same thing because they have to in order to keep playing the game.

One mistake that the Clinton supporters in the U.S. and the “Remain” group in the UK made was basically stopping here and assuming that the numbers, which showed them in a favorable position to win, would play out like the experts foretold. So, they kept telling themselves this was the case, creating a cycle of self-affirmation, instead of looking around for people they weren’t listening to.

Avoid the traps

The easiest trap to fall into in this process is to make assumptions about your customers and overgeneralize your marketing efforts as a result. We’ve all heard them before:

  • Millennials are always on their phones.
  • Gen X is change-resistant.
  • Women are attracted to pink.

Conventional market research may even support these generalizations. But you won’t win unless you look deeper, listen more closely and adapt to what you find.

Of course we can help!

You didn’t ask yet, but the answer is, “Yes, of course we can help you with that.” At Ethology, this type of customer empathy and deep listening is part of our DNA. It’s in our name. For us, journey maps, buyer personas, UX research and customer experience roadmaps are the first steps toward finding the hidden customer patterns and targeting them to plan for how to be the Brexit for your industry.

Your competitors won’t even know what hit them.

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About the Author

Sean is a Senior UX Designer at Ethology, focusing on user empathy through research, journey mapping, and usability testing as well as interaction design through innovation workshops, collaborative sketching and prototyping.


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