Love & Obsession

“If you want your customers to love and obsess about your brand, you need to really love and obsess about your customers,” Matt Ellingsen of indie agency Intrsct emphasised to NZ Marketing recently.

To truly obsess about your customers, you need to design your business around them. Businesses are beginning to understand the benefits of a customer-centric model and realising how this differs from being customer focused (designing products, services and experiences for customers). 

This new model requires a heightened understanding of the customer. There’s a need to integrate specific elements of customer understanding into key levers of change (above just the offering), such as purpose, vision and strategy, culture, environment, etc.

At the heart and start of this is a nuance and depth of customer understanding many businesses are still grappling with, where polysemy is their undoing. ‘Needs’ and ‘insights’ are still at the core, but if we’re wanting to obsess in a way that builds a relationship rather than puts up barriers, we must really get to grips with what these are and mean, and how we use them effectively. 

What do customers really need?

Do we really understand the difference between needs, desires and wants? We often use these words interchangeably. The neuroscience behind this is fascinating. Different parts of the brain are activated when someone needs something versus when they desire or want something.

The ways in which those parts of the brain connect and drive action are different. When we refer to customer needs, we’re often talking about desires and wants, and in these cases, it requires different mechanisms to get a customer to engage. 

Not all insights are created equal 

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Not all insights are created equal. Or, more importantly, not all human insights are created equal. 

The definition of a human insight is ‘an accurate and deep level of understanding of someone and the things they attach to their lives’. To truly understand what motivates people to behave the way they do – at their deepest level – you must understand the belief and/or value systems that guide them.

To do this effectively, it’s important to understand how layers of information are housed and connected in the mind and, therefore, how to ask questions effectively to peel back layers, and how to work from actions/behaviours through thoughts and emotions to beliefs and feelings. These beliefs and feelings form the basis of the belief/value systems we’re after. 

Easy, right? 

Well, of course not. People are complex beings. Translating information in the right way and at the right time requires understanding. The biggest challenges we see businesses grappling with are: 

  1. What people say they do/believe/need is not always or typically what they do/believe/need.
    There are numerous conscious and subconscious reasons why people tell mistruths. How do you bring the proof points you require to know the information you’re gathering is accurate? 
  2. Keeping the voice of the customer alive for long enough. The ‘direction’ the needs are taken from is paramount. It’s what a customer needs and not what you think they need, and this is where complexity arises. 
  3. Translating this into value for the company. The direction the value takes from company to customer, addressing the connection points of need/desire/want and belief/value systems and the barriers this may generate. 

Building mastery 

Your agency shouldn’t know more about your customers than you do. You need to build mastery within your business, and not just within individuals. 

At Intrsct, we’re obsessed with building human-centred business design mastery. Everything we do designs New Zealand’s most aspirational businesses to significantly contribute to a thriving, equitable economy for all. We’re unquestionably passionate about people, inspired by the science of creativity, driven by results that matter. 

For more information, email Matt at [email protected] or visit

This was first published in the March/April 2024 issue

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