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How to Truly Understand the Customer at the Deepest Level

By Anthony Taylor - October 02, 2020


"Most mediocre insight you see in business comes not from bad researchers or faulty techniques.. the question itself was destined to lead to mediocrity"


Gunny Scarfo is the co-founder of Nonfiction Research, a market research firm that is dedicated to uncovering and understanding the uncensored lives of customers, and the information they wouldn't even mention to their friends. Gunny has also held multiple Head of Strategy positions, including one at Carrot Creative, a social media agency acquired by Vice Media in 2014.


On this episode of the Strategy & Leadership Podcast, Gunny hones in on how to truly understand the hidden desires our customers hold, as well as the symbolic relationships they have with our products and services.


Along with understanding your customers, it's vital to understand your own employees. Make sure you're asking them the right questions:



Here's a breakdown of the episode:

  • Why you need to have a 'burning question'

Gunny explains why it's so important to have a 'burning question' at the heart of your research that acts as a guiding light and purpose, when trying to learn more about your customers. When working with clients, he encourages people to use vernacular language that is free or jargon, in order to zero in on a meaningful 'burning question' and purpose.


  • An underused tactic to learn about your customers

Gunny delves into one of the more underused methods of learning about your customers: the rogue interview. The isn't always enough time or money to do a fully nationalized quantitative study of your customers, and the rogue interview is the answer. These interview are conducted with the people who know your customers best (think support staff, service deliverers).

  • A skill that's necessary to understand your customers

A skill that Gunny looks for in prospective employers, that is also necessary to truly understand your customers, is being able to feel what other people feel and quickly establish intimacy with a total stranger. At the end of a deep conversation with one of your customers, you should experience a bittersweet feeling knowing you'll never see them again. Practice talking to strangers. Practice sharing something about yourself that's embarrassing. Practice intimacy.

  • What you know about your customers is probably wrong

Gunny and his team believe that with the swell in emotion regarding COVID and various political conversations, there has been a de-coupling of the drivers of purchase behaviour. When previously you might've asked questions about brand preference or price sensitivity, now more than ever it's the "silent darkness of people's emotional lives" influencing what they buy and the companies/products that are relevant to them.

To learn more about his work and read their new report about the secret lives of Americans based on Spotify playlists, visit nonfiction.co


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