Some years back, a article encouraged executives to “staple yourself to an order” to understand the customer experience their companies offer from the customer’s perspective. Only in this way, the authors claimed, could companies consistently satisfy – and even delight — their customers.

Two recent articles in The New York Times have highlighted the growing importance of customer experience research as a vital tool for brand marketers. What each of these articles demonstrates is how a Taylor client partner is using cutting-edge techniques to drive deeper engagement with their brand, by understanding every aspect of their customer experience.

The first is Charles Duhigg’s feature earlier this month in The New York Times Magazine  (“How Companies Learn Your Secrets”), which describes the role of “habit specialists” — specially-trained researchers who study how consumers actually use product brands in the context of their daily lives. In one example, our client partner Procter & Gamble deployed a team of researchers to help market the Febreze brand. The researchers videotaped dozens of households, seeking to understand how real-life consumers actually used Febreze in their homes. The behavioral insights gleaned from these videos helped Febreze become one of the most successful brands in P&G’s history.

The second is Ken Belson’s article on the strategic initiatives developed by Taylor that informed our client partner ’s five-year industry action plan (“Reacting to its Stalled Popularity, Nascar Checked Under the Hood“). Belson chronicles how Taylor needed to devise entirely new approaches to uncover the underlying reasons why NASCAR fans were no longer engaging with the sport as they once had. He devotes particular attention to the Fan Cohort research our team designed to explore how the NASCAR live-event experience compared to that offered by other sports and entertainment venues. In four key NASCAR markets across the country, two ‘family cohorts’ (families with young children) and two ‘friendship cohorts’ (groups of young adult friends) were recruited to attend three different types of live events on three successive weekends: a NASCAR race; another professional sports event, such as an NFL game; and a non-sports event, such as a circus. Participants (72 in all) were required to capture their impressions on every aspect of their experience at all three events in real time — and were provided with personal video cameras to do so. At the conclusion of all three events, every cohort participated in a focus group to contrast their experiences at each. And while Fan Cohort research was only one of many methods utilized by Taylor to inform the strategic recommendations we made to NASCAR, it stands out in my mind as an example of how great companies are going to unprecedented lengths to understand their consumers.

What is driving category-leading companies like NASCAR and P&G to invest in ever more sophisticated forms of customer experience research? The answer is really quite simple. At a time when the competition for the consumer’s dollar is fiercer than ever before, marketers need deep insights to understand what will delight their consumer, and create lasting engagement with their brands. The market leaders of the future will be those companies which not only recognize how central the customer experience they provide is to their overall success; but also are willing to make the necessary investment to obtain the insights which can make that experience a reality.