Liquor and Guessing: A Time-Honoured Marketing Tradition (That Customers Hate)

Liquor and Guessing: A Time-Honoured Marketing Tradition (That Customers Hate)

You wanna hear something strange?

In the last 2 weeks, 5 different marketers—from 3 different countries—have contacted me outta the blue to ask me The. Exact. Same. Question…

“How can I position myself as a customer discovery expert?”

These marketers aren’t just looking to pump out a quick survey or gather generic demographic data about their target market. 

They want to go deep and become specialists in qualitative research (a.k.a. “customer discovery” or “audience research”). 

They want to offer in-depth customer research as a service to their clients or become the go-to research expert on their team. 

Now, as an admitted research geek, I was obs positively giddy about this.


Customer discovery—similar to conversion copywriting, SEO or PPC—is a marketing skill that must be learned and then carefully honed over time. 

It’s fantastic that more people are beginning to understand the power of audience research. I’m thrilled that more marketers want to invest the time to learn how to *do it right* (read: with less bias, confusion, and awkwardness). 

But, before I tell you why you should pay close attention to this fast emerging trend, back to the matter at hand…

Have you heard of the “liquor and guessing” method of marketing? 

No? Not ringing a bell?

Well then, let’s hop in my time machine…

The year was 2010.

I’d just landed my first “real job” in marketing. I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and over-the-freakin-moon excited to be working at one of the top ad agencies in the region. 

I felt kinda like this…

I wanted to make a great first impression, so I studied the agency’s recent ad campaigns, zeroed in on the most successful one, and asked the Creative Director how they came up with the concept. 

I figured that if I could master the top secret, behind-the-scenes process that led to this huge win, then surely I could create a few killer campaigns of my own (and win the respect and admiration of my new team). 

The Creative Director’s answer? Well, let’s just say that it surprised me…

He laughed and said, “Honestly, it was a little liquor and guessing.”

I assumed he was joking. But as I learned more about the actual creative process at this agency (and many others), I realized that while liquor was rarely involved, the “guessing” part was actually pretty bang on.

The creative process went something like this…

We’d lock ourselves in a boardroom for an intensive brainstorming session armed with our go-to weapons:

  1. A whiteboard
  2. Post-it notes
  3. A bunch of [unvalidated and often stereotype-driven] assumptions about the audience we aimed to sell to
  4. A bit of quantitative data ← this was usually optional

We’d brainstorm a ton of ideas—some good ones and a lotta shitty ones— and we’d emerge from the boardroom hours later… exhausted, but proud. 

We’d come up with a creative campaign that WE thought was brilliant. 

Sure, we hadn’t actually talked to any *real* customers, but they weren’t the  advertising experts—we were. It was our job to tell them what they’d like, right?

Now we’d just need to get the client to sign-off on it. Success!

“Celebratory drinks, anyone?” 

Yup. THAT was the creative process used at a top tier ad firm to develop new ideas in 2010. And, THAT was the same process that I swiped and used at my own branding agency, RedRiot, for years to come. 

And, honestly? THAT process used to work pretty well. 

Smart, creative people

+ cool products

+ a little bit of guessing (occasionally fueled by liquor)

= sales

It was great. 

The only problem is… 

Liquor and guessing just doesn’t work anymore

A lot has changed in the last 10 years. There’s more competition, more noise, and it’s wayyyy freakin’ harder to get your audience’s attention.

Did you know that less than 1% of people who follow your Facebook page actually see your posts in their newsfeed? (And, according to this Hubspot article, Facebook has warned that organic reach will eventually drop to zero.)

And Instagram is following in Facebook’s footsteps… Yup. This study shows that since the beginning of May 2019, Instagram is also slowly reducing organic visibility. Engagement on Instagram has dropped 18% since the beginning of the year.

This isn’t just a problem for marketers who rely on traffic from social media. Every business with a website should be worried because Google is throttling visibility too. 

Google is scraping content like and mofo and answering more and more questions directly on the search results page. They’re also pushing more traffic to their own properties like YouTube or paid Google ads.

According to a Sparktoro, only 41% of Google searches result in an actual organic click to a website.

Graph of where people click during a Google search

This is scary sh*t, right?

Why are Google, Facebook, and Instagram waging war on marketers? Profits, of course. But there’s a deeper reason… and marketers have no one to blame but ourselves. 

The top traffic sources on the planet are changing because they know that people are positively allergic to being “marketed” to. 

Consumers are just plain fed up. They’re sick of being accosted by ads, campaigns, and content that woefully misses the mark. 

How bad is it?

“63% of consumers think marketers are selling them things they don’t need.”
(CX Network)

Let that sink in for a second. This means that nearly two-thirds of marketers are getting it wrong—their targeting is off, their messaging is weak, and their timing sucks. Marketers are getting it wrong because they’re still doing too much guessing.

If guessing your way to success doesn’t work anymore, what will?

The honest and wholly unsatisfying answer is…

It depends. 

Whomp whomp.

I know, I know. That’s not the answer you wanted. But, you also know it’s the *right* answer. 

Your audience is unique. They have hyper specific goals, anxieties, and buying triggers. You can’t get clarity about what your customers will respond to just by looking at what other brands are doing or following trends. 

The unsexy but wildly effective truth is…

If you want to understand what truly triggers your customers to buy (or stop buying), you need to talk to them

I mean like actually talk to them, like on the phone or in-person. 

I’m suggesting that you do 1:1 interviews with your actual customers (or ideal customers)—that’s how you go deep and extract powerful insights that finally move the needle. 

Image of iceberg with customer interview insights making up the majority of the ice

Customer interviews work. According to ProfitWell, subscription companies that do 10 or more customer interviews a month grow 2-3X faster. 

I’m stoked that more marketers are recognizing the power of 1:1 interviews and jumping on the research bandwagon. And big ups to super smart marketers like Tara HuntHiten ShahDavid Cancel, and Claire Sullentrope for continuing to bang the drum for qualitative research.

Personally, I think that audience research will be one of the hottest topics in marketing by 2020. Why? As I said in the tweet below, without audience research, none of the other stuff works anymore.

Interestingly (yet totally unsurprisingly), this tweet was liked by Sara Pion, a growth marketer from Drift. Drift is—wait for it—a chatbot company. They also just happen to be one of the fastest growing B2B software companies in history. Sara knows what’s up.

Yup. It’s clear that the trend towards more in-depth audience research has already begun. But many marketers are lagging behind.

According to a massive study by Coschedule… 

Marketers who do ongoing audience research are 466% more successful. Yet, only 35% marketers actually do the work.

So what the hell is going on? Why are so many marketers missing the boat on research? Are 65% of marketers just lazy idiots?

Of course not. 

As I recently talked about on the Growth Marketing Today podcast, getting started with customer discovery is actually kind of tricky.

For starters, a lot of people worry that doing customer interviews will be awkward. They don’t want to “bother their customers” (or prospective customers) and so they never take the plunge. I can promise you that your customers won’t feel “bothered.” In fact, oftentimes doing audience research actually strengthens the relationship with the customer (and can even lead to new opportunities). 

But, even if you la-la-love the idea of talking to customers or prospects IRL, getting started can still be overwhelming. 

Figuring out WHO to talk to, WHICH questions to ask, and HOW to extract useful insights from the data you gather—without biasing your data or wasting time—does require practice. 

Like I said, it’s a skill that you must develop and hone overtime. And, I assure you, it’s worth the effort. 

Talking to customers pays off, big time

Jessy is a student of mine and the Head of Marketing at FoodByte, an early stage SaaS company. He attended one of my in-person workshops and learned my unique research methods. Then he took the bull by the horns and did 5 interviews with prospective customers. 

The result? Jessy increased his cold outreach to demo conversion rate by 9X!

When you make ongoing audience research a habit, you’ll stop guessing about what to do next or where to invest your time.

You’ll have explosive clarity about what matters to your audience and how to engage them.

You’ll radiate confidence because you’ll know that your strategy is based on real customer data—and not the hottest marketing trend du jour—which will kill any imposter syndrome or shiny object syndrome that you may be fighting. 

It’s marketing gold. 

But don’t take it from me. (I’m clearly biased.) Instead, check out what Kristen had to say about customer interviews…

Are you ready to swap “liquor and guessing” for “listening and insights”?

You and I both know that liquor and guessing isn’t working for you anymore. (If we’re being fully honest… it probably hasn’t worked in a long time. You just don’t really know what to do differently.)

I’m here to help. 

I’ve got a new live webinar called Why Do Customers REALLY Buy? How the world’s top brands get inside their customers’ heads

It’s free, short and über focused on understanding what motivates customers to buy.

Short gif of Katelyn Bourgoin presenting

Click here to watch »

Questions? Comments? Cheesecake? Hit me up on Twitter and fire away!

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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