What customers can teach us about marketing

MarkWojtasiak_Customers_0915

The customer is always right when it comes to being “the customer.”

In my last post, I described how the very marketing principles I leaned on for years are helping me in my latest customer facing role as a segment manager.  Now I’m flipping it around because since, I have learned that there are 3 things customers have taught me about the value of a well thought-out market strategy:

  • Master the market
  • Be the customer
  • Cut to the chase

Now accomplishing these 3 things is not easy, but I’m a sucker for finding simplicity wherever I can, and I find it when focusing on answering Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why.  Whether it’s framing discussions with customers about the market, or framing a strategy rooted in customer insights, answering the fundamental questions not only helps keep my thought process sane, but on task. Depending on the task at hand, you can create your own who, what, where, when, how, and why questions, but I have found the ones below tend to be the ones that quite often go unanswered, or at minimum, glossed over.

MarkWojtasiak_Market_Strategy2_2015

Mastering the Market

For me, “mastering the market “is all about answering: who is the audience, what are their pain points, and where are they heading?  The answers to these questions are about truly understanding the customer, their challenges, and their directives.

Start first with the market – this is the easy part. You should know what market you want to attack.  Maybe it’s SMB, Startups, or Prosumers. Then comes the more detailed exploration – segmentation. Gather as many relevant data points from as many sources to paint a picture of the segments that make up you market. Each segment may have unique customers, and unique users. Understanding, the customers and more specifically, the users is the critical component to “mastering” the market. Each customer/user will have financial, operational, and technical challenges you need to uncover. At the same time, users act based on directives. Directives may be imposed by leadership, or direct management and they tend to be economical, philosophical, and/or aspirational in nature.

  • Economical:  Reduce costs by X% (Who hasn’t said this?)
  • Philosophical: Quality is job 1 (Ford)
  • Aspirational: A computer on every desk and in every home (Microsoft)

Tony Zambito talks about directives in the THE IMPORTANCE OF GOAL-DIRECTED BEHAVIORS TO BUYER PERSONAS

“It has been predominantly found and recognized that the pursuit of a choice or choices is largely goal-directed.”

Understand how these high level directives impact how your users think, plan, and act. Will they be looking for ways to reduce costs? Will they be more influenced by reliability and quality metrics? Or, will they be looking for creative ways to add value? 

Be the Audience

You have broken the market up into segments. You have defined your target customers / users. You know their specific challenges and directives.  Now put yourself in their shoes and get into their heads – when, how, and why do they buy the products and services they buy?

Answering when do / will they buy is about understanding their buying triggers, hurdles, and most importantly, their timeline. Are they developing a new concept? Are they already implementing and testing the concept? Or, are they committed and in full deployment / production mode?  Depending on where they are in their timeline, not only are the buying triggers and hurdles different, but who you need to connect with in terms of participants, influencers, and decision makers will differ.  Here is where understanding the customers’ / users’ buying process is critical to an effective strategy. The buying process is all about answering how they buy?

It does not stop there.  Too many times, we forget to ask why?  Why do they buy or more importantly why did they not buy? What is the customers’ / users’ rational for making a buying decision?  I have found that they tend to be economic, philosophic, or empathetic in nature.

  • Economic:  “I bought because it was the lowest priced solution, or offered the lowest TCO (total cost of ownership).”
  • Philosophic:  “I bought because it was the lowest risk solution relative to the ROI (return on investment).”
  • Empathetic:  “I bought because we have a strong relationship, and they share the same vision / goals as ours, or are best equipped to enable us to achieve our goals.”

Knowing why customers/users buy or not buy can be extremely valuable information when putting together your strategy.  Combine this with knowing when and how they buy and the strategy you put together has some serious teeth.

Cut to the Chase

Mastering the market is about identifying who is your customer. Being the customer is about truly appreciating what keeps them up at night (their challenges) where their heading (their directives), when will they get there (their behaviors), how will they get there (their processes), and why they buy what they buy to get where they are going (their rationale).

Cutting to the chase is nothing more than putting it all together into clear, simple, and concise positioning, messaging, and content designed for your customers, by your customers. You know the challenges. You know the directives. You know the behaviors, processes, and rationale, so cut to the chase and communicate to exactly who you need to with what they need, when they need it, and why.

It’s amazing when you really listen to the customer, how right they actually are, and how much they are willing to teach us about marketing.

Is it really that simple?

Advertisements

Take a break from marketing (or not)

Take_a_Break_700

When I decided to “take a break” from years in marketing to build my business acumen the wild world of product management, I came to question can one truly take a break from marketing?

My decision last year to embark on this new journey, to take on new challenges in a new world we called customer segment management was exactly that – a journey with new challenges that seems to have been all to familiar.

What I learned was that I truly never left “marketing.” I may not have been in the org, or had the title, but the practices and applications of the science (yes – it is a science) that I formed over the years are so engrained, I could not possibly avoid them. The practices and applications of everything from Content Marketing, Blogging and Social, to Brand MarketingMarketing Strategy and everything in between translated to customer segment management. The very marketing principles I leaned on not only still apply, but empower me when engaging 1:1 with customers:

  • Know your audience – not knowing is a waste of time
  • Always be listening – people don’t want to be heard, they want to be understood
  • Always be exploring – curiosity is where knowledge starts
  • Always be discovering – markets are mysteries waiting to be solved
  • Never stop creating – without a story, you’re just telling (no one likes to be told…)

Know your audience is the cardinal rule of Marketing 101, yet I cannot stress how little attention is paid to actually knowing the customer. Maybe knowing the customer is too vague and subject to interpretation. Perhaps we should try to “be” the customer.  When you put yourself in the world of the customer, you being to realize what their challenges really are – what they care and don’t care about. What makes them tick.

Always be listening comes off as obvious, but there is a big difference between hearing and listening. I found that there are things customers will tell you openly, and things that they might say with a bit of reservation.  Document everything, synthesize all of the disparate data points you’ve captured, and a picture will start to form in your head. The picture helps you begin to actually start knowing your audience.

Always be exploring is when those pesky questions and ideas start to form in your head. Don’t allow them to be passing thoughts. Write them down. Think about how you would go about answering them and start digging. What I found is that the more I dug, the more questions I had, the more exploring I did, and the clearer the path became to discovering opportunities. Which brings us to the next principle.

Always be discovering is about mystery solving.  I like to think of markets as mysteries. Some we realize all too well, and some are mysteries yet to surface. Our goal as marketers is not only to solve the mystery, but uncover new ones we can solve. The beauty is that if you are always listening and exploring, and you know your audience, this becomes a heck of a lot clearer – not easier – but clearer in terms of a path to discovery, to solving the mystery.  That path may take you all over the web scouring for data points. It may take you to more customers, new types of market research, or social media, forums, and customer hangouts. Like any good detective, don’t leave any stone unturned that may help solve the mystery.

Never stop creating is all about storytelling. Storytelling can captivate an audience. It can pull them in and entice them into a conversation or discussion, and that’s what we want whether it’s 1:1 with a customer, or in social media with many customers. Discussions support our knowing the audience and ability to listen which means we can explore, discover, and create more effectively.  Presenting, on the other hand is simply telling. What’s worse than sitting in a room listening to someone tell us about their products and services. We all have sat through those meetings, and they rarely lead to anything (getting back to know your audience).

Takeaway:

Marketing is just as much telling a story to create customers as it is listening to the stories your customers are telling you.

Image of my pup Lucy taking her own break.

Time to Market(ing) vs Just being better

The Bad News Bears finished 2nd - but were they the better team?

The Bad News Bears finished 2nd – but were they the better team?

In the technology sector it seems that first to market is something almost every tech company strives to be the best at, but it is just marketing fluff?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a marketing guy first and foremost, and there are benefits to being the “first to announce” some new fangled feature, capacity point, or even form factor. Analysts love it because it gives them some perspective on who is innovating faster, who is the “market leader,” who is the “technology leader” in a given sector.  The press and bloggers love it because it’s something new to talk about, and of course, the tech company’s love it because their “first to XYZ” is being talked about, tweeted, shared, liked, commented on, etc.  But, to truly embrace the advantage of being the first to market / announce is to back it up with the evidence that it does indeed mean something besides being the first to issue a press release.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when you are the first to announce something, but do you know what is better?  Being the first to actually ship something and see it get used in the real world, and make a difference for both users and, let’s face it, the company’s bottom line. This seems to happen quite a lot in the tech space.  A rat race to be the first to this, or the first to that.  Do consumers and business users really care who is first?  Or, do they care more about when they can get it, use it, advantage from it?  I would guess it’s the later.

Sometimes, being first doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best.  Des Traynor wrote a great piece titled “Why Being First Doesn’t Matter”  where he says, “more often than not, it’s the other way around. 47% of first-movers fail, compared with only 8% of fast followers…First-mover advantage isn’t automatically bestowed unto the first product in a category. It’s not even guaranteed to exist in your industry and, when it does, it is fought for and earned.”

So, being first is great and companies should continue to strive to being the first to announce something new and innovative that offers real advantage for users. BUT, maybe, just maybe, being first should not be the primary goal, because nothing is better than being the best.

Now that’s something to market.

Creating quality content from lead gen to close

This is a very cool infographic linking technology to the sales process. Not only does it provide the who’s who of software companies that deliver apps for prospecting, qualifying, nurturing, and closing, underneath the covers it reveals what every marketing person have some level of focus on…content.

All to often, we think the role of content is at the top of the funnel: lead generation, and that is where we place a majority of the emphasis, and rightfully so, because without leads, the rest of the enablement process falls apart.  But, in addition to lead gen, content plays a critical role from nurturing & prospecting to qualifying and closing . At each stage, the difference between success and failure lies in creating quality content to one, meet the needs of the customer, and two, meet the needs of sales as they navigate through the sales process.

When I look at this process, I see opportunities to learn what makes quality content.  I ask myself the following questions:

  • What content is driving the most web traffic & creating the most leads?
  • How can that content be leveraged into a sales script for prospecting?
  • What questions are potential customers asking and how do we use content to best address those concerns ahead of time?
  • How do potential customers engage for more information?  Is it via webinars, online forms, social media?
  • What does the art of negotiation look like? Are there consistent “asks” that could point to something marketing could address through programs?
  • How happy is the customer? How has our solution benefited them?  Is there a case study opportunity here?

Of course, there are more questions that arise than simply the ones listed above, but these are the most common. By working with sales through the process, marketers can get a better grasp of the needs of the customer. The more intelligence collected, the greater the opportunity to create the right content.

And the right content just might speed this entire process along.

Quality content also starts with avoiding the mistakes

Well, my timing finding this infographic by UBM Tech (thanks to visual.ly) could not get any better, considering my last post on content quality over quantity. In a nutshell:

  1. No B.S…”we’ll see right through it.”
  2. The fresher the better…”tell me something I didn’t know.”
  3. Cut to the chase…”what’s in it for me?”

Mind the gaps in determining content quality over quantity

wojtasiak_Content quality over quantityWhen it comes to creating content, we always hear quality “over” quantity, but I often ask myself how much “over?”
.
Thinking about what content we create, when we publish it, where we publish it, to whom the content is targeted, why we created it in the first place, and how it will be measured, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are creating enough, but is it of the best quality?  Is it simple to consume? Does it cater to the audience’s consumption preferences?
.
This proved to be a good exercise because it forced me to look long and hard at the content we are creating, and the gaps in our strategy and execution.
.
Breaking down the content machine:
Content_quality_over_quantity
Obviously, we are creating a ton of content, but how efective is it working? The above matrix could be dissected in a million different ways with content marketing best practices applied to each and every cell. Instead of doing that in one very long and detailed post, let’s start with the obvious gaps.
.
  1. What: There seems to be a lack of rich media with the exception of infographics, the list is pretty old-school. Suggestion is to focus more on leveraging video, webinars, e-books, etc.  Content that enables the target audience to better interact with the content and thus the publisher.
  2. When: The fact that we are producing content with consistency is a good thing.  What is glaring is the thought that each piece is published once and at a single point in time. Perhaps to give the content more attention, we should be sharing more often.  Share different pieces of content on social networks several times over the course of the month or quarter.  Sharing it only once limits it true potential.
  3. Where: The obvious gap here, with the exception of social networks, is that the content lives entirely on the company website.  Find the places where the target audience lives and start repurposing content into contributed editorials, comments on blog posts, or to answer questions on IT forums.
  4. Whom:  Maybe this segment is simply too broad.  How can we further segment this audience to create content of better quality, and geared to a specific group of people within the IT Pro umbrella?
  5. Why:  Although we are addressing each stage of the buying process, should we be doing more to drive decision?  Is relying only on case studies and only on a quarterly basis limit the impact? Dive in deeper to that further segmented audience to understand what additional content types will drive decision.
  6. How:  Metrics are always a challenge, and no where do we look at number of leads, customer acquisition, or even sales.  Can we do a better job of linking content closer to the sales cycle?  Marketing metrics like views, comments, shares, etc. are nice, but do they communicate the ultimate goal of content marketing, and that is to create sales opportunities?
.So, I think I have answered my own question in terms of quality over quantity. To truly measure content quality, we first need to fill some of the gaps in our content plan, and take a closer look at what content is driving sales activity.  We need better analysis to determine what mix of content is helping the target audience move through the buying process. When we figure that out, we are one step closer to figuring out the “over” in quality over quantity.
What additional gaps do you see in this plan?
.
Related Posts:

Since your waiting…check out the tabloid rack

grocery-store-magazine-at-checkout-aisle-lo-res82% of Facebook’s photo traffic is driven by only 8% of the photos it stores.

Seems like a royal waste of technology, energy, and money to store that 82% on the same  technology that stores and delivers the 8%. That is the challenge in front of Facebook.

Facebook cannot delete any photos, so how do they cost effectively store billions of them?  It’s not that simple, because cost-effectively usually means slower in the digital storage world, and slower storage means longer wait times for those old photos to load. Are we okay with that? We wait in line at the grocery store. Sometimes for several minutes – unheard of on the internet – talk about abandonment rates.  In Facebook’s case, we are not talking minutes…more like seconds, so the question is, what to do with those seconds?

Stealing a page out of the grocery store playbook, why not sell the space / time? We flip through tabloid, home improvement, and health magazines.  We may even through a pack of gum, or bag of chips in the cart, just because we’re “captively” waiting.  What if Facebook used those precious seconds to share trending topics, news headlines, or, dare I say it, advertising?

Who would have thought slower data storage could create a marketing opportunity?

Disclaimer:  I’m also a corporate blogger for Seagate’s The Storage Effect, so my affection for storage technology is apparent.