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?

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?”

How to FRAME your content plans

Content may be the all important deliverable that can spell success or failure of any marketing initiative. You can have the right message, the right target audience, the right vehicles, but if the content does not deliver the message in a way that resonates with the audience, and in a format that fits the media you are using…odds are your efforts may be lost.

Content marketing is something that I have been touting where I work for the past year as a strategist, and now that I have moved into the management and execution of an actual initiative, it’s time to drink my own kool-aid. I am learning that when it comes to content, it’s easier said than done.

Content marketing is probably one of the most used buzz words in marketing circles today. Every single marketing consultant and/or agency is touting its importance and providing valuable insights as to the best content to create for whom and through what vehicles.  Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up.

I recently read and enjoyed Gareth Case’s “Why Every Marketer Must Exploit 4 Dimensional Marketing” because it got me thinking more about not only the content I will create, the target audience, and the vehicles, but the realisation that you can never create enough content. I know, content costs money and time, but if you are able to create a good balance of content through the buying process, you should be able to manage your resources well.

My approach…I work for a technology company, so this may be skewed a bit…I like to “FRAME” my content planning this way…

  1. Foundation: Start with foundational content which in our case is typically whitepaper driven aimed at more technically minded professionals. I assume you have already established the target audience and the vehicles in preparation of creating the foundational content.
  2. Repurpose: Think of ways to repurpose that content into at minimum 10 other pieces of content aimed to address the needs of a specific vertical market or job function (to Gareth’s point), buying process stage (awareness, evaluation, decision, support), and format (blog, video, tweet, eBook, etc).
  3. Assemble: Take an inventory of the content you are creating by audience, buying stage, and format to determine your editorial calendar or content to do list.
  4. Map: Map the content created to the media or vehicles in your plan, and establish a timeline.

For me, since my initiative is new to the company, phase one is dedicated to awareness and education/evaluation building through blogs, contributed editorial, PR, etc.  As we “connect” with partners and customers, we begin to build more evaluation and decision content (case studies, best practices, technical guides, training, etc). This is phase 2 content that begins to get weaved into the website, blogs, social media, etc. By this point, we should be building out our programs and structure to aid the purchase and support phases of the buying process (loyalty programs, incentives, customer service tools, etc.)  At the end, some 9-12 months after the initial launch, we have a complete content structure that addresses needs throughout the buying process.

Oh, step 5 – Enhance:  Always refine and refresh your content to give it longevity.

Where do you start?

Related Posts:

Don’t promote to promote – my 5 content “musts”

Why content is key from Interest to Advocacy or Awareness to Support

Content marketing – don’t blame the club

Content as the path through the buying process

Don’t promote to promote – my 5 content “musts”

“Informative, non-promotional content in the form of webinars, white papers, videos, blogs and peer recommendations on social networks and forums can attract prospects,” said eMarketer’s Lauren Fisher, author of the new report, “B2B Lead Generation: Using Content to Acquire Customers.” Read the complete article.

non-promotional?

I thought content marketing was all about promoting the company, the product, the brand?

Okay, I really don’t think that, but others might, or at least have in the past before “control” was passed to the customer…thanks to the internet and social media. How you approach content and the “marketing or promotion” of that content ultimately impacts its effectiveness in making a connection with the customer.

All of this reading and learning about content marketing has drastically altered my approach to the old editorial calendar and what content I fill it with. There will always be the tried and true pieces of collateral that are “givens” like spec sheets, for example.  But beyond that, looking back at my content history, my approach has drastically changed. If I had to sum up my approach then and now, it would look something like:

  • Then: Serious, Now: Lighthearted
  • Then: One-dimensional, Now: Non-dimensional
  • Then: Product, Now: Solution
  • Then: Long, Now: Short
  • Then: Complex, Now: Simple
Based on this introspection, I would sum up my approach to content with these 5 “musts”:
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  1. Never be overly serious. Write conversationally because, ultimately, that is what you want to start…a conversation.
  2. Create once, publish many.  Look to re-purpose your content into at least 5 different pieces.
  3. Answer: why do I care? Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Connect the dots on what it (the product) means for them professionally, personally, emotionally, etc.
  4. Time to consume matters. The best content is the stuff that inspires in seconds, minutes, not hours.
  5. Avoid TMI (too much info). The simpler the layout the better. Use bullets, lists, simple charts and graphs to effectively tell the story.
What rules do you always stick by when creating your content?
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What I learned from "attentionomics": Get a life!

Are you inadvertently killing your content?

Edelman Digital shared their Digital Insights package last month and I took another look at Steve Rubel’s post and the presentation (probably because I have been reading Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, and I’m on a content creation and marketing kick right now, both for my day job, and myndfuel).

The Edelmen Digital Insight package reiterates much of what I have been learning from Content Rules. It’s a fact that content and information available continues to grow exponentially , while our attention span and ability to consume content stays flat. As the presentation states, “Attention doesn’t scale.”   One way to combat this is to breath some life into your content. Let it see the world.

Many times in the past, we’ve created content for the company’s website, and we thought it was awesome, but the metrics told a different story.  So what happens when it comes time to budget to create more of the same type of content? The budget police  say, “It didn’t work. We won’t spend the money on it again. It’s ineffective.” When in all actuality, allowing content to live in one location, inevitably kills it.  In some ways, content is human.  It needs interaction. It needs to get out of the house and see new things, try new things, meet more people, experience more.  It needs to live.

Why are you not getting any attention?

Because you’re not doing anything to deserve it.  You’re not out there meeting new people, learning new things, seeing new places, and sharing your ideas and experiences.  The same can be said for your content.  Give it a chance to live…maybe it will grab the attention it deserves.

So, content…Get a life!

What are your ideas for allowing content to live?

Image by: http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2007/02/

Get 'er done…go for the "little wins"

Admittedly, as a marketer, I have always been one to focus on the near term.

  • Where could marketing present instant value?
  • How could the company receive instant reward?

Maybe it’s my small business roots where as the only marketing person, I focused on what was needed to move the needle now. This can be a blessing and a curse.  Sure, you’re the guy that gets things done, but are you the guy that can think strategically? Face it, no one wants to be the short-term guy. We want to be the strategic, visionary, innovative marketer that can set a course for long-term success in whatever we do.  All of the great leaders are innovators / visionaries.  At the same time, their great marketers and communicators otherwise their ideas would never get off the ground.

I came to this realization that for anything to matter, it has to have longevity. This realization came when I made the move to a much larger company.  Like many, one that tends to move at a much slower pace than what I was used to. Quite an adjustment for the small business marketer that aims for instant results, but heck life’s a journey, and I need to “grow-along to get along” if you know what I mean.

So my advice, go for the little wins, but think strategically on how those little wins will fit into the larger picture. For the best results,  look at what derives the best results short term and funnel those into a long term strategy.  The little wins are kind of like a pilot program. Apply this thinking to:

  • Content & Communications Strategy
  • Sales Enablement
  • Social Media
  • etc

Of course, you will need the metrics to prove results. I’ll talk about those later. Little wins can make a big difference in the long run.

Get ‘er done.

image by: Volkswagon