What customers can teach us about marketing

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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.

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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?

Take a break from marketing (or not)

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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.

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?”

Data driven marketing…think like a startup

Some may say we already are. Others say being overwhelmed only applies to businesses that are trying to become data driven.  Which raises the question, is it more difficult for old-school institutions / organizations to become data driven than those companies that are born out of a data driven model?

I would argue yes – of course.  Think of startups today. So many of them are leveraging public data sets in the cloud to develop their business plans, identify market needs, focus in on target markets, develop their solution, and execute their strategy.  That is one thing that cloud has enabled…the ability for the entrepreneur to leverage low cost compute and storage resources, open source software, and big data analytics to jump start businesses with innovation that would take their larger more established, dare I say slow-moving, competitors exponentially longer to launch.

Not only is the ability to leverage the cloud and big data evident to incubate ideas, it’s quickly becoming the mechanism to market and sell said solution.  I did a post for Seagate Storage Effect blog on this very subject titled: 10 best practices for a cloud based business model.

Number 9 Assemble, Don’t Build uses loyalty programs as an example. “Imagine coordinating CRM customer contacts with social media analytics and sentiment with big data Hadoop data analytics software.  Now, take that data and import it into visual analytics software to create charts and graphs on real-time trends. Combine that with a predictive analysis app to look for patterns by geographic area, and take that and integrate it with automated marketing to launch a highly targeted end user email, social media, online, or mobile campaign.”

Startups are doing this everyday. Being born in the era of cloud and big data has enabled them to do what 94% of executives at large companies are unsatisfied with – their innovation process.  The great thing about this is that it doesn’t stop at innovation.  Effectively, and efficiently creating, executing, and measuring a marketing strategy born in data, well, that’s what we all strive for as marketers, don’t we?

image by: http://www.trackresults.com/

When blogging, go beyond just clicking “Publish”

In my last post, I wrote about search and the importance of priority, plan, and purpose to how we use the social platforms available to us. That thinking too me back to step one in this effort to better understand content marketing – the content itself.

I will be the first to admit that I am as guilty as the next in worrying more about blog post frequency and substance than the nuts and bolts of optimizationsyndication, and communication.

Thanks to Brody of DivvyIQ for sharing this extremely helpful infographic that break down exactly what one should do beyond creating content.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t rush to publish – take the time to optimize for search.
  • Tweak and “tweet” more often because one size does not fit all when it comes to status updates.
  • Get outside and play –  Break away from the walls of WordPress or Blogger and ask for feedback, comments, retweets, and always return the favor.

Questions to ask when defining your target audience

In my last post, Why marketing is a color by numbers game I tossed around the idea of how using the right data can help paint a picture of who your target audience is.  Before I could determine what the right data is, I had to start asking myself, what do I need to know about this person, or segment of the market?

So, I took a stab at listing out some questions, and look for input from you on what I may be missing.

 Related Posts:

Why marketing is a color by numbers game