The most important part of your advertising is not your headline. The critical part of your offer is not your benefits. Instead, the most important part of your marketing efforts is about knowing your customer.
This principle is simple in theory, but frustratingly hard to put into practice. Usually I hear marketing managers complain about lack of budget to run more research. But, in fact, customers and prospects give away information about themselves all the time. Through every response, customer contact, event, transaction and web site hit, they reveal parts of their behaviour and preferences.
Here are three simple techniques that all agency planners use to better understand a clients customers. You don’t have to be an experienced planner to use them, instead take a hint from Nike and just do it!
In the One-Minute Sales Manager, Ken Blanchard writes: “Before I walk a mile in your shoes, I must first take off my own.” This is the hard part of trying to think and feel like your prototypical customer, to shed your own biases. Basically, you can’t completely ignore your own biases, but it is still very useful to try.
Run through a whole day of your customers life in your mind, not just the situations connected to your product. Visualise her life from when she wakes up to when she goes to sleep. Focus on time and emotional elements; the frustrations, the little victories, the slow minutes, the rushed hours.
This little exercise usually turns up a nugget or two and will help you find ways to be more relevant and engaging in your communication and in your customer relationships.
2. Philosophise over sales data.
There’s more to these numbers than just hitting your goals and getting your bonus. Unlike questionnaires sales data is real behaviour. These are the economic footprints of the people that actually bought your product, not the ones that ticked a box saying they might buy it. Look for patterns here.
Do you sell more on Tuesdays than any other day of the week? Why? Does the Christmas buying rush start in the north and roll southwards over time? Why? If you compare it to other categories are there similarities or anti-trends? Why? Why? Why?
This is particularly useful if you can come up with an explanation. And even better if you can’t disprove it if you try to. That theory can usually be exploited right away, and it is the best possible input to the sales force, the advertising agency and to product development. Just remember to test it out by observations and other research when you get a chance.
3. Check what your customers are looking for?
I mean, when they actually search online. Google has a couple of research tools that you get to use for free, and all instructions are on their site. Keeping track of what words your customers search for is a clue to how they think of your brand, product, and category. The order in which search terms are used, and what words get combined with your category or brand gives additional hints to what kind of problems customers are experiencing, and sometimes where they expect to find the solutions.
Every “Best practice” should come equipped with a “Perfect enough” definition. If they don’t they are a recipe for stagnation. Here’s why:
When an organisation takes a new initiative, i.e. developing a Christmas themed ad campaign, and that initiative works, it would be complete idiocy not to do it again. The next time around the experience gained in the first implementation creates improvement in execution which in turn leads to improved results. This virtuous cycle continues, and the initiative becomes an institution, and somewhere around that time improvements cease to happen. You still get good results, but you don’t get significantly better results no matter how hard you try.
This is perfectly natural. Almost every type of activity has a limited max potential and as you get nearer to maxing out, the same effort to improve the execution yields less and less improvement of (business) results. It’s called an asymptote, a value that you can get close to, but never reach. In my experience it’s usually the S-shaped version that pops up in business, with a slow start, a good ROI on efforts in the middle, and then that discouraging lessening of improvement at the end.
What happens to almost all businesses (and their marketing departments efforts) is that by getting good at something and dubbing it a “best practice” they tend do do more of it long after they’ve stopped improving results. Good advertisers continue to increase media spend. Strong sales forces keep paying for ever moire training of sales people. Clever innovators focus even more on features. Imagine what would happen if they borrowed some insights from each other! But self-critique is hard (don’t I know it) and when the tactic feels good, it works, it’s safe, why bother casting for something else?
This is when your organisation needs to realize that you’ve traveled the curve beyond the point where it’s “perfect enough”, and you should be searching for new initiatives that still have potential to deliver meaningful payoff on invested effort and resources.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be doing things that work. But good development takes good resource management, and if your looking to improve maybe it’s time to quit digging ever deeper and instead go prospecting at some other place. There’s got to be something you haven’t tried yet.