Study your customers to find your brand’s answers


If customers will only value brands, if brands value customers, imagine if there was some magical way to know exactly what this value looked like and how a brand could deliver it.

The principles of marketing haven’t changed. Value and relevance are words so well used they’re practically ubiquitous across marketing literature. This blog is, clearly, no exception. But somehow, despite universal support for these concepts, we have failed to consistently deliver either.

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Einstein

If it is so well known that we need to provide value to our customers in a way that resonates with them, why don’t we always do it? Why are we forced to withstand terrible customer service and arduous journeys in our quest for something we want?

All too often, when planning our brand activities for next year, we start our quest with the brand and what we what we want the brand to do. Our brands do not have emotions, they do not make decisions, they cannot build reputations nor can they dash them for that matter. Our customers do. So they are who we should be focused on.

The easiest way to raise the profile of your brand is to bring some level of reward to those customers who do know about your brand and even better if they actively engage. This does not need to be some revolutionary reward, in most cases, it is the beautifully obvious that is the most beneficial.

To give you an example, last year I was at a street party and on every corner there were people trying to hand out flyers. No one wanted one so for the most part these people were ignored and the people handing out the flyers slowly got louder and pushier — sound familiar? The key issue in these situations, as everyone, but particularly women will know, is the toilets. Public spaces, alcohol and a big crowd rarely equate to good toilet experiences.

Understanding this, one of the people handing out flyers took the step to staple toilet paper to their flyers. This person then simply had to stand there — people started actually going up to them, asking for flyers. They answered questions when asked, but was otherwise quiet in comparison to the others. Most people undoubtedly threw away the flyer afterwards, but that kind of reach and awareness normally costs a lot more than a roll of loo paper.

My point is not to staple toilet paper to your brand packaging, but two things:

Firstly, it is as simple as understanding your customer and their needs. Start with your customer, study them, examine their behaviours and their needs. Consider the environment and context of why they would or wouldn't purchase your product; this will help you to elucidate the challenges they face. In some cases the needs you can discover for yourself and in other cases you will need to listen to your customers.

Understanding your customers and their challenges is the easy part, because when you start to search across the entire customer journey (beyond simply where your brand plays) you will see that customer challenges are plentiful. Deciding which of these challenges to focus on, is when your brand thinking can begin, as the solution needs to be good for you and your customers.

The second part, the solving part is about getting the right people in the room and plugging a gap. And when you’re trying to think of the solution, remember it doesn't need to break the bank or change the world, ideally it shouldn't — simplicity is the ultimate goal. It could be as easy as a staple and piece of toilet paper.

If we think about Uber, who are currently doing the rounds as a case study in most marketing presentations, what did they do that wasn't obvious when you sit down and think about it? Yes, they have an undeniably impressive business model, but the actual service, well it isn't mind-blowing, they just solve a need. The taxi industry has been in a horrible state for a long time, as anyone who has regularly used taxis will know. Terrible service, largely unreliable and high prices. The use of an app, the rating of the driver, the digital payment — all simple but hugely beneficial solutions. And the real beauty of Uber, for me, is that as a customer you are rated as well. Customers are happy to take their accountability. I should be rated as a customer as much as I rate a brand. Why not?

If you break down the components of Uber’s brand package it roughly fits into: convenience, value, credibility. And it’s devastatingly easy to translate that across brands and industries. You take any brand in any industry, and with enough thinking you will see a customer, their challenge and a solution. So why doesn't every brand take this approach? Why do so many brands fall back on the same old marketing package of brand-driven adverts rather than considering marketing as services that meet customer needs?

ROI.

Three letters with so much weight they can stop a conversation dead. It is difficult for marketers to look beyond the simple but short-term joy of a TV advert. I can measure my ROI look in the mirror and say “damn, I nailed that”. You didn't, you just pulled the same tricks out of an old, battered bag.

Admittedly, customer-driven marketing takes more effort up front than a TV ad and it is more difficult to measure the ROI of each element of the solution, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth it. Take the time to and study your customers up front and in full. Listen to them and react to what they say.

Almost every element of your campaign should be frantically clinging to some juicy insight (another terribly over-used word, but still). I’m aware that some research reports are over-complicated and desperately too long, but as marketers it is our sole job to create good marketing, so make time and budget space for research — digital, focus groups, whatever format you would prefer. The answer is in there somewhere, it is just up to you to find it and apply it to your scenario. There lies your value. There lies your relevance.

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