In my career I’ve found that most marketers spend massive amounts of time and money on the tools of marketing – painstakingly analyzing the results of an “a/b” test, combing through email response rates, and looking for ways to get another tenth of a percent in conversion, yet most of us gloss over the most effective way to improve marketing performance – understanding the customer.
If you pause for a minute and think the marketing messages that work on you, what’s the one common denominator they all have? I think if you start watching the marketing that breaks through to you, you’ll find that they all have a message that captures your imagination and connects with you in an intimate way.
For example, an email talking to a small business owner that says “Now you can do all company’s your medical insurance tasks in one place,” might be interesting, but the same email that says “Never lose sleep again over picking the right medical insurance for your employees” will likely get a much higher open rate just because it connects with the personal problem the business owner is trying to accomplish.
All purchase decisions are at least partly emotional and personal, yet so often marketers describe their customers in broad demographic terms. They say their target market is “Millennials” or “Residential contractors.” This isn’t incorrect, but it’s lazy and inefficient.
Why? Well, to start with, there are 80 million Millennials in the US. Assuming that you can target 80 million people with the same broad message is naïve. An 28-year-old in Dallas who’s married, religious, owns a home and has two children isn’t likely to respond to the same message as a 28-year-old in Brooklyn who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with three roommates and is focused on going out. These just aren’t the same two people.
So how can you tell if you understand your customer? Here’s five questions that will help you check:
- Have you really defined your target customer?
Effective marketing requires focus. In order to develop a message that truly means something, you need to define a very specific and definitive target. This can feel limiting but it isn’t. By making your target specific and personal, you’ll develop a message that has real meaning. You’ll then find that the message works more effectively with your target audience while not turning off a broader group.
So think about the target you use when you’re creating marketing messages. How specific is it? If you use a broad grouping like “hospital administrators who want to save money,” then you’re likely sending out bland marketing that people are likely to miss.
- Do you understand what motivates your target? Do you understand the way your product can help them achieve their goals and desires?
The best way to connect with your target is the same way you connect with the people in your life – by understanding them. For example, if the purchase decision maker for your product is hospital administrators, you ought to know exactly what it’s like to be a hospital administrator.
Perhaps your product can save a hospital significant money. That’s great but you need to understand if that’s really what’s going to be compelling to the target. It may sound ridiculous (who wouldn’t want to save money?), but it isn’t.
Your target’s career may be more impacted by failure rates of the product or patient care than by cost, for example. Or they may be most motivated by what makes their job easier, no matter what the cost.
Investing in market research or at least spending time with your customers before developing messaging is key.
- Have you created a brand guide and messaging platform?
Once you have developed an understanding of your target and their motivations, you need to formalize your understanding before you create marketing. This serves a couple of purposes. First, it will ensure you really understand what you want to communicate. Secondly, it will ensure that anyone else in your company who’s talking to the customer will have a consistent and clear message.
The best marketing comes from a very tight and focused brief that succinctly outlines who the target is, why they should care about your product, and how you're going to connect with them rationally and emotionally.
- Have you checked out your marketing messages with your target customer?
I have oftentimes in my career met business professionals who proudly tell me they don’t believe in market research. Gut instincts are a cheaper way to get things done, and are just as effective, people have argued to me.
I don’t buy that argument. No one thinks about buying a house without an inspection or having a medical procedure without tests. Why would they think that it’s a waste of time to have customers react to potential messages before spending limited money on marketing?
Getting reaction doesn’t have to be expensive. It can often be accomplished just by talking to a few of your customers with whom you have a friendly relationship. People loved to be asked for their opinion. But you have to be careful when you ask for feedback. Questions like “Don’t you love this new advertising?” lead the witness. It’s important that you ask for feedback in as unbiased a way as possible. Also, make sure and thank them or compensate them for their help.
Of course I believe the best way to get true, unvarnished feedback is to have an outsider get the feedback for you. People will often be more honest with a third party than with someone they have to deal with on an ongoing basis.
- When you test marketing, do you know what’s different in the tests?
It’s important to keep testing marketing messages. Even messages that are right on strategy can sometimes fail and messages that seem on the edges of what you should do sometimes succeed.
I’ve been in too many situations where testing consists of one message the team believes in and another they threw together so that they’d have something to test. There are many problems with this approach. The team is stacking the deck in favor of what they prefer and they’re also pretty much wasting money on the other message.
For anything you test, you should be able to outline the strategy behind the message. You should also be able to identify the emotional connection you expect the message to make with your target. If you can do both of these things, then you’re in good shape to get a readable and actionable test.
The biggest thing to always keep in mind is that a human being is making the decision to buy your product. It may be a low-risk purchase (like a soft drink) or a high-risk purchase (like a SaaS offering). Either way, his/her decision to buy is both rational (does this product make sense?) and emotional (what will this purchase mean in my career and life?). Knowing the answers to those questions will help make your marketing work harder and more efficiently.