This past summer, when I was interviewing for jobs, I drafted the notes below for a follow-up meeting with a tech company (that ultimately did not happen.) Re-reading them recently, I realized they would make a decent post about the marketing process, so I stripped out the specifics.
Marketing is a process that combines art and science. The more grounded your art is in your science, the more repeatable the process and the more successful you will be. The marketing plan also relies on many different inputs — including the expertise and experience of all the members of the team, past results, market research, data from the field and customer feedback. You can’t develop a marketing plan without the data and the team contributions.
Budget and timing are also factors. When it comes to marketing tactics, there’s fast, cheap and everything in between. Typically, the most cost effective tactics take time to build before bearing fruit, and when the situation demands fast results, it usually comes with a higher price tag.
To answer the question, What would you do?, you need to start with some more questions.
- Who is the customer? How many of them are there in market?
- What is the product she needs/wants? How well does the product we have match up to what she wants? This helps us understand market potential of a segment. We’re looking for the best fit with the largest possible number of customers. A perfect fit for a very small number of consumers is not sustainable, unless you’ve got a luxury product with high price tag and great margins.
- What is the emotional driver for the purchase? How can we find a way to differentiate our product based on a dimension that matters to the customer? This is especially critical when you are trying to expand into a new market segment. You may have a very clear understanding of how your product fits the emotional needs of the your initial customer segment, but no clear idea of how to appeal to a new group, even though you understand that there is an appeal.
For example, take end user security software like anti-virus and spam filtering. For the core customer of these products — the 25-50 year old technology enthusiast — the emotional purchase drivers are met by feeds, speeds and features. He knows he needs security software for his PC and can be swayed by product excellence, even at a higher price, because being the smartest guy with the best product satisfies an emotional need.
However, if a product is perceived as a commodity, the consumer is likely to be very price sensitive. That one product is better than the others won’t matter as much, unless it also happens to be the cheaper one.
Other segments, like retirees or moms, are less interested in the technical aspects of these products. They need to understand the benefits to them AND that it won’t be difficult or expensive to obtain the benefits. Their emotional satisfaction in computer use does not come intrinsically from the computer and its operation. They use the computer to do something, and it is in the “something” that we find the emotional driver upon which to base messaging.
- Where and how does she buy? Who does she trust when making a purchasing decision? We know referral is the best advertising. What referrals matter to this customer? Consumer electronics sales people ( a la Best Buy)? Friends and neighbors? How does this customer weigh testimonials from experts versus “people like me.”
This approach is a customer-centric marketing approach. You’ve got to put the process in place to find out what motivates and excites the target population, and then use this learning in marketing strategy and product development.
Once you have process in place, it is duplicable market to market. You still need creative ideas and the flash of intuition that reveals the killer idea for a specific marketing campaign, but you can’t get to those without the base.
The customer-centered approach is the first leg on the marketing “stool.” The other two are the power of personal testimony and listening posts.
The Power of Personal Testimony
Product messaging should always be grounded in customer experiences, but from their frame of reference, not the product. Consumer product goods companies understand this. In their mass market advertising anyway. No one tugs at the heartstrings better. A brand of laundry soap gets your clothes cleaner, but what it REALLY does is make you happy. Technology companies have a harder time understanding that it’s not the product that matters. It’s what the product lets us do, feel, understand etc.
And when I say customer experiences, I mean the real customers, not the hypothetical customers created in ad and PR agency conference rooms. The consumer has many ways to make her voice heard, from traditional customer service channels in your company to online reviews, social networks and blogging.
Tap into the real personal testimony.
For example, back to our spam filter example. Instead of advertisements in which the consumer thanks the computer security company for protecting her computer, have her talk about how her life is easier/better now that she has the freedom to shop online and let her kids use the Internet without worrying about viruses, stalkers and identity theft.
Brand evangelist programs and user-generated content (especially video) are another effective way to tap into the power of personal testimony.
Of course in order to really tap into your customers as endorsers, you have to be listening to them.
Getting Your Listening Ears On: Establish online listening posts
You need an active online listening program to understand what is being said about your brand and the overall category online. Capturing online reviews, and feedback from customer service and your sales channels only scratches the surface. These channels capture the folks who really like you or really hate you.
A company needs to grasp the “muddle in the middle” — what average folks say about a company, competitors and the product category in online forums other than the company’s own. What they say about their lives and needs even when they do not mention products at all.
This acts as an online focus group and gives valuable visibility into what the consumer really cares about. This information can then be used to develop marketing programs, customer service offerings and new products.
Does active listening replace the need for things like focus groups and market research? Of course not. Traditional methods still offer tremendous value to the marketing task, particularly when it comes to measurement. Monitoring is largely dependent on the organic conversation. We’re just eavesdropping. To find out whether we’ve been successful with our programs, we need to ask specific questions, and the old research stand-bys are very relevant to that task.
If you don’t listen? It’s like a child sticking his fingers in his ears. You may not look as ridiculous but it’s just as stupid. And ultimately ineffective.