Get Under Your Customers’ Skin
Your firm's ability to deepen audience engagement and action, as well as to leverage today’s most powerful marketing strategies and tactics such as account-based marketing and omnichannel, requires customer understanding that goes far beyond simple demographics and psychographics. Do you know:
- Your customers’ greatest fears and issues specific to their industry – what they think about at 2 a.m.
- Their biggest frustrations about companies that provide your type of services and solutions
- The subtext of what they say (their unspoken needs)
- The messages that resonate with them most
- What triggers them to take action
- Where they engage online and off
- Their needs, wants, behaviors and expectations at every stage in the customer journey
In other words, you need to build better buyer personas so that you can create a better customer journey and, ultimately, attract and convert more of your ideal customers.
To get under your customers’ skin, you have to collect accurate qualitative information and insights and become an expert on your customers. This requires four steps:
- Understanding your customers’ world
- Talking to them
- Observing them
- Testing assumptions
1. Researching Your Customers: Get a Global Perspective
Understanding your customers includes staying on top of the latest news and trends related to what’s happening within their industries.
Unless you have the capacity, budget and know-how to do this in-house, the best way to obtain this research is through organizations with expertise in analyzing current and future trends that shape the marketplace, such as McKinsey Global Institute.
You also can find industry-specific research companies or even companies within your niche that are large enough to conduct their own research and publish their findings in studies, reports and whitepapers.
2. Talking to Your Customers: Go Deep Rather Than Wide
Although sometimes it’s advantageous to send out electronic surveys to a large number of participants, today’s emphasis on highly personalized experience and tailored communications makes mass-surveying far less effective.
Critical customer insights emerge through in-depth conversations with a small set of the right customers – specifically, those who represent your “ideal” customer at crucial points in the buying cycle. This set includes individuals tasked with researching the type of solutions your company offers; the gatekeepers who connect or block your company’s representatives from those who ultimately will use your solutions; and the final decision makers themselves.
However, selecting the right people to interview is just the beginning. You also need to know how to draw out the most valuable information. This requires two things:
- Developing open-ended questions strategically built around your research goals and focused on getting insightful, yet specific, answers – sparking a conversation that makes responders excited about the topic
- Having interviewers who are endlessly curious, know how to push past initial or vague responses and are skilled at reading the subtle cues the customer is sending between the lines
It’s important to note that you’ll get much better information if you conduct one-on-one interviews because people tend to present themselves differently when surrounded by their peers and because, especially in a focus group, one strong individual can sway the rest.
Studies show that one-on-one interviews conducted by phone generate better data than interviews conducted in person. The interviewee is more likely to be forthcoming when not facing the interviewer directly and, perhaps (albeit unconsciously), trying to say “the right thing” or avoid creating conflict.
This is also why it’s strongly recommended to hire a third party to conduct the interviews – it’s much easier for people to be open and direct when they don’t have an ongoing business relationship with the interviewer.
The Most Important Person You Can Talk To
While it’s critical to know your current customers, the people who truly hold the secrets to business growth are your non-customers. Getting to know those who represent business not won is essential to understanding what your firm needs to do – to fill the gaps in your offerings, processes or buyers’ journey – in order to be better positioned for winning their business in the future.
3. Observing Your Customers: Find Out What They Actually Do
Observation offers a glimpse into your customers’ actual behavior, which provides even deeper insight than what you are able to gain from interviews and other forms of collecting customer input.
Although what your customers say is useful qualitative information (provided you’ve done all the right things to collect it), observing what they do shows any gaps that exist between what they say they want and what actually matters to them.
Fortunately, today, observing what customers do is easier than ever – especially online where you can track real-time behavior and paths to action with the help of analytic tools or by following customer activity on social channels.
4. Testing Your Assumptions: Measure Impact of Your Research
How do you know that you’ve collected the right data and used it to make the right decisions for strengthening your brand, improving your customer experience and creating better marketing communications and campaigns?
Test your assumptions and the impact of changes you are making based on collected data to determine whether your firm is on track to greater brand visibility and customer advocacy.
You can assess your brand’s strength by tracking and analyzing website and blog traffic, email marketing list growth and health, the level of lead generation activity, the number and frequency of referrals (especially from those who’ve never worked with your company before) and more.
You can also conduct perception surveys, as well as use competitive intelligence for measuring your brand’s performance against competitors.
For testing marketing communications, A/B split testing of home pages, subject lines, calls to action and landing pages will provide you with the insight regarding what messages create the most traction. What you learn then can be applied for continuous improvement of your overall marketing effort.
From Data to Action
The key, however, is to learn how to read, analyze and use this data in your decision-making process. It’s not about “big data”; it’s about what data can do to inform and strengthen your firm’s brand and create better outcomes for your marketing campaigns.
To test your theories and make better and more informed decisions faster, consider using the Agile project management framework to increase the speed and effectiveness of marketing deliverables.
Find more free branding and marketing resources to help you stay ahead on the Substance151 blog.