Is the Customer Always Right? A Review of the Consumer Role in Marketing
Perhaps one of the most significant changes to the marketing field in the last 25 years has been the shift from tactic-focused executions to people-focused strategies.
It’s no longer effective for individual marketing tactics to work in isolation. Rather, the most successful contemporary marketing communication development leverages all aspects—including advertising, promotions, public relations and direct marketing—as a single strategy, creating a cohesive message and experience for the customer.
The customer is central to all these integrated marketing communication efforts. Developing an effective marketing plan involves a number of moving pieces, from understanding the competition to determining the best pricing structure, but there is no more important element than the customer. It’s not enough to just identify a demographic you want to serve; you need to truly understand your customers as well as you understand your business if you are going to approach them with the messages they want (and need) at the right times.
The True Power of Knowing Your Customer
Some marketing professionals might argue that their ultimate goal is to drive sales. After all, the traditional definition of “marketing” is the process of promoting products and services and selling them to customers.
But as marketing evolves, its purpose has expanded well beyond simply telling customers the benefits of a product and convincing them to buy it. Marketing is a critical relationship-building tool that allows businesses to create engaging, emotional connections with customers. And engagement reaches beyond mere brand loyalty. It’s a deep connection with a brand, one that drives decision-making and, ultimately, spending. And if your efforts are successful enough, engaged customers often become brand evangelists themselves, a vital, self-motivated part of your marketing mix.
Conversely, a lack of engagement can actually drive customers away from your business. Instead of making decisions based on their relationship with your company, they will decide based on other factors, such as price or proximity. You can’t build a relationship with your customers without truly understanding what they want, when they want it and how they want it—and if you don’t have a relationship with your customers, you won’t be able to determine what sets you apart from your competition. Without all these important pieces in place, your marketing efforts will fall flat and your customers will default to their easiest options—which may not, in fact, be you.
How Can You Learn About Your Customers Quickly and Efficiently?
Knowing who your customers are—and what they need from you—informs every aspect of a successful marketing strategy. When your customers’ unique goals, pain points and questions are considered in every aspect of your marketing plan, it is easier to differentiate yourself from the competition and meet your customers right where they are.
A great way to start learning about your customers is to create buyer personas.1 More than just a general description of your ideal customer, a buyer persona is an in-depth profile of an individual. It goes deeper than general demographic or segmentation information to address hobbies, tastes, preferences, values, beliefs, challenges, where they get their information, decision-making processes, preferred media and more.
However, buyer personas shouldn’t come from thin air. Using information you already have readily available can give you valuable insights into your customers and is a good starting point for effective persona development. Here are some examples of existing data you may have, and how to use it to inform your personas:
Customer service interactions. Interacting with your customers can give you valuable insights into how they are using your products, challenges they may face, any changes they would like to see in both your products and your customer relations, and their overall satisfaction with the product or service.
Data analytics. Your website is a treasure trove of information about your customers and their behavior. From determining which websites and keywords are driving traffic to your site to understanding how customers are navigating it, the information available from your analytics data can tell you a lot about what your customers truly want and what is—and isn’t—working with your digital presence and other conversion channels.2
Social listening. What are your customers saying about you on social media? How are your most engaged customers interacting with you and with others (including with competitors)? Monitoring discussions about your company, your industry, and similar products and services can reveal insights into your customers’ preferences and pain points. You can then tailor your marketing to speak to these preferences and alleviate any evident dissatisfaction.
Other tactics you can use to learn about your customers include interviews, focus groups and competitor research. The bottom line is that you need to dig beneath the surface to learn as much as possible if you want to effectively engage your customers.
The Buyer’s Journey: What It Is and How to Use It
Knowing your customers is only the beginning of an effective strategic marketing plan. Understanding how these individuals buy, and the touchpoints they encounter along the way, provides you invaluable information about where, when and how to engage with them, as well as with potential future customers.
Effective marketers understand that consumers undertake a journey when making a purchasing decision. In some cases, this journey takes only a few moments (choosing a type of detergent in the grocery store, for instance) and in others, it can take weeks or months (as when purchasing a new car). However, every customer journey includes similar phases:3
- Awareness: Creating interest in or knowledge of a product; the moment when the customer realizes they need or want a new car
- Consideration: The information gathering stage; the customer researches different types of cars and compares features, visits dealerships for test drives, and explores price and payment options
- Conversion: The moment of decision-making; the customer comes to a conclusion as to which specific car they want and purchases it
- Advocacy: The continued sharing of good experiences with others; the customer tells their friends about their new car purchase
At each stage of this journey, there are “touchpoints,” or opportunities for interaction with your brand. Your goal is to make these touchpoints relevant to your customers given what you know about them, and in line with just what they need at that specific moment. For example, a car dealership may decide to provide customers at the consideration phase with a comparison tool so they can see how their pricing, services and inventory selection compare to those from other dealerships in the area. It’s a piece of marketing material, but it’s also a useful tool that can build crucial trust in the customer at this particular stage in their buyer’s journey.
Of course, understanding the buyer’s journey begins with understanding your customers and the individual factors that will ultimately lead them to a decision. Once you do, you can create more meaningful touchpoints and foster deeper engagement.
Effective integrated marketing is about more than selecting the right tactics or pouring money into expansive campaigns. It’s about knowing your customers and understanding how to create the right messages at the right time, in the right manner and in the right place, all with the goal of meeting their specific needs.
To learn more about how to truly understand your customers and push the boundaries of what your business can achieve, consider the revolutionary approach to business taught in the Online MBA program at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business. Get in touch with an Admissions Advisor for more information.
1 Retrieved on September 6, 2018, from blog.hubspot.com/marketing/buyer-persona-research
2 Retrieved on September 6, 2018, from neilpatel.com/blog/understand-your-customers/
3 Retrieved on September 6, 2018, from blog.hubspot.com/sales/what-is-the-buyers-journey