Marketing: Know Yourself, Know Your Customer

By Alexander Hiam

To make your marketing program more profitable and growth oriented, think about how to reach and persuade more of the right customers. When you understand how your customers think and what they like, you may find better ways to make more sales. The next sections help you get better acquainted with what you have to offer and start communicating those offerings to your customers.

Traditional marketers ask just one key question:

What do we need to tell customers to make the sale?

Then they flood the environments (both virtual and actual) with competing claims, trying to outdo each other in their efforts to prove that they have what customers want. This barrage of noisy advertising and one-up salesmanship is inefficient, wasteful, and, to many, an unfortunate source of social pollution.

A better initial question to ask is this:

What do I/we have uniquely to offer?

When you start right off by examining yourself in the mirror and identifying your genuine, honest-to-yourself strength(s), you’re many laps ahead of most marketers, whether you’re selling something as simple as your résumé, as complex as a new high-tech product, or anything in between. Your unique strengths form the core of your offering, and you should keep building your strengths in ways that are true to your identity.

Whether you’re marketing yourself (perhaps you’re a consultant or someone else who offers individualized services) or a business entity of some kind, you can’t make consistent and efficient headway by deceiving yourself and trying to deceive others. The more true to your core the marketing message is, the more effective it is.

If you can’t find any unique qualities to advertise, postpone those media purchases and work on self-improvement or product development. (Perhaps you simply need to listen harder to what your customers say and make sure they’re so happy that they recruit new customers!)

Then come back to your program with a stronger set of claims that any customer can clearly see are of benefit — that is, unique benefit, not just a run-of-the-mill, everybody-does-it-that-way benefit.

If you draw a large enough circle around your market, you’ll probably encompass competitors who are better than you. There are so many people out there, working hard and innovating, just like you! So as you work to improve your offerings and become ever more unique and special, draw that circle appropriately. It’s the equivalent of your bar, so don’t set it too high.

Perhaps you should try to be the best distributor of alternative, organic, and local foods in just one city. After you have that city sewed up, expand to the next closest market. Don’t, however, try to advertise and distribute across a ten-state area right out of the starting blocks. Knowing yourself means knowing your limitations as well as your strengths.

Marketing programs communicate benefits. Benefits are the qualities that your customers value. For example, your product may offer benefits such as convenience, ease of use, brand appeal, attractive design, local sourcing, healthiness, or a lower price than the competition. A service business, or an individual who provides services like consulting, may list benefits such as expertise, friendliness, and availability.

The right mix of benefits can make your product or service particularly appealing to the group of customers who value those benefits. Make your list now: What are your core benefits, things that you can honestly say you’re good at and that customers may value?

Even if you’re better from a logical or rational perspective, customers may still choose the competition. Say your new cola scores better in blind taste tests or is made of organic ingredients. So what? Who wants to buy an unknown cola rather than the brand they know and love?

No, this trust issue isn’t rational, but it still affects the purchase — which is why you absolutely must take a look at the emotional reasons people may or may not buy from you.

Is your brand appealing? Do you use an attractive design for your packaging? Is your presentation professional and trustworthy? Do people know you or your business and look upon you favorably? Positive image isn’t hard to build for free when you market locally or regionally; you just need to show up consistently in ways that demonstrate your concern for the community.

Image isn’t everything in marketing, but it is just about everything when it comes to the emotional impact you make. So pay close attention to your image when you’re looking for ways to boost sales. To truly know your customers, you also need to explore the answers to these two questions:

  • What do customers think about my product? Do they understand it? Do they think its features and benefits are superior to the competition and can meet their needs? Do they feel that my product is a good value given its benefits and costs? Is it easy for them to buy the product when and where they need it?

  • How do customers feel about my product? Does it make them feel good? Do they like its personality? Do they like how it makes them feel about themselves? Do they trust me?

To answer these questions, find something to write on and draw a big T to create two columns. Label the left column “What Customers Know About,” and put the name of your brand, company, or product in the blank. Label the right column “How Customers Feel About,” and fill in as much as you can from your own knowledge before asking others to give you more ideas.

Keep working on this table until you’re sure you have an exhaustive list of both the logical thoughts and facts and the emotional feelings and impressions that customers have.

If you have access to a friendly group of customers or prospective customers, tell them you’re holding an informal focus group with complimentary drinks and snacks (doing so helps with your recruiting) and ask them to help you understand your marketing needs by reviewing and commenting on your table.

The goal is to see whether your lists of what customers know and feel about your product agree with theirs. Do they concur with how you described their emotional viewpoint and/or their factual knowledge base?