When running a business, there’s a constant tension between what you think your customers want, and what they actually want. As a fellow business owner, I know this all too well. Your marketing plan is at the center of this struggle. We all think we know what our clients need, and what they expect our companies to provide for them, but in the end, how can you be sure?
Well now, you probably didn’t expect this to get philosophical, did you? It seems to me the first step in knowing another is to know yourself. We all wear masks, and we all view life through the lens of our personal worldview. Being a designer, I see this reality in action often, as I see clients, friends, and other businesses create logos, websites, etc, which misrepresent them. All too often, people get caught up in trying to put forward to the world what they think will bring them success. Sometimes this looks like a clean cut business tycoon making a logo with a green leaf and lowercase type because he wants to appear friendly and earthy. He may even think that he’s earthy — we call that “self deception”. Other times, it looks like a bohemian flower child creating a website that’s super modern, crisp, and uses “corporate speak”, because he wants to earn respect and appear trustworthy. Once again, the hippy could even think that he is, in fact clean, corporate, and buttoned-down. How sad.
I would venture to say that if you are self-deceived, you will be unable to accurately interpret the needs and expectations of your clients. Such a clouded view of life must surely cloud all that one sees.
Know Thy Clients
Determine your target demographic
If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, you won’t know when your marketing plan has reached them. You could think of this as defining what success looks like for your business. So, the first step to determine your demographic is to combine your skills with your core passions to determine your niche. What makes you who you are? It’s not your product or service; rather, what your customers are buying into is your personality. It’s your corporate culture, if you will, that is your actual product. If you’re a sole proprietor, you are the product. It’s you that people are investing into when they purchase your goods or services. So, how do you do what you do that’s unique to you? What are your passionate about deep down, which drives you to run your business the way that you do?
Another way to look at this, is to ask the question, “What frustrations do I solve in the marketplace?” or “How do I uniquely better the lives of my clients?” The answer won’t be, “I make the best quality widgets, for the lowest cost, with the best customer service.” Everybody else is saying that, so that’s boring. However, you might say something like, “We’re honest to a fault, our employees are each others’ best friends, and everyone that works for us has genuine concern for the happiness of our clients. We solve the problem of bad customer service by making everyone feel at home.”
Once you’ve nailed down what makes your company, your employees, and your business model different from every other company in existence, you can then look for people that need what you have — or rather, they need who you are. This group of people is your target demographic.
Understanding your target demographic’s expectations
A few methods come to mind for relatively sure ways to understand what your clients really want:
- Take a survey of your current clients
- Hire a consultant (with experience either nationally or with your target demographic)
- Conduct focus groups with people that match your target demographic
- All of the above
As with everything else in life, there’s nothing quite like finding an expert whom you trust, and giving them free reign to solve problems. Just like finding a great plumber, carpet cleaner, or dentist, it’s my opinion that bringing on a marketing consultant to oversee this is always worth the cost — and not just because I am one of those consultants! In fact, the reason I started to offer consulting as a separate service was because I saw such a need for it.
Let’s say you want to launch a new corporate ecommerce website. You could find a branding consultant (ahem…) to put together a survey for your client base which seeks to understand how your customers use their computers, where they shop (for products both inside and outside your industry), and why they do what they do, along with finding out what they expect of you and your competitors. Once the website is ready for testing, the consultant can then oversee having it tested by a focus group to gauge reactions to various components, and redesign them as necessary. All while ensuring that the new website accurately communicates who you are, what makes you unique, and enabling your customers to buy into your unique brand.
Choose to be objective
Ah, the hardest part (besides the waiting). Once you have quantified what your customers want from you, you will inevitably have to change something about how you do business, or how you present yourself, or what you prioritize, et cetera. If you value authenticity, and growth through service, you must make the change.
Figure out who you are, apart from what you think you need to be. Determine your corporate culture: how your business model uniquely meets the needs of a select group of people. Understand those people, then serve them by modeling your marketing plan around what they need and expect. Oh, and hire me to help you do it.