IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How to Think Like Your Customer

Marketers behave differently online than their customers.Here's how to fix the disconnect and gain some insight into your customer base.
/ Source:

I downloaded Vine, the new short-video creation and sharing app for the iPhone, when it had been on the market less than a week. One of my first followers was Paul McCartney--yes, that Paul McCartney.

This thrilled me enormously. My family, however, was unimpressed. "What's Vine?" they asked. And, tragically, "Who's Paul McCartney?" (The latter from my teenage daughter.)

I was reminded of this disconnect when I read a report from Indianapolis-based e-mail and interactive marketing company ExactTarget, which found that marketers, as a group, behave differently online than their customers.

Marketers, as a group, behave differently online than their customers: A whopping 93% of marketers have made a purchase as a direct result of an e-mail marketing message, while only 49% of online consumers have done so.

Marketers surpass consumers in their daily use of e-mail, texting and social platforms. Some 90 percent of marketers own a smartphone, vs. 51 percent of online consumers as a whole. A whopping 93 percent of marketers have made a purchase as a direct result of an e-mail marketing message, while only 49 percent of online consumers have done so.

What is the significance of this? The differences point to a fundamental fact about marketing: Your perspective may be skewed if you make assumptions about customers based on your own behavior, rather than that of the people you want to reach. In my case, that assumption led only to some open mocking; in your case, the consequences could be far more dire. If you are operating on a different wavelength than your customers, your marketing will seem like it's from Mars--and will not resonate with its intended audience.

Let's take a look at some adages that can help you gain real insight into your customer base.

Fish where the fish are.
You should know who your ideal customer is. (Marketers might call this a target persona.) But where are these people? Which social networks do they use? What publications do they read? What communities are they part of? Where do they go for information?

A fisherman would plan to hang out by the right pool. How do you find it? Ask, don't assume. Too often, only sales and customer service reps talk to real, live customers; marketers tend not to interact directly with the people they are targeting. So change that: Survey folks on your e-mail or mailing list. Invite customers to a meal. Or, just pick up the phone.

Shoot where the pheasant will be.
In other words, be there before the sale. You can apply this concept (based loosely on Wayne Gretzky's comment, "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been") in numerous ways. I think of it as anticipating your customers' needs and serving them before they even know they need you. How do you do this? By answering both the questions they have and those they should have when they're looking to buy.

For example, check out a few blog posts from Yale Appliance and Lighting : "The Four Best Steam Ovens"; "Quietest Dishwasher by Decibel Rating"; "How to Clean Your Gas Grill." Notice how the titles read like the contents of Consumer Reports? CEO Steve Sheinkopf is positioning his Boston appliance company as not just a retailer, but a resource. He's shooting where the pheasant will be. He's there before the sale.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Can you stand one more animal analogy? This one is from George Orwell's classic Animal Farm. I'm invoking it to underscore the concept that while customers may vary and may lurk in many places around the web--Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, discussion groups--some customers are better than others. Most have constrained budgets and limited resources. So focus your efforts on the channels and platforms and segments that will yield the most for you.

Not rocket science, certainly. But in an age when digital tools and platforms and apps are expanding at a rapid rate (anyone care to join Sir Paul and me on Vine?), it's worth mentioning.