It seems simple. If you’re selling a product or service, you need to understand the consumer, especially your loyal customers and give them exactly what they want. Surprisingly, there are those who decide what it is and how they will sell it and expect consumers to meet those sales standards, whether the consumer has their needs met or not. It’s a recipe for disaster but one that seems to keep being cooked up by business owners and executives. Why is that?
The basics of marketing will never change and although the addition of evolving technology gives companies more avenues to use for selling, the important factors, steps or rules, as it were, success requires that companies execute the marketing basics they’ve always done — getting to know customers better; helping them in the buying process and tailoring offerings; and developing their trust.
Having worked for the largest corporate entities in the world, I have done my share, and more, of palm-to-forehead slaps at decisions that telegraph failure from miles away. Sometimes it comes to products that are popular and need no shoves in the right direction. Usually it was just boredom, I guess, that created an initiative out of the blue, pushing change to something that didn’t need change and in a direction that placed it far from the loyal consumer’s needs. It’s impossible to understand why, although, if pushed for an answer, I would have to say it was pure ego on the part of the decision-maker and utter disregard… contempt, actually, for the consumer. Perhaps that’s not so hard to believe these days?
A Big Idea But Not a Solution
While working at MAD Magazine, a global icon of humor and rebellion, the president of the publishing division, who never even read the 40 year-old magazine, announced she was going to remake the entire magazine. The readership was steady with a loyal fan base and slowly increasing new readership as another new generation was introduced by their parents, who remained supportive fans. It was confusing as to why she wanted to mess with success.
Her plan was to make the magazine “cutting edge,” trash the 90% white reader, build what she called an “urban, hip-hop readership” and as (and I swear this is what she said out loud and repeatedly), “build a black audience because every white kid in America wants to be black, so they’ll all want to read the magazine to piss off their parents and we’ll sell more.”
I wish I had a picture of the entire staff with our mouths hanging wide open at that pronouncement. We tried to ascertain what marketing research she had done to back this up and how it could be done without major public relations and advertisement. The staff had that uneasy feeling as if they were on a bus, watching the driver head straight for a cliff.
There were many suggestions for increasing readership, all based on the knowledge the staff had of the consumer/fan but the president was adamant about her idea. It was going to happen and that was that. We were either on board or we were all fired.
As time went by, the idea got watered down, turned left and right, morphed, mutated and still ended up in a place far from any demographic. White, 70 year-old writers and artists would create the content for this urban hip-hop magazine (imagine Norman Rockwell painting scenes from a Public Enemy video or a Snoop Lion Thanksgiving — not that it wouldn’t be beautifully done) as well as the all-white staff.
Through this all, word started to leak out about the change and fans were up in arms. Letters and emails started pouring in, pleading that the magazine not be changed. The president refused to listen. It was her idea and she was responsible (and would be cheered by corporate for the success). It fell flat and a third of the readers dropped their subscriptions as sales fell a bit more every month and angry letters/emails increased. There was no coming back.
Then the finger-pointing started. She wanted to know who was responsible for the disaster. The culprit was not knowing the customer and consumer base (not to mention the firings and exits following the witch hunt for those responsible led to a couple of damaging “shark jumpings” that further strangled the sales numbers). Eventually, the president was gone. “pursuing other opportunities” said the memo that went through the company. “Fired” was the word people said with a smile.
What does this story have to do with this article? Firstly, it’s a great, amusing, but tragic tale to start your week. Secondly, it drives home the point of not knowing or thinking like a customer and how much damage a personal opinion based on absolutely no market research can do.
Become a Customer
Whether you have a product or a service, you need to put yourself in the mindset of the average consumer to fully understand how to draw more consumers to your business. When attempting to become a customer, there are questions you need to answer.
How easy is it to find and purchase your product?
- If you sell widgets, how will the consumer find you?
- Are you easily found through internet search engines?
- Can the product be purchased online?
- How easy was it to purchase and have delivered?
How good is your customer service?
- If purchasing was a pleasant experience, how about returning the product or getting a replacement?
- Every step of the customer experience defines your brand, your company and your product/service. Are you confident and proud that yours is the best?
What about the competition?
- How does your product stack up against the competition?
- How is there customer service and what can you learn from them?
- Why might consumers prefer their product or service over yours?
- What can you learn from their product?
Are you keeping up with the technology?
- How’s your online presence?
- Is your web site responsive to different mobile devices?
- Does your competition have better digital and mobile marketing?
- What do you need to do to make it the best?
When you can answer these questions you’ll find you know your customers better. You can tailor your communications, specials and future outreach to them and know they’re listening and absorbing the information.
If you can see yourself on the same level of your customers you can better drive customer loyalty and develop the trust that is so important these days and it humanizes your company and enhances your marketing capability. In the end, you will be able to anticipate your customer’s need because you are thinking just like them. It will put you in the best spot to market with confidence.