I am surprised by the way the majority of businesses I come into contact with approach their marketing strategy. I was sitting with a business owner last week who wanted to discuss their latest marketing ideas with me so that I could help them develop a brand new marketing plan.
I started by asking them the question I always ask first when dealing with marketing plans, “So where are you going to start?” They looked at me with a great big smile and said, “Just to show you that I listened to you last time we met, I have already identified my target markets so that is where I am going to start.”
Now this was a huge improvement on where they had started last time and is an excellent place to start with any marketing plan, but it was the next few steps that I was most interested in, as it is in these next steps that the majority of businesses make the biggest mistake, or should I rather say, their biggest omission.
When building a marketing plan or strategy, we need to know where we are going to target, but the next bit is the crucial bit, “What are we going to tell them and why.” When I asked the business owner I was with this question, they started going off about their latest new product range and all the accreditations it had. They also could tell me why it was so important to each of the target markets they had selected. That was when I hit them with the killer question, “What is your information based on, fact or opinion?”
The business owner looked at me with a puzzled look and then said with a great deal of indignation, “Well fact, obviously.” My next question caused even more indignation to appear on their face, “Excellent, but where exactly did this fact come from?” They then proceeded to tell me how they got all the salespeople, product developers and management team together to brainstorm the answers. Now this is probably the way the majority of companies approach their marketing strategy and planning, however, this process has one major drawback, none of the people involved in developing the marketing material will actually ever use the marketing to purchase the product or service and probably none of them have ever bought the product or service. This is a term I refer to as “Inside Out” marketing and is one of the main reasons why the majority of marketing carried out by businesses is generally ineffective.
I shared these reasons with the business owner and then watched their face drop as I said, “Well then, I guess you have based your strategy on opinion then, not fact.” I then explained to them that they had left out the same major step the majority of businesses leave out, true market research. In order to market to new ideal prospects, we must truly understand why our current customers purchase our product or service, not what we think are the reasons from inside the business, but really getting to grips with why they choose our product or service over a competitor’s product or service.
I then proceeded to explain how many years of research had confirmed that 80% of any purchasing decision is based on emotion and only 20% is based on logic and that this was true for marketing material and messages as well. The market research they needed to conduct had to dig deep into the emotional reasons the clients use in making the decision to keep dealing with this business, from this we could create really effective marketing messages which would attract many more customers just like the ideal clients we had conducted the research with.
The business owner then explained to me that they regularly ask their customers to feedback on their service and product quality via a questionnaire, so they knew what their customers felt about them as a business. I then had to explain that they were actually conducting a marketing survey on how well their systems and processes that dealt with the customers was working, which is extremely important but did not give the vital emotional information needed for marketing.
Conducting effective market research is not as easy as it may first sound as how the questions are presented to the key customers is absolutely vital and then the questions themselves are just as important. If either of these steps are not thought through carefully and approached in the right way, then all you will collect is a great deal of meaningless answers which will offer no help to your marketing strategy and material.
When starting the market research with your strategically selected customers, it is vital that the research is positioned as beneficial to them; they must see benefits in giving the feedback you are looking for. Once you have the positioning statement resolved, it is vital that you create questions that are thought provoking and that unlock the emotional aspects of why the customer purchases from you and what your service or product means to them and their business. It is also very important that the person asking the questions listens intently to the answers, especially for the emotive words, and then asks deeper questions around these emotive words. Many excellently structured market research questionnaires have lost the majority of their impact by people just rushing through the questions and not unlocking the true emotions.
Once we have asked a good selection of customers the questions, it is vital that we sit and compare the answers and look for common trends and comments, many times the answers can be totally unexpected. As an example of unexpected answers, I remember a client of mine conducting market research on a number of his clients to find out why they chose his graphic design company over others in the market place. The most common answer he received by the majority of the customers, was that he really listened to what they told him. He proudly fed this back to me that he listens really well and that he was going to use this in all his marketing communications from now on. I asked him just one question; “What benefit do they get from you listening really well?” He had no idea what the benefit to them was, so he had to go and ask them again. The answer was very interesting, they all told him that he asked loads of questions about what they were looking to achieve, what they liked, didn’t like, who their target audience was and many more questions in this vain, then designed the material for them from this. They said that the other graphic designers just asked a few questions and then came up with designs that reflected more what they liked rather than the customer. This client has grown his business substantially based on this marketing message.