I learned more about my business in the last 4 hours than I have in the past 8 years of running it.
– Catherine May, Owner, Maison May
This quote was given to us when we first tested our current marketing discovery tools a number of years ago. Continual learning is at the heart of marketing.
Marketing discovery essentials
In marketing, one must learn how to answer two essential questions:
Question 1: Who is your customer?
Many businesses and nonprofits think they have the answer to this question, but we have found over and over in our diagnostics that they often do not. This is a fundamental question, and arriving at the correct answer is usually more difficult than it seems. Without a rigorous process to ensure that the question is thoroughly addressed, the de facto answer is, all too often, some variation of “everyone.”
I was on a call today during which an otherwise smart business owner told me, with absolute confidence, that their customer target was “humans” within a particular demographic range. It is possible that there is a world in which this would serve as a sales target for them, but as a marketing target, it is a recipe for ineffectiveness and a great deal of money sprayed into the wind.
Your limited marketing resources must be targeted at that very thin slice of humanity that is most ready to hear and respond to your particular message.
Most companies waste the majority of their marketing resources on inappropriate audiences or on messages that do not resonate. A lack of disciplined focus on who the audience actually is underlies much of this waste. Your limited marketing resources must be targeted not at “humans” but at that very thin slice of humanity that is most ready to hear and respond to your particular message.
For more on the value of precise targeting, read about the origins of the success of Febreeze.
Question 2: What does your customer value?
No one buys what you sell. They buy what is of value to them.
This is difficult to deeply understand, but it is essential because—as I have said many times—no one buys what you sell. They buy what is of value to them. If you do not know what your customer values, then you do not really have the basis for a marketing conversation. It is easy to create marketing messages and materials that tout how great you are and how great your offer is. It is much harder, but much more effective, to talk about how your offer addresses the particular problem that I—your customer—happen to have. Knowing the most emotionally powerful answers to the question of what I value allows you to devise a marketing message that I will actually respond to.
The fact is that the average American is exposed to thousands of marketing messages every day, and our brain does a very good job of protecting us from most of these messages. What gets through? A) incessant messages (think very large dollar signs to power this version of marketing) or B) what I need right here, right now. If I, the marketer, want to bombard the world with my message, I better have the dollars to do that. If I want to get my message to the customer who needs it, I better know who that customer is and as much about them as I possibly can.
Every degree of differential between your offer and your customer’s deeply held needs is deadly.
If brand discovery is primarily about clarifying who you are as an organization, marketing discovery is about clarifying the answer to these two questions about your customer so that you can understand how your organizational or product offer meets or can be made to meet their needs. This may sound elementary, but every degree of differential between your offer and your customer’s deeply held needs is deadly. And the moment you are just a little too far off, the yield on your marketing effort drops rapidly to zero.
That’s right. Zero. Nothing. Nada. You might as well just hand money out on the street corner. It is a better use of your resources. More on this phenomenon here.
In our process, we look at the brand strategy first and develop a Brand Pyramid. At Level 3 of the Brand Pyramid, we address the emotional benefits: Why should anyone care? Underneath this general question rests both of the specific questions above: Who is anyone? Or, more correctly, which anyone are we talking about? Then, why specifically do they care? The Brand Pyramid is a strategic hypothesis that begs for marketing discovery to make it truly valid.
Marketing discovery process
Our marketing discovery process has three components. Together they give a robust answer, based on qualitative research, to these two essential questions. Our Brand Value Map is developed directly from the Brand Pyramid and serves as the framework for distilling the initial working hypotheses on the questions of who the most natural customer is and what they value. Read an explanation of the Brand Value Map here. We use it to think through the selection of candidate personas for deeper research evaluation.
The work of determining which of the potential customers is most natural and what that customer truly values is supported by persona interviews. We conduct these with multiple representatives of the ideal customer profile to get a strong read on what they value and what is most likely to drive their behavior. This work yields a Competitive Advantage Diagram for each candidate persona as they vie for the title of “ideal customer.” When we have found the ideal customer, then their description and the emotional drivers of their behavior can be placed back into the Why Level (Level 3) of the Brand Pyramid.
Finally, this process informs the creation of a Marketing Targets Diagram, a simplified representation and reminder of where you must concentrate your marketing efforts for the greatest strategic effect.
Intense focus on the natural intersection between who you are and how you are able to deliver value to your customer is at the center of an effective marketing effort.
Armed with the Marketing Targets Diagram and a robust Competitive Advantage Diagram for your ideal customer, you are ready to craft and deliver a marketing message that they will be able to hear through all the clutter. You will also know where to find them so that you can deliver that message. This intense focus on the natural intersection between who you are (your brand) and how you are able to deliver value to your customer is the simple but challenging center of an effective marketing effort.
Businesses and organizations must ask themselves: Do we know our customer? Do we know what they are actually buying when they buy our product, attend our events, use our services? This understanding should be the foundation of both marketing and your ability to continually and deeply satisfy your customer. Ignore these things and you have much to lose. Focus on them and focus on understanding your customer, and you have a great deal to gain.
It isn’t rocket science, but it certainly isn’t easy. Done well it propels your business, organization, or product forward toward the achievement of your goals.