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You talking to me?
When did you last go out and take a look at your customers?

Posted by Bob Mytton

Not just make assumptions about your audience or check the stats, but actually observe them or speak with them about who they are and what they want? When we ask “who are you targeting” the majority of companies will give a pretty generic summary. “Professional office-based people 35+, mostly male”, might be the starting description. This is followed by all the circumstances under which they need the client’s products or services and all the reasons why those products and services are better than the competition. In other words, despite all the knowledge out there on the benefits of being customer-led, there is still an internal focus on the features of what is on offer rather than an external eye on the hearts and minds of the people that will benefit from them. For branding this is a major problem, because without really knowing who you are speaking to, you can’t set the right tone. General messages are more likely to be similar to other service providers and don’t create any strong brand difference.

When management consultants Bain & Company questioned over 350 companies, they found that 80% believed they delivered a “superior service” but when the customers were asked, only 8% of them felt the same. So while companies might assume they know their audience, the reality can be quite different. Understanding customers and what they want has become more complicated as our lives have become more hectic. Gone are the days of ABC1s. Customers are more critical because they are faced with more choice. Increasingly they want to become involved with the brands and services they select. They are looking for more value-for-money and are using new ways to make comparisons, selections and purchases, whether that is in person, from their office or on the move with their smartphone.

So how do we start to cut through this complexity? Firstly, by speaking openly and confidentially with some existing customers we uncover all sorts of issues that clients may be blind to. This is not because customers have been withholding concerns or because clients don’t ever ask. It’s because we are independent of the company and give those customers a space to tell us stories about their experiences – and not just with the client, but other stories (good and bad) about competitors, themselves and their expectations. From these we get insights, not data, and those insights allow us to design responses.

Secondly, we identify a set of typical users or buyers – four to six different ones are usually enough to cover the spectrum. We bring these people to life. So while they all could be professional men over 35, they take shape differently in terms of the pressures they are under, the things they appreciate, their hopes, fears and annoyances. By building these characters together we have another set of insights to work with and company teams are reminded of the real goal of any meaningful brand – to connect with people.

Once you know more about who you are targeting we can consider the ‘journey’ they will take with you as a customer. Again, from their perspective we explore the places and situations they will be in. How might they first come across your brand and your services, especially if it is new to them? Where will you need to be to get their attention? What format of materials are they going to need? What tone of voice or type of language will resonate? What will you do when things go wrong? Answering these questions, not by guessing but by getting deeper into a customer perspective is what allows a brand to reach out to an audience with real understanding.

Five stages of brand connection:

  1. Gain attention
    How do you create awareness with your customers? Where are they? What are they doing? What else is competing for their time and attention?

  2. Inform
    Once you have their attention, what is the main piece of information that you need to give them so they can act? What is it they want to know? How might you help them to solve a real problem?

  3. Direct toward action
    You have their attention and you seem to have something they want. Is it clear, easy and enjoyable for them to call someone, fill in an order, book a meeting or turn up somewhere? How do they ‘purchase’?

  4. Support
    After a purchase, what happens if they have a question or a query? What might they need? What happens if something goes wrong – how will your brand respond?

  5. Maintain
    When one purchase is over, what happens then? How do you keep in touch in a meaningful way and continue to be relevant for the next time round?