Understanding your customers today is becoming harder, not easier, especially given the high noise-to-data ratio driven by our good friend the Internet.
Why is this true?
- Consumers have more power than ever before, thanks to social media, easy on-line comparison-shopping, and a digital proliferation of choices.
- Customer diversity continues to increase, putting a premium on pinpoint audience segmentation, and deeper customer insights.
- Data overload confuses customers, making them less interested in products than in flexible, customized solutions.
Beyond the economic uncertainty of the past few years, it’s not hard to see why customers are less loyal and far less trusting than before. This is especially true in industries whose reputations suffered during the financial crisis—banking, pharmaceuticals, energy, airlines and media. But even if you’re in an unrelated industry, you’re likely feeling some of the same effects.
To get closer to and better understand today’s more discerning customers, you really need to get inside their heads. Beyond a “Vulcan mind meld,” here are five ways to get those perspectives:
- Stand in your customers’ shoes. Look beyond your core business. Understand your customers’ full range of choices, as well as their web of suppliers, partners, influencers, etc. Understanding the ecosystem your customers live in helps you learn, adapt, and prosper. This exercise also can deepen your understanding of competitors, helping you better anticipate their moves.
- Staple yourself to a customer’s order. Track key customers’ experiences as they travel along your company’s pathways. Take note where the experience breaks down or they hit pot holes. Experience the check-in process at your hospital, clinic or hotel. Ask managers to listen in on the company’s call center.
- Field diverse customer teams. Add members of the back-office support group to your customer teams, switching up the usual customer-facing roles. Send senior teams from different disciplines into the field to meet customers and develop a deeper understanding of their needs and wants.
- Learn together with customers. Invite top customers, along with your executives and account managers, to a seminar on leadership and innovation. Doing so may help your executives better understand the mindset of their counterparts; it also may help to influence that mindset.
- Lean forward and anticipate. Focus on what customers will want tomorrow, aka Steve Jobs. Try to envision different futures with tools like scenario planning and explore how these possible market shifts may affect your customers. Consider involving your top customers in these explorations.
Sometimes, you just need to get out of your own way to really understand your customers. Psychologists know that you’re likely to listen for problems that fit your own offerings, while discounting others. That means you might miss important opportunities, or to get blindsided later. Try to listen with a “third ear” to what your customers are saying to you and others. If you can truly listen, they’ll tell you all you need to know.
Call us if you’re looking for some third-party expertise to help you get a better understanding of your customers.
Usually in PR, the objective is to convince others to tell your company’s story. Third party credibility often works better than shouting your own praises from the figurative rooftop. But, there are times when proactive marketing is exactly what you need to do. Here’s why:
Create (or Increase) Name Recognition
One downside of bylines or media placements is that your content takes precedence over your name. If you’re a new organization or are recently going through a transition, you want a more visible approach to remind people of your name and presence. That means traditional marketing and outreach!
Position Your Company as an Expert in Emerging Trends
Schedule a seminar, host a community lunch and learn, or present at a local business roundtable. These tactics all lean toward the marketing side of the public relations spectrum, and will not only increase awareness of your company but also of its leadership and expertise in emerging trends or timely news topics.
The simple act of emailing, calling or scheduling meetings with key audiences is a great way to network. We’re not talking about cold-calling—that’s one marketing tactic that rarely produces value—but, instead, take the time to stay in touch with your own contact list, ask them who else might be in need of your services, and make it a point to attend local networking events for your industry. Your company and your face will then be top of mind for people who may become future clients.
Repetition is King
Unless you’re willing to invest ad dollars, it’s difficult to get your message repeated via media placements alone in the same market in a short period of time. Here’s where marketing can help. By talking directly to people about your organization and its capabilities, you reinforce the PR you do have, while applying the equivalent of a megaphone to those messages. Remember, about the time you’re sick of hearing your company’s message is the time your audiences are beginning to pick up on it.
With the Wisconsin Primary happening last week, the news was full of election season stories. Everything from where Sanders had breakfast to the record-breaking voter turnout was covered, leaving little space for much else.
Let’s face it, it’s never a cakewalk getting your organization’s story in the paper or on TV, and during election season, it’s particularly tough. You’re competing with Donald Trump after all.
Here are a few tips to catch the media’s attention during periods when the news is jam-packed:
- Tie your story into the hot topic news, in this case election season. Even if it’s a stretch, it could be the hook you need for a reporter to open or respond to your pitch email. This is a great strategy for social media too. You’ll be surprised by how many retweets you’d get just by incorporating a trendy hashtag like #WIPrimary.
- Focus on timely stories. If your story is about a large, upcoming event or relates to something cool happening RIGHT NOW, get it out there! Generic, every-day stories that can be covered after election season, are less likely to get picked up than a timely story. But be sure to give the media enough notice to meet their deadlines and/or get a team together to cover your story.
- Beef it up with extras. By extras, we mean pictures, videos, links or even attach a prewritten story or news release. Don’t be afraid to get creative. The more ready-made materials the media has access to, the easier it will be for them to write the story. And when it’s a busy time for the news, easy is best.
- Follow-up, follow-up, FOLLOW-UP! If it’s a crazy time for reporters, sending one email or leaving a voicemail isn’t enough. Be sure to send a follow-up email and if you still don’t get a response, make a few follow-up phone calls to increase your chances of reaching someone then sell your story.
With a thoughtful strategy and a little persistence, you can get coverage during election season too.