3 Steps to Understanding Customer Needs

3 Steps to Understanding Customer Needs

The core of every business organisation’s mission is to answer customer needs.  In order to do so you must first identify and understand them.

Understanding your customers’ needs is essential but superficial knowledge is not enough to ensure your organisation’s profitability. To achieve product/market fit, the point where you answer needs better than your competitors, you must get to a deeper level of understanding of those needs.

Benefits of understanding customer needs

An added bonus to mastering customer needs (and providing a solution that fulfills them) is that every marketing dollar spent will yield higher returns than those of your competitors, who don’t have the same depth of knowledge.

A deeper level of understanding your customers’ needs will also ensure an overall better customer experience, which we already saw in a previous post on the customer experience journey, leads to higher profitability.

Ok, so now that you are convinced understanding customer needs is in your organisation’s best interest, the question you may be asking is how to go about mastering them.

First you have to identify the needs you will be fulfilling (hint; don’t stop at the needs attached directly to your product/service, also look at the ones surrounding the entire customer experience). Once you have zoomed in on the needs to fulfill, you must not only understand the needs but the whole story around them.[1] This process requires lots of effort, time and knowledge of data gathering techniques. It isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.

As a marketer a huge part of my role, aside from finding the right customers, is to identify and understand their needs. Over the years, I learned that there are three steps to any quest aiming to either identify or understand customers’ needs.

Those steps are; Listen, observe, and empathise

Listen

customer needs - Baker MarketingThe very first thing you should do when you have a business idea is to talk informally with potential customers. This mostly means listen to their answers.   It also helps you figure out who your early adopters are. If it’s not possible for you to talk directly to potential customers, find people who know your potential customers inside out, and talk with them.

Don’t forget to set objectives for your conversation. Examples of conversation objectives are; to see whether the needs you think exist actually do, how they are being filled and the relative importance of those needs. In order to maximise the amount of information you take in, not only do you have to limit how much talking you will do, but you need the proper mindset. Your mind should be open and devoid of as many filters as possible. Always remember that explaining your project in length and your view of the world is just taking time away from achieving your goal. Listen.

On a side note, many of the entrepreneurs I meet are worried that someone will steal their idea before they get a chance to develop it. Unless you have a truly patentable solution (very few are), and potential customers can either beat you to market (they already operate a company in the same field) or spill the beans (to an existing competitor), you have nothing to worry about. Honestly, initial business ideas are very rarely marketable. Even if they were, almost no one wants to put in the blood, sweat, tears and go through the hell that starting a new business entails. Furthermore, even if they did, they’d most likely end up with a completely different business than yours in the end. Lastly if the threat of theft is real, there are still ways to explore the needs of potential corporate customers without spilling your own beans.

Please do not let the fear of someone stealing your business idea prevent you from engaging with potential customers.

Observe

Customer needs - Baker MarketingObservation is essential to identify less obvious needs and understand all pertinent customer needs at a deeper level. Asking potential customers won’t yield the information you seek because people don’t or can’t always tell you the truth.

There are many categories of observation techniques.

 

Natural observation

Natural observation techniques allow you to observe your potential customers while they are naturally fulfilling the needs you want to address. Ideally, without them noticing you too much so their behaviours are not altered.

Such observation experiments will yield huge amounts of customer knowledge. Hence you need to ensure you set observation goals for your experiments. Your observation goals can pertain not only to your subjects’ actions but also their interactions, environments, and the tools they use.

You will most likely need to repeat such experiments many times to take in all the knowledge you will need. Alternatively, you can task multiple people to observe the same situation while giving them different observation goals.

Two of my favorite natural observation techniques are shadowing and A day in the life.[2]

Directed observation

These techniques are associated with a goal of understanding a specific thought process or behaviour in a given circumstance.

They require putting the customer in a specific situation or assigning him, or her, a task and then observing. This can be followed by a question period to help interpret what you observed. It can be done face to face, remotely with cameras or on the web (such as A/B testing).

Third person observation

This technique is used in addition to one of the previous ones where the observer is someone who has a vision of the world that is significantly different from you or anyone in your industry. This technique yields much richer interpretation/insights from the data you collect.

Empathise

Customer needs - Baker MarketingWhenever possible, put yourself in your customers’ shoes or, even better; take the time to get to know some of your favorite customers personally. This will enable a relationship of trust and maybe even friendship (personal bonus for you) to develop over time.

Get involved in activities or causes your customers are passionate about. This will give you an even deeper understanding of their values and what is important to them.

Sharing your customers’ values is a requirement to attract them into your community.  If you are unsure of what I am referring to here, see this previous post on community marketing.

The 360 view of customer needs

Customer needs - Baker MarketingApplying all of these techniques to understand your customers’ needs is required to get a 360 degree view of them. Using many different perspectives to master your customers’ needs will yield rich and actionable information. It will also facilitate innovation in your organisation.

 

Customer Feedback Flow

Customer needs - Baker MarketingStriving to understand customer needs is a continuous process. Set up processes and assign resources in your organisation to make it an integral part of your business activities.

These processes can be as simple as a quick questionnaire you send out on a regular basis, or an automatic feedback one, after a certain task is completed.  Analytics reports, comments on social medias summaries or a managed (live or online) community feedback or observation reports are all valid continuous feedback processes that can yield precious information on your customers’ needs.

Be aware that this feedback is highly valuable to your organisation, if you act on it. Hence, reward your customers adequately (often a simple thank you is enough) for sharing their thoughts and concerns.

Mastering the understanding of customer needs is no small task.  Your rewards for listening, observing and empathising with your customers, will be a tighter product/market fit, greater customer satisfaction and higher profitability.

[1] Needs are always dependant other factors. E.g. The need for a given medicine will be dependant on experiencing specific symptoms at a level that requires relief and not being allergic or prone to adverse effects to said medicine.

[2] The following book describes these techniques : This is Service Design Thinking – M. Stickdorn, J. Schneider et al. – John Wiley & Son

How to identify a good community marketing partner

How to identify a good community marketing partner

In a previous post we looked at community marketing. As a reminder, community marketing is a set of tactics used to involve your customers and/or prospect customers (subsets or all of them) and their network with your organisation.

Community marketing partner- Baker MarketingCommunity Marketing Partnerships

One of the foundations of community marketing is partnering with other organisations. These partnerships are used to leverage all of your marketing and promotional activities to your potential customers. These partnerships can be with your suppliers, clients, customers (either corporate customers or the companies your customers own), or non-profit organisations.

The previous post also showed that, aside from being profitable when done right, community marketing is a great way to:

  • Increase positive brand association
  • Achieve community leadership
  • Obtain great insights in your customers needs
  • Drive innovation
  • Reduce your marketing costs
  • Get free advertising
  • Get you and your team to feel great about your job

So yes, community marketing sounds great, well on paper at least. In reality it requires the right partners in order to achieve a return on your investments.

The question then becomes:

Finding a business partner - Baker marketingHow do I know what the right community marketing partner looks like?

Like any other business partnership, there is no ‘’one-size fits all’’ answer to this question. Furthermore, time can transform an excellent community marketing partner into a negative ROI partner. Hence keeping track of the costs, revenues and benefits associated with a partnership is essential.

In order to identify criteria to help find a good community marketing partner for your company I will use two sources. The first are the studies done by non profit organisations that have applied community marketing strategies for decades to achieve their objectives.  The second will be the various community marketing experiences I have been a part of or observed in the last few years.

The following are some of the most important elements you have to look for when searching for a community marketing partner.

Community Marketing - Baker MarketingShared values

This criterion is by far the most important element to look for when searching for a new community marketing partner.

Your most important corporate values must be shared with your partners. Otherwise something will inevitably go very wrong during the course of your partnership. Usually, issues will occur sooner rather than later.

An example of this was a large food blog that strongly valued leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible. Most of their blog posts transpired this value. Their hosting provider, a community marketing partner of the blog, expanded into a new facility that used significantly more energy than the previous one they were located in. When the hosting company announced on social media it had no intention to undertake any projects to minimize their carbon footprint, it created a strong backlash in the blog readers’ community. Readership dropped more than 25% in the following 3 months. No other events could account for this exodus.

Eventually the blog owners not only lost a community partner but had to find another hosting provider. This project was of course very costly and could have been avoided had the hosting partner shared similar values.

This example brings about another lesson that was learned. Some of your values can generate a significantly higher cost structure for your company. Make certain you are ready to take on those costs before trumpeting your values to your customers.

Community Marketing - Baker marketingA committed partner

Just as any other type of partnership, your partner must be committed to the relationship. In a community marketing partner, this translates into having resources dedicated to managing the partnership and the joint projects.

Partners who also dedicate resources to measuring the outcomes of the partnership will often be easier to work with. The data they accumulated will generally lead to rational discussions with clear demands.

Market segments - Baker MarketingYou are going after the same customer segments

The closer, the match between the customers your business is aiming at to the ones your partners aim at, the better.

The whole idea of community marketing is to gain greater exposure, at a lower cost, to new potential customers. Hence, it would be worthless in that regard to partner with companies that don’t address your target markets.

Also, the closer or more complementary the needs they address to the ones you do in your markets, the better the synergy you will get out of a partnership.

Hence, if your product/service fills a need that is created by a partner’s product/service or creates a need that can be fulfilled by a partner, the partnership has the potential to provide maximum ROI.

An example for our food blog would be to partner with kitchen appliances or dinnerware companies as well as exercise/health related blogs that share similar values.

Reputation - Baker MarketingA reputation that is at least as good as yours

Community marketing is strongly based on social media presence by the partners. Hence, you will be looking for a partner that is not only adept at managing its own social media presence but one that has a reputation that will not tarnish yours.

Before signing with a new community marketing partner you need to do a thorough review of all of its social media presence. You also need to know who its other partners are and what their reputation is.  The stronger the community your future partner is a part of, the more profitable the partnership can be.

There are many other criteria that are important when choosing a community marketing partner. The previous three are, in my experience, some of the most important ones at the outset of a relationship.

In a future post, we’ll take a look at where to find the best community marketing partners. In the meantime, if you have any questions about community marketing strategy or implementation you are welcome to contact us.

Le marketing des objets connectés : Le marketing de demain?

Le marketing des objets connectés : Le marketing de demain?

Ils deviennent omniprésents dans notre quotidien. Les objets connectés se retrouvent sous forme de gadgets telle la bouteille d’eau intelligente. De façon encore plus fréquente sous forme de bracelets ou maillots de sport qui gardent le compte de nos activités physiques et de notre rythme cardiaque.  Leur point commun; ils amassent  une masse grandissante de données  sur différents aspects de notre quotidien et les transmettent à un serveur.

D’ici 2020, on peut s’attendre à ce que plus de 20 milliards d’objets connectés soient en circulation. Ils généreront des pétaoctets de données ayant la capacité de tracer un portrait de chaque minute de notre quotidien.  Dans leur ensemble, l’analyse de ces données révélera des informations qui permettront aux fabricants d’optimiser leurs produits.  Ce qui fait saliver les analystes marketing encore plus abondamment par contre est l’analyse au niveau de l’individu de ces données.

Connected object marketing- Baker MarketingNombreux analystes, dont ceux de McKinsey,  évoquent une 4ième révolution industrielle.  Ils prévoient une société où tous les produits et services vendus seront personnalisés afin de répondre aux besoins de chaque consommateur. Ce qui implique que le marketing de masse se fera au niveau de l’individu et non d’un segment.

Le message sera personnalisé en fonction du profil de l’individu, de son environnement, du contexte voir même du moment. De toute évidence, il ne sera pas créé par un humain puisque nous n’avons pas la capacité d’assimiler et de traiter une telle quantité de données à la vitesse requise. En ce qui a trait aux divers modes de livraison des messages publicitaires, je vous laisse les imaginer.

En poussant cet exercice de prospective à sa limite on peut même en arriver à la conclusion qu’une intelligence artificielle filtrera les messages publicitaires et ne laissera passer que ceux qui correspondent à nos besoins et désirs conscients voir même inconscients.

Revenons du monde de la science fiction et regardons comment nous effectuons le marketing des objets connectés aujourd’hui en examinant les stratégies du bracelet Fitbit et du thermostat intelligent d’Alphabet (Google), le Nest.

Nest marketing - Baker MarketingOn pourrait penser que Google, champion du big data, serait avant-gardiste dans la commercialisation du Nest. En fait, il n’en est rien. Alphabet a embauché en 2013 Doug Sweeny, ancien VP marketing de Levis (les jeans), afin de commercialiser le Nest.  Non seulement Sweeny ne veut-il pas exploiter les données d’utilisation amassées par Nest dans sa stratégie marketing il opte pour une stratégie des plus traditionnelles pour un produit de grande consommation. Nest focalise depuis les dernières années, quasi uniquement,  à croître son réseau de distribution physique (et non en ligne).  Nest fait peu de publicité dans les médias et n’a aucune stratégie de marketing personalisé.

Quant à Fitbit, cotée en bourse depuis 2015, sa stratégie marketing est beaucoup plus évoluée et exploite, bien que de manière limitée, les données amassées par ses utilisateurs.

Fitbit utFitbit Marketing - Baker Marketingilise ses données pour développer sa gamme de produits qui compte près d’une dizaine de bracelets. Fitbit déploie également des campagnes marketing hautement personnalisées en adaptant le contenu de chaque courriel qu’elle envoie à ses  millions de clients.

De plus, Fitbit inclut dans sa stratégie le marketing communautaire. Outre sa communauté Facebook principale, avec près de 1.5 million de j’aime, Fitbit anime également des communautés pour chacun de ses produits sur de multiples plateformes de médias sociaux. Fitbit commandite aussi de nombreux événements sportifs et créé du contenu numérique destiné à être rediffusé par ses utilisateurs.

Il y a plusieurs autres stratégies marketing particulièrement bien adaptées pour le marketing des objets connectés tel  le marketing prédictif, le marketing en temps réel et le co-marketing qui ne sont encore que peu ou pas utilisées dans ce secteur.

Les principaux freins au déploiement de stratégies marketing plus avant-gardistes par les fabricants d’objets connectés sont :

  • La perception des consommateurs de l’utilisation de leurs données à des fins de commercialisation
  • La convergence requise des compétences statistique, informatique, analytique, psychologique, sociologique et marketing
  • L’Absence de formation des analystes marketing dans les stratégies de commercialisation utilisant les données de masse (big data)
  • Le coût élevé des infrastructures et applications nécessaires à l’analyse de la modélisation des données

Les trois derniers freins expliquent également pourquoi les fabricants d’objets connectés utilisent principalement des fournisseurs externes pour analyser les données et développer leurs stratégies marketing.

Il est évident que le marketing des objets connectés en est encore qu’à ses balbutiements. À défaut d’une innovation de rupture dans le domaine, il faudra attendre de nombreuses années encore avant de voir le marketing des objets connectés se différencier substantiellement du marketing courant.

My best business reads for 2015 on marketing, innovation and lean startup

My best business reads for 2015 on marketing, innovation and lean startup

It is this time of the year. The time when we reflect on what we accomplished during last 12 months. What we did well and what we need to improve upon. It is also the time to consolidate our learnings for the year. One of the ways I circle back on my learnings for the year is to make a compilation of the books I read throughout the year and my best business reads list for the year.
I consider myself very lucky. My work requires me to not only keep up with what is going on in my field but keep ahead of the curve. Hence I need to read an average of probably 20-25 hours a week and I love it.
The one thing I noticed this year is that the marketing books I read were not my best sources of information to keep ahead of the marketing curve. Marketing is moving at the speed of light these days and the published book format is not well suited to keep you abreast of what is on and ahead of the curve. It is still however a great format to do a deep dive on a given topic.
Hence most of the marketing information I used to write my blog posts came from blogs or webzines. Therefore I will focus on my favorite cutting edge marketing information web sources for this year’s review.
As they are an inherent part of the services I offer to my customers I must also keep up on innovation and Lean Startup literature. I read many really great books on these two topics this year. It was hard to pick just a few for this review. Here are my best business reads for 2015.

Marketing

Best reads Hubspot - Baker MarketingHubspot

This site is designed to draw in affiliates. Hence the information is tailored for marketing consultants. Hubspot picks up quickly on new trends and is therefore an excellent source of information to keep on top of the curve marketing-wise.

Best Reads 2015 eMarketer - Baker MarketingeMarketer

eMarketer is a great source of market data. It also has some excellent white papers that draw a very clear picture of digital marketing, media and commerce. I especially like that they have extensive data on Canada and even some on Quebec.

Best reads 2015 CCO - Baker MarketingCCO Magazine

The articles in the Chief Content Officer magazine are dedicated to content marketing which is an ever inclusive field. The articles are often in-depth and of excellent quality.

Honorable mention goes to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Although it isn’t specifically a marketing magazine, their marketing articles are truly well researched and written by some of the most brilliant American marketing minds.

Many of my blog posts, including 3 Digital Makreting Hurdles, Me Inc, Influencer marketing, retargeting, community marketing and co-marketing were all inspired and researched using at least one of these sources.

 Innovation

Best Reads How to Fly a Horse - Baker MarketingThe very best book on innovation I read this year, hands down, is How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton. Using examples of true disruptive innovations over the last century, Ashton explains not only the process of creating a disruptive innovation but its required environment as well. It inspired me to write an entire series of post on creativity and innovation, creativity stimuli, creativity killers and how to foster innovation in large corporations. The posts on this blog are in French but I translated the first one on Medium. The others will follow in the New Year.

Best reads Mindset - Baker MarketingAlthough not on innovation per se, Mindset: The new psychology of success written by psychologist Carol Dweck is a fantastic book that will help marketers, innovators and entrepreneurs foster an attitude that will, along with hard work, lead them to success. It was recommended to me by a colleague and I since recommended the book to a few friends and acquaintances. Most of them said it was one of, or the best, and most useful book they read in a long time.

Lean Startup

Dozens of Lean Startup related books covering topics from management, finance, marketing, corporate culture, analytics, product management and others came out in 2015. There were too many to read. Amazon’s list of Lean Startup related books to be published in 2016 makes me think that all the Lean Startup related books written in 2015 will only amount to a fraction of what is coming next year. Erie Ries himself (Lean Startup author) will be publishing a second book called The Leaders’ Guide, in 2016.

MVP Marketing Plan - Baker MarketingI was even inspired myself this year to create some Lean Startup content. I shared with my readers the Marketing Minimum Viable Plan (Marketing MVP) in a series of 3 posts (part 1, part 2 and part 3).

Three of the books based on Lean Startup principles that stood out from the others for me were the following.

BBest reads Lean Product Playbook - Baker MarketingThe Lean Product Playbook: How to innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback from Dan Olsen is one of them. It will help anyone developing a new product figure out how to apply Lean Startup principles and minimize commercialisation risks for their specific situation. It is well written and has loads of pertinent examples to facilitate comprehension of various concepts. It inspired me to write a post on product/market fit.

Best Reads Lean Enterprise - Baker MarketingLean Enterprise: How corporations can innovate like start-ups by Trevor Owen is another book that stood out. Based in large part on Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, it clearly shows the barriers to innovation in large corporations. It also talks about the concept of innovation colonies and many of the practical aspects of setting up innovation friendly environments in large businesses.

lean b2b150vFinally Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want by Etienne Garbugli is a comprehensive look at developing B2B products using Lean Startup principles. It takes a practical, hands-on approach which shows you step by step how Lean Startup product management is done in a B2B environment. It is the only book on Lean Startup I read that uses a layout and techniques one usually finds in textbooks to facilitate comprehension.

This rounds up my list of best business reads for 2015.

Thank you for having taken the time to read the TechnoMarketing blog this year.

I would like to wish you and yours happy holidays and a healthy and fruitful 2016.Happy Holidays from Baker Marketing

 

 

Finding the elusive product-market fit

Finding the elusive product-market fit

Every start-up is looking for the elusive product-market fit. It’s the only way to get to the hockey stick market growth that can eventually lead to unicorn land.

Finding the product-market fit is this magical moment in time when a corporation has found the market(s) who perceive the value proposition of their product to be irresistible.

The three parts of the product-market fit definition

The first part is finding a (or a few) market(s) who perceive(s) your product as irresistible. This means you have found[1] a market which has unmet needs that they consider important enough to want to pay you, rather than anyone else, to fulfill them.

What is important to remember is that the needs to be fulfilled are often not directly related to the product itself. They are peripheral needs that the solution, which envelops the product, will fulfill.
The Uber taxi service is an example. Its customers are not choosing them over the many competing taxi services because they want to satisfy the need to get from point A to point B. They are choosing to give their money to Uber and its drivers mostly because Uber made it easier to order and pay for a taxi ride from their cell phone. Also because the passenger has an important say in who gets not only to drive him or her but to drive a Uber taxi.

Value proposition - Baker MarketingThe second part of the product-market fit definition is creating the value proposition which will prove irresistible. In order to provide significant gains, reduce some of the pains a market segment is experiencing, and help them do their jobs (real of figurative) more efficiently, you need to understand not only their needs but the environment in which they are felt.

The third part of the product-market fit definition is the moment in time aspect. The product market fit has a start and a finish in time. It does not last forever once you have found it. It is tributary to a slew of variables that all need to be within a certain range for the fit to happen. As soon as one of the critical variables, or a sufficient amount of non critical ones, move outside of the ideal range, the fit disappears.

How to achieve product-market fit

Achieving product-market fit can only be done through trials, errors and adjustments.
The fastest way to achieve product-market fit is to start with intimate knowledge of how one or a few market segments, with sufficient purchasing power for your product, fulfill one or many needs.
It is then a matter of translating this information into a solution with an irresistible value proposition to these markets.
This approach is significantly faster than developing a product for which you don’t have a specific market in mind and hence don’t know exactly which needs you will be fulfilling.
This approach entails that you need to guess which market segment will find your value proposition irresistible then get to understand their needs. You then either must adapt your product to this new information, or if the value proposition is unappealing to this particular segment, move on to another and repeat the process.
The risk of running out of funds is significantly higher with the second approach.

How to know when you have achieved product-market fit

Product-market fit - Baker MarketingThere are a few indicators that will allow you to know when -your product-market fit has been achieved.

The one I find the simplest is to plot on a graph your sales to total marketing costs (which includes your promotion costs) ratio over time for a specific market segment. If you are targeting multiple segments, you will need to allocate a part of your marketing costs for each segment.
When you see constant growth for a period equivalent to 4 to 6 sales cycle, you will have achieved product-market fit. A sales cycle beign defined as the time it takes a customer to go through the sales funnel (from awareness stage to purchase). Hence if your sales cycle is 7 days, you will need to see one month to one and a half month of constant growth of your sales to marketing cost ratio. If your sales cycle is a month long then you will need to observe 4 to 6 months of constant growth to know you have achieved your product-market fit.
You’ll want to keep an eye out for non-replicable events. If you are selling a new type of snow shovels, for example, and an unexpected heavy snowfall occurs, you will need to remove the period of the snowfall from your data.

Finding the product-market fit is the holy grail of any start-up. It is the acid test which lets you know your efforts were not in vain.

Now all that is left to do is find new markets so you can scale your business and keep a constant eye on your current one to make sure you don’t lose your product-market fit.

Can I get you a coffee or a Red Bull perhaps?

 

 

[1] In rare occasions, the market has found them

Rethinking Online Marketing

Rethinking Online Marketing

It used to be that one could decide, almost on a whim, to put a business on the web and expect some results with minimal online marketing efforts. If you have tried this recently, you know it is definitely not the case today.
Despite not having a reliable worldwide statistics on how many online businesses are started each year, we can extrapolate (mostly from US data) that the number of new online businesses worldwide is in the tens of millions yearly. Almost as many fail, but the web is still left with a fast growing number of businesses.

So what can you do, as an online retailer, to find, keep and delight customers?

The web is crowded today. It will be exponentially more crowded in the future as putting a business online gets easier.
Try to imagine a shopping mall with hundreds of thousands of easily reachable businesses who want to sell to you. The mall is so packed that you can’t really see any of the stores unless you are in front of them. The inventory they hold is mind boginly huge.

Now that the image has sunk in, ask yourself if these businesses were to use the online marketing techniques currently used by ebusinesses, would you want to buy from them?

Using this same analogy, would you buy from any of these businesses in that mall if:

  1. While you are walking around, you spot an interesting information billboard and stop to read it. As you start reading, a bunch of retailers come out of their store and start talking to you, some even standing between you and the billboard, about their products that you have no interest in.
    ⇒ Online, mobile an pop-up ads
  2. While you walk around the mall hundreds of retailers you have never heard of chase you and stuff little messages in your pockets.
    ⇒ spam, unwanted emails
  3. While you were in the mall, a store caught your attention and you went inside to look at a display that turned out to be uninteresting. Ever since that moment, the retailer pops up everywhere you look and keeps showing you the products on the display you looked at.
    ⇒ uninformed re-targeting

The answer to whether you would want to buy from any of them is, for the vast majority, a resounding no.

Yet, this is how most online marketing is currently done.

So now, let’s try to figure out what it would take for you to not only notice one of these businesses in the mall of over plenty but want to buy from this retailer repeatedly.
The web marketing/advertising community is starting to take steps in one of the right directions. The other directions we have yet to figure out.
A growing number of recent online promotional and advertising techniques are yielding good results. These techniques share two commonalities:

  • They answer a real need in the correct way
  • They contribute to building a relationship with the customer

Answering a need

A need can be latent or expressed. It can be that of a customer segment (defined as sharing a same need) or of a single customer. The underlying implication is that the need, and its context, are known. This in turn implies that effort has been put into thoroughly understanding customers’ needs, and their context, as well as being able to adapt to the various ones in the segments you target.

Building a relationship

customer relationship - Baker MarketingA relationship is the away a person communicates, behaves and deals with someone else based, in large part, on the level of trust between them.
It used to be that customers bought from their local merchants. The merchants spent time talking and getting to know their customers and their families and vice versa. Customers would see their merchant at the village church or in other social settings. They knew where and how the merchant lived. All this information increased trust and facilitated the building of a relationship between customers and the merchant.
The villages eventually grew into large cities. Merchants became strangers who sold brand name products created by faceless corporations. The only information available to customers to build a relationship pertained to the brand and it was controlled. As we all know, the brand information we receive is rarely sufficient to get the entire or even the real picture.
The advent of social media is now allowing a glimpse, and what may soon become a full view, into not only the brand and the corporation but also how the owners and employees manage it. This last information is much more relevant to consumers to build relationships than information on brand or company is.

We are now back to our mall of plenty analogy. Let’s say you are there shopping for some gluten free chocolate to give to your spouse for Halloween.

  1. As you are walking around you spot an interactive billboard on gluten free treats for Halloween and you stop to read. As you select to get more information on chocolates, a few merchants come out of their shops to talk with you. They pleasantly ask you questions on your purchase intentions, on your spouse’s preferences and your own. The merchants who know they have products that answer the needs they just discovered ask if you would like more information on their chocolate selection. They thank you and wish you a good day.
    ⇒ Bi-directional, targeted promotional information
  2. As you continue walking about the mall, two of the retailers, who you accepted to get information from, come to offer you gluten free chocolate samples and give you information on their selection and prices. They also engage you in a short conversation with the goal of getting to know you better. One of the retailers quickly picks up that you are a sniper shopper (target what you want beforehand, go for it and leave the shop quickly). She offers to present you only the chocolates that fit your spouse’s taste and have access to an express checkout line.
    ⇒ Targeted email and tailored shopping experience
  3. You end up purchasing from this retailer.  Over the next few months, the retailer you purchased from sends you occasional and useful information, discounts on gluten-free food items and offers you a free membership to a local information sharing community of people living with someone on a gluten free diet they manage. Fast forward to February, you are back at the mall of plenty to get your spouse a box of Valentine chocolates. As you walk in, your Halloween chocolate merchant comes to greet you with a smile and a discount offer on a beautifully wrapped box of gluten free chocolates you know your spouse will like.
    ⇒ Targeted offer based on accurate need information

Seriously, if this was the scenario, would you spend any energy shopping around given you are a sniper shopper?

The approaches used by the retailers in the above scenarios are all based on understanding the needs of their customer and building a relationship with him/her.

Ask yourself if your current promotional and advertising efforts on the web are based on answering your customers’ needs and contributing to building a relationship with them. If not, you may soon be replaced by a competitor who will.