How Does Your Organization Serve Your Customers?
I talk to a lot of marketers in my line of work, and the first question I ask is always the same: “How does your company serve a customer?” On the surface, this question has nothing to do with why I’m talking to the marketer. The conversation is usually about something complex and deep, like a content marketing strategy or conversion optimization objective.
But to me, this question strips back that complexity and gets to the very heart of the matter.
The Marketing Version of First Principles
On a recent Saturday afternoon at 3:22 p.m. I bolted out of my house in Jacksonville and looked toward the Southern sky. Rising towards the heavens, for the first time in almost a decade from American soil, for the first time ever by a private company, were two astronauts.
A monumental human achievement and the result of collaboration by thousands of people over many years. But it came down to one man having a vision and then pushing that vision to completion: Elon Musk.
How? He used what physicists call first principles thinking, which Musk describes as “… you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, ‘What are we sure is true?’… and then reason up from there.”
As James Clear explains, this approach led Musk to form SpaceX after discovering a rocket would cost $65 million to buy. “What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. Then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around 2% of the typical price,” Musk said. So Musk founded SpaceX and built them himself.
To me, first principles in marketing boils down to that first question: “How do you serve a customer?” That can break you out of seeing your challenges and opportunities through a marketing automation or direct mail or database marketing or conversion optimization or tactic du jour lens and get down to the very fundamental reason for the company’s existence. Then, build up from there.
Here are some examples to spark your thinking.
When I first met Karen Thomas-Smith, I assumed she had a long history in content marketing because she brought such a successful content marketing transformation into healthcare company Optum. That is how many marketing executives operate — whatever their background is, that is what the company needs. The leadership version of when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I came to discover she didn’t have content marketing experience at all. But when she saw what the industry needed, and how Optum served a customer, she realized she needed to transform her team into content marketers. From that effort, Optum generated closed contract revenue of $52 for every dollar invested.
Joseph Ferdinando ran a janitorial service and served customers by cleaning their building with staff that had been drug tested, wore uniforms, and had ID badges. When he learned that was a more thorough, professional way to work with his staff than most security services did at the time, he launched his own security service (see Mini Case Study #8 in Creative Inspiration: 9 mini case studies of marketing campaigns and business ideas sparked by unorthodox inspiration).
Na'ama Moran and Justin Gagnon realized that each of their companies served customers by bringing them good food at a good price — restaurants for Moran and schools for Gagnon. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools and restaurants were forced to close, they both went back to first principles and transformed their companies by delivering good food at a good price to a new type of customer: consumer grocery shoppers. (see Example #5 in Pivot Your Value Proposition: 6 ways brands, entrepreneurs and marketers are responding to COVID-19’s economic fallout).
There Are Only 2 Ways to Answer This Question
“How does your company serve a customer?” It’s really not a complex question. Every company serves customers in one of two ways. They either accentuate the positive or eliminate the negative. The company either helps customers reach a goal or overcome a pain point.
Answering this question is the beginning of determining the appeal of your company and its products or services — a key element of your company’s value proposition. Crafting an effective value proposition helps marketing leaders think beyond our current era’s obsession with technology, data, tactics, and channels and get to the fundamental reason your company will succeed, enabling your marketing department to build up a successful strategy from a strong base.
So the next time you stare a problem in the face — whether it’s an overpriced rocket or an under-budgeted print advertising campaign — take a step back and begin with first principles. How does your company serve a customer?
That is the very reason your company exists. And the inspiration for all marketing success.
If focusing on first principles gives you a radical new ideas for your company or your clients, here is a free template to help you win approval for proposed projects, campaigns and ideas.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.