I Don’t Care What You Would Do: 6 Ways You’re Not the Customer
As I wrote about recently on Target Marketing, "It Doesn’t Matter What You Would Do — What Would Your Customer Do?"
The article was blunt. Hopefully not rude. But I’m glad to see it got a good response…
“It's one of the toughest articles I've read in a while and it challenged me to think through my writing and storytelling.”
“Seems obvious, right? But, to many people, it is not.”
“I'd like to staple this column to the forehead of every marketing person I've ever met.”
But perhaps you’re still a skeptic. Not buying it? Still feeling pretty sure of your golden gut? Here are six examples of how we are not our customers:
Disconnect #1: Different Demographic
As a young copywriter at an agency right out of college, I was working on print ads for luxury ski-in, ski-out residences in Bachelor Gulch Village (just outside of Vail).
One of my concepts alluded to waking up late, say 10 a.m. My boss shot it down right away. “These are Fortune 500 CEOs, captains of industry. They’re up before dawn checking the markets in Europe and getting in a work out.”
The customers’ lived experience was radically different than mine. I was fresh out of college where I rarely had a class before noon. It surprised me that people would work that hard to get that rich and still wake up that early. Isn’t the point of getting rich to sleep in?
Now that I’m a little older, I know this disconnect in reverse most notably when companies rely on interns for their content marketing. If your target audience is business decision makers, they likely won’t connect with the pop culture references of interns (I, for one, had to Google who Rebecca Black was).
That doesn’t mean you need to be the same age or socioeconomic status as your customer. But it does mean you need to be aware of the disconnect, don’t assume they will act the same way you do, and test to discover what value proposition most resonates with them.
Disconnect #2: Different Device Usage Preference
In the early days of the iPhone, it was not uncommon to see a mobile marketing consultant speak at a digital marketing conference and say, “Raise your hand if you use an iPhone.” Invariably a lot of hands would go up, and the speaker would say, “See, everyone is on an iPhone now” and use that as justification for why every attendee’s brand needed an iOS app or to otherwise engage with his firm for mobile marketing help.
Your customer wasn’t in the room at that conference (unless you sell exclusively to digital marketers). It felt so right in that room when you saw everyone raise their hand, but you were looking at a skewed sample. If your customers are buying Medicare or live outside the US in an emerging market, they are far less likely to be on an iPhone.
Mary Abrahamson, Email Marketing Specialist, Ferguson Enterprises realized this. While she might have personally used an iPhone, she realized she wasn’t the customer. The plumbers and other contractors who were her ideal customers were much more likely to use flip phones. So the mobile marketing tactic she leveraged when promoting events was more focused around text messaging, and this approach helped her drive more than $10 million in online revenue from these events.
Disconnect #3: Different Language
Industries have a language. Your customer doesn’t necessarily speak yours.
When Yahoo Mail first launched videos embedded in email, we did some testing with them to see if the feature would increase conversion.
But our team and their team had trouble getting the test off the ground. Everyone was befuddled. So I dived into the email exchange, and it went something like this …
Their team: We’ll send the emails over when we’re done testing them.
My team: Oh, you can just send the emails over now, we’re going to test them.
Their team: No, we can’t send the emails to you until they’ve been tested.
My team: Well, there’s no point to send us the emails if you’re just going to test them yourselves.
This looked like the digital marketing version of “Who’s on first?”
You see, Yahoo’s team was talking about QA (quality assurance) testing. They were accustomed to making sure this new feature worked correctly before letting anyone send emails to their account holders. It was probably an important checkpoint their leadership drilled into them to make sure the rollout wasn’t a flop due to technical difficulties.
On our side, conversion optimization testing is our jam. We talk about testing all day long. And that’s the testing we mean.
Testing. One word, it can have many meanings.
Your customers lived experience is likely very different from your own. If you don’t use their words, you will lose them. This is very true, for example, in the medical industry. Patients may not be searching for a nephrologist or care that your dialysis center is recommended by nephrologists. But they may desperately need a kidney doctor.
But we can all be guilty of living in our own branded world. For example, Ari Sheinkin of IBM switched from using IBM-specific language (“Smarter Workforce” searched 90 times per month in Google) to language that was more natural for the customer (“HR Analytics” searched 1,000 times per month in Google).
Avoid industry jargon. Your marketing should sound like the customer.
Disconnect #4: Different Day-to-Day Technology Use
Developers tend to have the fastest, most up-to-date machines on the fastest connections. But does the customer? How quickly will the website load for the customer? What will it look like on customers’ machines?
Your ad agency graphic designer might have a monster screen with amazing resolution and he’s blown up the ad 1,000% for you to see it. But if that ad runs in a black-and-white print publication with poor offset printing, you aren’t seeing it the way the customer will and might have far too much text and not enough white space.
I experienced this recently myself. Our video editor was upset about the audio quality in a video he was working on because there was some rubbing of a lavalier microphone against the speaker’s suit jacket. He was listening to it through some studio monitor-quality headphones in our studio. But when I listened through my laptop’s tinny speakers — the way most of our audience would hear it — we couldn’t hear any problem at all. It wasn’t worth taking the time to fix such a minor detail.
Disconnect #5: Different Web Browser
This is in-line with #4 but I’m calling it out separately because it is so important in digital marketing.
When we were redesigning our website, the development team had to decide which web browsers to support. Specifically, how old of website browsers should be natively supported by the website.
They smartly looked in our analytics, and for that reason they didn’t include some old versions of Internet Explorer. We didn’t get much traffic from these old browsers. Makes sense.
But a lot of banks and other financial institutions have been Research Partners with us and banks tend to use older versions of Internet Explorer internally. So even though it was a small amount of traffic, it could come from important decision makers who might decide to work with us based on how the website rendered.
It’s an odd feeling for a group of developers and digital marketers to support old versions of IE — we tend to use the newest versions of Chrome, Firefox, or Brave — but we always have to remember that we are not the customer.
Disconnect #6: Different View of the Company
This is a biggie. We spend a large amount of our waking hours working on our company’s brand. We know the website inside and out. We’ve worked on the campaign for months before it launches. We know how much work goes into the product. Perhaps we know the founder personally. This company occupies a huge amount of our headspace. Not to mention, its ability to sell products is intimately tied to our livelihood.
Our customers, on the other hand, will give the company’s email a few seconds of thought before quickly deleting it with a coffee in one hand while chatting with a friend walking down the street. Or walk right by that amazing booth with the LED lights and the oomcha music and the sweet swag giveaway we invested five figures in for the tradeshow.
You are not the customer. I am not the customer. Even if you don’t have the above five disconnects from the customer – you’re the same demographic, use the same devices, etc. – you will inherently look at your company differently as an insider.
Know it. Be conscious of it in your daily decision making. And find ways to overcome your skewed view.
To help you see your marketing and brand through your customer’s eyes, we’ve created the free Introductory Guide to Developing Your Customer Theory [an interactive worksheet]. I made it, so I think it’s amaaaaaazing. And I hope you will, too.
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.