3 Questions to Better Understand Your Customers
In my class, we discuss many kinds of research that help brands reveal aspects about their customers. And the data that is available for marketers is more robust than ever before. Big Data has empowered us to cross-stitch online behavior, demographics, buying patterns, predictive website searches and more. And, artificial intelligence will make the patterns reveal themselves with more precision. While the data and customer research about what people are doing can inform us about what they are likely to do in the future, there is also a more human approach — that goes deeper than the data — to understand your customers.
Here’s a method that can help you understand your customers with more clarity and empathy. While it takes thought, delving into these questions will invariably help with how you craft your brand’s relationships with your customers because every person on Planet Earth has a personal and unique response to the next three questions:
1. What Do My Customers Struggle With?
Everyone – including you, reading this - has struggles. It’s a human condition. We question, doubt, have concerns, worry, and are insecure or befuddled by something. Figuring out how your customers’ struggles interweave with your brand’s promise could unlock new ways to help them.
Example: Starbucks learned early on that their consumers struggled with having a place outside of work and home, where we could meet folks or be alone in a safe and comfortable environment. The traditional Italian “Bar” and the role it served in communities was missing here in the states. So instead of just a place to get grab-and-go coffee, they solved for a “3rd Place,” making a destination that went beyond the purchasing of coffee or treats. Starbucks knew that there were holes in communities they could fill, that there was a common struggle we didn’t even know we had.
2. What Are My Customers Motivated By?
Every person aspires to be more than they are. The desire to grow is innate, and we all want our lives to get better in some way. We each are looking for ways to improve and we gravitate towards brands that help us do that. The best brands understand that a simple transaction doesn't have to be in, and that they can engage users into self-improvement of any kind.
Example: Sur La Table knows that offering terrific cookware products wasn’t quite enough. Their customers are motivated to learn how to be better home cooks, and make home life more enjoyable and rewarding. By offering the in-store cooking classes, and posting a regular calendar of new ideas, the individual stores deepen their relationship with their customers, and fulfill on their aspirations to make their home lives better with making higher-quality meals.
3. Is There a Memory-Emotion Link That's Important to My Customers?
Deep in the core of our brains is the Hippocampus and Amygdala, two connected centers in our brain biology that stores both memory and emotion. Memory-Emotion is extraordinarily powerful in our lives, and these two magnificent aspects of the brain work in tandem to preserve the most deeply-embedded feelings and decision-making drivers in our lives.
As a brand, it’s awfully hard to construct something that is a powerful connector to memory. But if you’re in a consumer brand, there’s most likely some kind of hook or common experience you can tap into. You’ll have to dig into when your service might be a part of a memory in a life. Or you can see what kinds of experiences your customers might share, and tap into those shared memories.
Example: Subaru knows that their customers are active. They’re climbers, surfers, skiers, outdoors-folks. And they made the hunch that their customers owned pets. “Subaru owners are actually twice as likely to have a pet as other car owners and 7 out of 10 Subaru drivers share their heart, home, and – of course, their backseat – with a four-legged family member!” Source: http://www.dogingtonpost.com (no joke). Subaru launched an entire campaign with Golden Retrievers, and it was all about dogs doing the things we do in life (driving cars, going to pick up kids, etc.). Just videos of dogs. And, in their showrooms, they had dog bowls and dog treats. They knew a broad majority of customers have a shared emotional connection with love of animals...specifically their dogs.
And it paid off. My neighbor purchased a Subaru after her elderly dog passed away – even though the Ford Escape had a better warranty and lower price. She bought from the emotion-memory place of her brain, not the cerebral cortex where “better warranty and lower price” lived. When I asked why she bought the Subaru over the Ford, she said, simply, "Subaru loves dogs, and I miss Carson." Emotion-Memory wins every time.
Look, these are not easy questions to answer. But they’re worth discussing with your team as to what really drives your customers to connect with your brand. This is really purposeful branding work.
As always, I'd enjoy hearing your feedback and comments.
Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.
For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.