Marketing can be simply defined as the ways you influence customers to buy from you. And to influence effectively, you should understand your customers. Knowing your customers will help you communicate with them in meaningful ways and choose media channels they will actually see.
Here are checklists of the kinds of demographic and characteristic knowledge you should have about your customers.
Customer Demographic Checklist
Understanding facts and figures about your customers is the first step to designing marketing campaigns that will appeal to them. You should know:
Size of your target market
Your current share of this market
Geography – where your customers live and work
Percentage of your customers who are men vs. women
Percentage of your customers at various ages/stages of their lives
Which media channels they find most compelling, i.e., radio, Facebook, Yelp, magazines, etc.
Customer Characteristic Checklist
Demographics are only the start, though. They can help you choose where to place your messages, and give some guidance on where to start with message development. For instance, a Boomer woman near retirement will generally require a different marketing approach from a Millennial man who just started a business.
To truly influence and persuade customers, you need a knowledge of their personalities, preferences and characteristics. Things like:
How do products/services like yours affect their lives?
What do they love about your industry?
What do they hate?
When do they make purchasing decisions?
How much research do customers complete before they buy?
What makes you special to your customers and differentiates you from competition
Who is your indirect competition? What different products/services might a customer buy instead of yours?
If you know less than half of the items on my checklists, your marketing strategy needs more research! Start talking to customers, and let them tell you how to persuade them.
Research is the best way to start a small business marketing strategy. Specifically, conducting research with your customers will help you learn what they care about, why they buy from you, what problems most affect them and other important issues that affect your marketing strategy.
1. For marketing that matters, find out what your customers really think
By gaining real insight from customers, you avoid the pitfalls of mistaking assumptions for facts. My client TriState Water Works excels at helping customers optimize their sprinkler systems for efficient water use. However, in customer research, we uncovered that customers most value TriState Water Works’ promptness– plenty of convenient appointment times and technicians that show up on time. This insight allowed us to align our marketing campaigns with what customers care about most.
2. Let your customers talk… and talk
For small business marketing purposes, forget multiple-choice questions and rating scales. An unstructured interview is the best way to uncover the hidden gems of insight your customers are just dying to share with you. During interviews, clients for Grady Veterinary Hospital described their relationship with the practice in rich, beautiful ways that inspired us to build a Facebook community that has become incredibly successful.
3. The most valuable insights are the ones that surprise you
Be prepared to learn a lot about your business you didn’t know! Pay attention to the surprising things customers say to you, and ask follow-up questions to learn more. These topics are fuel for marketing brainstorming.
4. Small business marketing research can start, well, small
Market research can seem overwhelming– large companies spend thousands of dollars and hours of effort perfecting their results. But small businesses don’t have those resources. Start small, and you can still gain valuable marketing insights. Interview five of your best customers, and see what you learn.
5. Remember to act on what you learn
Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a beautiful thing. But not in small business marketing. Start making changes to your marketing immediately– as soon are you learn something great.
Do you know what your customers are thinking? Do you know what really matters to them? You should find out! It will make your marketing more effective and efficient.
Sometimes what your customers think and value might surprise you. I had a conversation with a contractor who learned by accident that his customers preferred slightly rusty service vans to pristine, freshly-painted ones. He had purchased a fleet of used vehicles, but unexpectedly needed to put them in the field before he could get them painted. Many of his customers (most of whom were selling their homes, so didn’t want to invest too much capital in the improvements) mentioned they preferred a less expensive contractor who didn’t spend thousands on the appearance of his vans. They believed “the savings were passed on to them,” so to speak. Now, the contractor doesn’t worry so much about keeping the paint jobs up-to-date.
A large part of marketing is learning what matters to your customer through research. How will you know what to say to them in marketing communications unless you know what they believe?
Getting started with research can be as simple as asking a few customers for their opinions, but to get the most value out of research, it’s best to engage a marketing firm. Customers are more likely to give their honest opinions to a third-party, and a marketing firm will have methodologies for getting customers to speak freely.
Oh, did I mention Zoo in a Jungle Marketing excels at qualitative market research? We do!
How do I know your employees want to be cross-trained?
They’ve told me.
In my work with Yastrow & Company, we do extensive, in-depth employee research, and cross-training is the most universal request we hear. Practically every group of employees, in every industry and every job role tells us, “I wish I knew what everyone else in the company did everyday. It would help me do my job better if I understood where my coworkers are coming from.”
Restaurants can schedule back-of-house staff to individually work the front of the house for a shift. Companies with IT departments can have IT staff rotate through the various departments they support– and show the other employees the demands of the IT department. A retail store can ask their purchasers to work a few hours on the floor.
Sometimes management gives pushback to the idea of cross-training, and their reluctance is understandable. It’s a cost, and it takes valuable employees away from their work for a time. But the investment in cross-training helps build teams and breaks down barriers across departments. When employees understand what their coworkers do in the course of their jobs, they will be more helpful to requests. Asking back-of-house employees to work with customers for a day will make them realize the importance of the customer experience.
Offer some cross-training. I guarantee your employees will find it valuable, and it will help unify your business.
An effective marketing team knows their customers. They know where to spend their marketing dollars to get the most effect and what messages will resonate with different groups. This customized marketing approach yields a valuable return-on-investment.
However, a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing guarantees marketers will spend more money for less effective results. When they don’t know their customers and their preferences, they must send a variety of messages using many different media.
Yet, many businesses don’t put much effort into learning about their customers.
Below are three examples of differences in customer behavior. You can see how different marketing strategies could be taken to meet their preferences and needs.
If your customers are primarily women, you need to know they behave differently from men. Marketing to women expert Marti Barletta writes about consumer behavior frequently, but in one particular post, “Guaranteeing Sales Success with Women,” she emphasizes that women are risk-averse and value warranties and guarantees more than men do.
If your customers are young, from 18-33, 80-89% of them can be found on social networking sites. But of those 74 or older who use the Internet, only 10-19% engage in social networking sites. This information is from Pew Internet.
If your customers are older and affluent, they might be choosing an urban lifestyle rather than a retirement community. Boston Consulting Group’s Michael Silverstein reports on his firm’s research that these consumers enjoy cooking at home and increasingly have more time to learn new hobbies.
How well do you know your customers? How many of them are women? What age groups buy from you the most? What are their incomes? Being able to answer these questions will help you customize your marketing plan with strategies that will reach your customers without wasting time and money on people who won’t buy from you.
Keeping your small business marketing approach current with your customers
You know that the marketplace changes rapidly, and you have to change your business model with it. But how do you know which changes to make? It’s simple. Ask your customers.
In this small business marketing podcast, I discuss changing business strategy with David Weatherholt and Russell Ball. Russell successfully changed his marketing approach- and company name- to fit the needs of his marketplace. I detail how all small businesses can keep their fingers to the pulse of the marketplace by conducting simple, thorough research with their customers.