One of the most common types of marketing transformations underway today is a shift towards better alignment with the wants/needs of the target audience. The thinking behind this technique that if you can understand your buyer very well, you can anticipate her every move and thought. That, in turn, will help you create marketing that is so perfectly targeted that it get her to do what you want her to do, very much like dogs do to their humans.
Sound hokey? Have you ever had a dog – or even a child – get you to do something you didn’t think you wanted to do? The dog knows all about you from past experiences. They know your routines, your habits, your “tells” when you like something and pretend not to. They also know what you don’t like, such as how insane you get with hyperactive dogs running around the living room, your weakness for all things cute, and so on.
When the adorable dog wants something, this accumulated data about you goes into action. The dog sits in front of you and wags his tail – then rockets around the living room three times in five seconds. Each time he circles the room, he bumps the coffee table. The bump is a little harder each time, jostling your cup of tea just a little more each time.
You just took him for a walk an hour ago when you got home from work but you’ve been ignoring him ever since. Now, before your tea spills all over the nice white sofas you get so protective over when guests drink red wine, you get up and grab the dog’s leash off the hook. The dog stops running around and calmly walks with you to the front door. He’s certainly not being ignored anymore.
My dog Miles does this very thing except he tosses in some cute posing as well [yes, these are his real pictures in this post so you see how he has data on responses to cute posing]. If dogs and kids can use knowledge about you to predict what you will do and get you to do what they want, think how much better grown up humans can do it!
After all, we have access to so much more data than they do. Plus, we’re smarter (hopefully). It’s just a matter of collating the data into something that paints a clear picture of who the target is and what she wants/needs.
These collated collections of data about target buyers are called buyer personas, with one persona representing each specific type of customer. The ever-increasing use of persona-based marketing since their creation in the 1990’s has shifted content and strategies away from vague statements of superiority or promoting features out of context. Instead, marketers are moving towards showing value as perceived by the client.
This change is widely assumed to be the result of new technology, which enabled buyers to be highly selective in what information they receive. Organization, in turn, are trying to compensate by trying to go (virtually) where their buyers are. They now send messages in format their buyers want, at times and on platforms buyers want. They provide information buyers want rather than focusing on their own product/service features.
Many people believe this is a permanent shift in power between brands and buyers, the end of ‘push marketing’ as buyers take control of the process. However, technology has only made it easier for people to carry out a well-known propensity described as selective exposure theory. Specifically, people only really pay attention to what already aligns with their belief systems. You see the concept playing out during political campaigns, for example, or global warming, or even when sports fans argue about their favorite teams. If its not in line with what they already think, people will ignore it.
In the case of marketing, you just have to be really clear on what it is your particular buyer expects to see/hear/learn and when/how so you can align to those expectations. And not just in marketing. Recall that you have a clear vision of the downstream implications of marketing transformation across the organization including sales, support, everywhere. A shift to customer-centricity that doesn’t occur in all client-facing parts of the organization will look disingenuous, at the very least.
Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel with that bait and switch? ‘The brand is all nice and customer-centric when it’s trying to get me to talk to a sales rep, then – suddenly – its back to pushing stuff on me that’s irrelevant!’ This is not the way to get a repeat customer. In this day and age, it may not even stop with losing that one customer. You might lose thousands of customers if the experience shows up on #fail.
A colleague from a certain pharmaceutical giant that shall go unnamed made me so jealous when he described the Star Trek holodeck-like room they use to review data about their target buyer. They know their buyers so well now that the product development team is using the data to determine what new products to make. If they can do that, you can do at least do a dozen customer interviews, track data on LinkedIn and job posting boards, and create a bare-bones persona for your target buyer.
Learn what industry issues (i.e., network security) and organizational responsibilities (i.e., people doing work tasks on personal mobile devices) they’re concerned about. Find out what information they need before they can make a purchasing decision. Identify their preferred formats and channels to get their information. Collect a list of who else they work with when making purchasing decisions and what those people care about. Investigate not just their professional goals but also their personal motivations, like changing IT from a cost center to heroes or having the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) be taken seriously as a member of the executive leadership team.
There lots of places and methods to get this and other relevant data and create a persona. There are industry associations and private consulting groups that can help you understand your buyer, if you don’t feel up to the challenge. Take advantage of these resources – or risk losing brand trust before they even have a chance to see your product.
It’s a little more work to build out personas (an average of 6-8 weeks for teams I work with, but then I’m big into ensuring statistical validity 🙂 However, so many other organizations are doing it that this is the new normal that buyers have come to expect. Organizations that don’t – or won’t – at least consider this type of transformation will be at an increasing competitive disadvantage.
Comments welcome, especially if you have some examples of how your organization uses buyer personas or how it became more customer-centric generally.