20 dollar bill covering woman's mouth representing the value of customer-driven researchIs your marketing strategy driven by what you have to sell or the market needs you best fulfill?

If there’s one theme that weaves through most of my content, it’s that successful marketing together it’s a relentless focus on the customer. And the biggest marketing mistake you can make is to just focus on what you have to sell.

I often use one of my favorite inspirational quotes on marketing from Peter Drucker: “the aim of marketing is to know the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

But how do you get to know your customers? You cannot speak to all of them. But there are a few simple ways to use research and a customer-first mindset to drive effective marketing strategy…

The “Attention Economy”

We are living in a time when the main scarcity is our target audience’s time and attention. No matter who you are selling to, your customers still have product and service needs. And they have information, education and entertainment needs as well.

But according to Nielsen, our customers see more than 2,000 marketing messages every single day. The battle for customer attention has moved from a battle of the message, the medium or the technology to one of customer insights.

Thomas Davenport and J.C. Beck define attention economics as: “As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information. Attention economics applies insights from other areas of economic theory to enable content consumers, producers, and intermediaries to better mediate and manage the flow of information in light of the scarcity of consumer attention.” (Wikipedia)

Step 1: Speak to a Customer

The best way to gain insights into your target customers is to ask them. Or at least ask a sample of them. Pick some of your best customers, your most-recognized ones or simply the ones who are most open to providing you with feedback.

This is also a really cost-efficient and highly-effective way to develop content on a low budget:

  • Ask them about ALL the challenges they faced that led them to seek a solution
  • Ask them how they found you
  • Ask them what content they looked for and where at each stage of the buying journey
  • Ask them why they chose you

You can use these answers to develop testimonial videos, blog posts, webcasts, whitepapers and more marketing content for each stage of the buying journey. And then look to distribute the content in all of the places they told you where they went looking.

Step 2: Formal Research

Having been a sales and marketing professional for both a traditional and a syndicated market research firm, I can promise you that I am not a research purist. But the fact is that formal research is dreadfully under-funded in most organizations.

Like the more informal or qualitative research mentioned above, formal customer insight research should seek to understand the key challenges and issues facing your target customers. It should identify all the challenges they are facing and the relative priorities of each. And it should identify the relative priority of channels where they seek information and the content formats they are looking for at each stage of buyer journey.

Step 3: Keyword Research

Everyone uses a search engine at some point in the buying process. And understanding the keywords they use is not just a good idea for marketing, it is a fundamental need of the business to understand the keywords your customers are using when they search for information.

Keyword research allows you to get inside the minds of your buyers to know what they are thinking at the exact moment when they have a content need. So my suggestion is for every business to build a search-driven marketing plan. Some Resources to help:

  • Google Insights: allows you to see keyword trends over time.
  • Google keyword tool: helps you see the volume of different keywords and also makes suggestions for other keywords to consider.

What stops your business from moving to a customer-driven marketing plan?

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP where he leads content strategy and serves as the managing editor of the company’s award-winning Business Innovation thought leadership blog site. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

3 Comments

  1. Gavin Heaton said…

    I think you’ve also got to look to the future – of your own business as well as the industry you operate in. Research explains where we are now and how we got here. But we also need an eye on the horizon.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Gavin, yes. Research alone is not enough. Trending and time-based analysis can show you how things are growing and you can extrapolate as well but nothing can beat the good ‘ole human brain in mapping out a vision for the future! How all is well my friend!

  2. Alastair Brain said…

    The research needs to translated in decision and policy. Unless it is being used in the plans the research is useless activity and this where company lacks. Research outcome may demand to change organizational marketing structure but managers wont let that happen because they want stick with the old methods. Research is useful in those organizations where managers are risk takers.

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