In my experience as a CMO for a number of years, a marketing organization that has a strategy with these three elements is miles ahead of other organizations, and becomes the best practice for the herd to follow.
The strategy they follow involves a unique approach to:
- the process used to understand what people want and desire;
- the information selected on people that makes a difference on whether or not someone chooses you as their provider;
- how to transform the information into something that people will pay for over and over again.
The process to follow…
The old adage that knowledge is power has a specific application in an environment where competition is fierce, economic shifts are dramatic and unpredictable and where customer wants and desires are changing almost every hour on the hour.
Most organizations employ market research as the tool for discovering the mood and needs of customer groups; the studies are typically performed by an external firm and are done periodically.
Market research has limitations.
— First and foremost, as the name suggests, it deals with ‘markets’; aggregations of people who express similar needs. The problem is that no two people are identical in any way, so when you look at market data you are looking at a blend of individuals where no one specifically is like the data gathered.
— Second, the fact that it is done periodically means that the rapid pace of changing needs could put organizations out of touch with what the current priorities are for the customer.
What people desire in this moment are likely different from what they yearned for a moment ago.
— Third, being outsourced to 3rd party contractors puts the management of customer knowledge outside the organization, and the understanding and application of it in the hands of a few employees.
Marketing receives the customer data and decides what it means to their marketing programs.
A new research model is needed; one that leverages the gathering of customer insights on the run to be a core competency of an organization that is unmatched by others.
A core competency that applies the continuous stream of changing customer needs discovered to create opportunities and solutions for the customer that others simply are unable to do.
Customer learning is the answer.
Customer learning is the continuous process of capturing customer needs, wants and desires real time in the moment they touch the organization — Roy, learner ‘on the run’
The idea is that every time a customer “touches” the organization, it represents an opportunity to learn something about them.
My approach was to define all touch points in the organization and focus on the ones that represented 80% of the action.
Any customer touch point can yield productive learning if you consider it as a strategic learning opportunity rather than just a customer contact — Roy, customer learner
The challenge is to engineer the contact to produce the maximum amount of learning. Structure the engagement to allow you to easily gather their information you seek; ask the right questions, be unobtrusive and let the magic begin.
Obviously one of the engineering issues organizations need to get over is the amount of time an employee is allowed to spend with a customer. If they are managed by how long the engagement takes, the amount of quality information on the customer will be reduced.
And, for online applications, the engagement process must be structured to encourage people to provide information on the website. This has limitations, of course, because it’s not a conversation where the dialogue opens up opportunities to obtain more information from a person.
A touch point that paid off handsomely for me was the customer complaint; when a customer called in with a complaint about something. Dealing with complaining customers may not rank number 1 on the rewarding experience scale for employees, but the complaint can, if listened to closely, produce useful information on how you can better serve your customers.
As an aside, I’m not a fan of being pointed to a FAQ web page as the organization’s way of handling my complaint. The questions are rarely relevant — because they’ve been prepared by employees from encounters with other people — and the moment leaves me frustrated and annoyed. On the other hand, I’ve had some terrific experiences with the Chat function; more resources should be deployed here.
What to do with all the information gathered from customer moments? Store them in a repository that is used by marketers to develop meaningful solutions to the problems and opportunities buried in the data.
The scope of customer learning is to look at the customer holistically; what their needs and wants are at the highest and broadest level.
The idea is to look laterally across their persona to discover their integrated needs rather than to look vertically to define a narrow — slice — need.
A holistic need for a consumer could be to travel every 6 months with their family; a slice need could be to have faster internet speed.
For a business a holistic need could be to leverage technology into a competitive advantage; a slice need could be to increase inventory turns by twofold.
To be able to use your marketing machine to standout from your competitors, it starts with institutionalizing a process to continually learn about your customers.
The information to gather…
The challenge in a world where virtually everyone has their basic needs satisfied is determining how an organization can stand out and be noticed. How does it get tagged with being remarkable and indispensable by their customers?
Today people are looking beyond their basic needs to feed their wants and desires. They are driven to a higher level to seek happiness; basic needs satisfaction may give people a lift for a period of time but the lustre soon fades — a new SUV soon becomes a used car.
As marketers, if we continue to focus on what people need we will miss the opportunities that lead to market leadership and enhanced profitability. The source of this huge untapped potential are the untapped secrets hidden in the deepest nooks and crannies of every individual that define who they are and how they want to express themselves.
A customer secret is what someone craves, aches and hungers for — Roy, secret gatherer
A customer secret has little to do with what someone needs. They need food, shelter, water and dependable communications — they expect to get them and pay as little as possible when they do; they might crave to see a Liverpool game played at Anfield in England and are willing to pay more for the opportunity to have their dream come true.
In a business setting, they might need power to run their manufacturing facility, but would be delighted to have a consultant recommend how alternative technologies could be employed to drive costs down and efficiency up.
Exactly how does one gather secrets? People divulge their secrets only to others they trust, have confidence in, and have a strong relationship with.
If you are an outsider, they won’t tell you anything (other than perhaps what they need) and you won’t discover the gold that will enable you to have a profitable long-term relationship with them.
So, focus on relationship building with people you choose to serve. And don’t expect results overnight. It’s a long term investment; you can’t earn someone’s trust in a 60-minute interaction with them.
Secret gathering is a personal affair. Commit to informally meeting face-to-face with customers every week as a personal priority; you can’t discover secrets from your office. And have a casual conversation with the person you’re meeting; it’s not a formal market research interview — and don’t try and sell them on anything.
Avoid prying into personal matters unless it is a natural lead-in based on the conversation you are having. After the ice-breaker question, be guided by what they say.
And take lots of notes if it’s ok with them. It shows you’re interested in what they have to say.
How to use the information you gather…
Marketing with the focus on products and services is the way most companies engage with the market and compete today.
Nothing wrong with this, but it’s hard to find a unique niche where your competitors won’t find you.
Product competition is always challenged with how to provide features others don’t.
Rather than the traditional product-centric approach, unforgettable marketing is moving to offering packages of value that reflect the broad holistic view of the target customer in terms of their needs, wants and desires.
The key question is, of course, how do you move to the package creation mode when you have been stuck in the product-only gear for so long?
Here are the 5 steps to follow to create packages around your products and services.
Define the core product — start with your core product. It will be the anchor for your package and generally represents the key product or service that you want to offer.
Add elements to your core product — Identify additional components that can be “wrapped around”, or added to, your core product.
The choice of what value to add is based on what you have learned — through the customer learning process — about your target customers. The more you know about the customer the easier it is to choose what added elements are appropriate.
Your end game is to create a package that addresses a relevant want or desire in the most compelling way possible — Roy, value packager
Resist the temptation to add too many value elements; don’t complicate the package.
Try to add just three additional value components that present a consistent and seamless value proposition to the customer and a natural add-on to your core product.
You can always add more elements later if you discover there are unsatisfied wants evident or if your competition does something creative and you need to respond.
Choose synergistic value components to create your package in order to present a cohesive theme to the customer.
If the value components don’t work well together, your target customer group won’t understand the overall benefits your package provides.
If you are in the financial business, for example, with an anchor product of financial advice, you might consider additional value elements such as on-line self management investment tracking tools and quarterly financial management seminars which all play well together.
Or you might consider wrapping these elements around a four seasons resort hotel room:
— spa services
— yoga classes
— resort activities such as zip lining and water rafting
— a bottle of the customer’s favourite wine with a meal
— day care services
Create the value proposition — Define the value proposition for your package — what is the collective benefit the package provides to the customer?
This is not a statement that simply adds together the benefits of each package component rather it’s a declaration of the overall benefits of all package elements working seamlessly together.
In my example above, how might you define the collective benefits of financial advice, on-line tracking tools and regular seminars? You need to express the theme they collectively express. How about something like “investment self-management”?
Brand the package — Brand your package reflecting the value proposition you’ve created.There is no sense creating something new and not taking credit for your innovation. Too many organizations are into the bundling where product elements are simply added together and a discounted price is applied.
That’s not what I advocate.
Packaging is all about creating something new; bundling is merely slapping currents products together with reduced prices being offered with the volume increase.
Your new brand should reflect the collection of benefits provided. In the example that we have been using how about branding the package ‘The self-management Investment Plan?
Price your package — Price your package in terms of the market value provided.
Think premium pricing. Avoid the bundling mentality — and commodity thinking — of discounting the package based on the number of components in it — Roy, premium pricer
If you have hit the mark with relevant, compelling value you should be able to command a premium price and realize healthy margins.
If you learn that you can’t price your package at a premium level, you have not defined it well enough — your package doesn’t contain the right combination of elements that result in a value proposition people are willing to pay more for.
Go back to the drawing board. Start over.
If you love your marketing craft and want to excel in it, do it the right way. Do it in a way no one else does.
Practise the process I’ve given you here and I guarantee success will be waiting.