You work hard to reach customers and other key stakeholders. But despite your best efforts, you worry that your efforts are falling short. As one marketer put it, "We spend a lot of time communicating in the hope customers will engage. But only a few pay attention."

What should you do differently?

Start by leveraging a core strategy from leading consumer product companies. These savvy marketers spend a great deal of time gaining deep insights about customers' habits, attitudes and preferences. They've learned that the more they know, the more likely they'll offer products people will buy.

The good news is you don't need fancy technology or expensive consultants to gain insights into:

  • What to communicate and what examples will resonate with your audience
  • How to communicate (for example, print, electronic, or face-to-face)
  • When and where to communicate

Here are three ways to get started:

1. Know who your customers are

It may sound basic, but there's still value in analyzing demographics, the statistical data of a population, especially those showing average age, income, education, etc. Demographics will give you valuable insights into almost every aspect of communication.

Although it's true that some 85-year-old grandmas use Facebook and a few teenagers read actual books, each person's communication practices are greatly influenced by our demographics. So if your target audience members are Baby Boomer executives, you'll know they're more likely to read The Wall Street Journal than watch Vine videos.

2. Observe what they do

The second step in understanding customers is to observe their behavior. Put yourself in the role of mystery shopper, those professionals employed by market research companies to observe what happens in a store or other selling environment. You don't have to become a spy; just use available information to determine which communication techniques engage your audience members.

Start with quantitative data that measures how many members of your audience:

  • Open an email and clicks a link to an website
  • Visit the website (measured as "unique visitors"), viewing X number of pages and spending X amount of time on the site
  • Complete a survey
  • Takes advantage of a discount or other offer
  • Attends an event

Now that you know the extent of participation, you can put your mystery shopper skills to work by analyzing the nature of that participation.This is where your keen observational skills come into play to notice such nuances as:

  • Do current subject lines or headlines encourage people to open emails or read intranet articles? Which topics resonate? Is there a style of writing that attracts more interest?
  • When are customers most likely to participate in social media? What topics encourage participation? If a certain person starts a discussion, how does that impact participation?

3. Ask them what they need

Now that you understand who your customers are, and how they participate, it's time to find out what they need and prefer from communication. How? By conducting qualitative research such as focus groups or interviews.

Focus groups are helpful when you want to explore an issue in depth because they allow people to express their opinions and engage in an open-ended dialogue. While we typically think of focus groups as a face-to-face experience, they can be easily adapted to a virtual or web-based format.

One-on-one interviews are great for learning more about a specific topic or area. They are particularly useful when you have a sensitive subject or when it's logistically difficult to bring people together. Done well, these open-ended and free flowing conversations will allow customers to really open up about an issue. Interviews can be done over the phone or in person and are best if done in 30-45 minute increments. (Too much longer and you may encounter burnout.)

The best thing about most of the techniques is that they're simple and inexpensive. You just need to take the time to study your customers' practices, needs and preferences.






Published on: May 8, 2015