I consistently hear the question, “Is marketing an art or a science?” And my answer is always the same: if you want to make marketing work for you – you must make it a science. You have to ensure that all your decisions are calculated and based on sound information. This is why research and measurement are the two most important aspects of marketing – the rest are just execution tools, and that is where much of the art comes in. This leads to the point of this blog: Are you asking the right questions about your marketing program?
If you are concentrating all your marketing questions around the execution tools, you are totally missing the benefits of strategically driven marketing. Strategic and effective marketing is a continuous process based on customer/target understanding and the flow of information. The key is to understand how and where to reach your target. If you understand your target’s values, needs, and whereabouts, then marketing is easy. So, how do you get to know your target? Ask the following 4 essential questions about your current marketing program:
#1 Essential Marketing Question: Do I understand my customer/target?
There are many ways to start to understand customers and target audience. You need to find out what they value and where they frequent so that you may better reach them. While researching your customers, you may find out that they have different segments within your target audience and sometimes even sub-segments. For example, you may find that you have both professors and students who buy your product, but for very different reasons. Or you may find that different levels of business professionals are interested in your service, but each level has a very different goal. Not only may the segments have different reasons and goals for buying, but they also have different whereabouts. For example, one segment may be heavily utilizing social networking and another segment may feel more comfortable with more traditional interaction methods, such as phone. You must make sure that your message “speaks” to each of these segments by tailoring your message and place of interaction to suit that segment. Here are some of the more common ways to obtain customer understanding.
- Research – Research can be secondary or primary. Meaning you can go out and ask your target audience (primary) or you can research existing data (secondary). Both of these methods have been made easy by the Internet. Tools like Survey Monkey are easy to use for primary research. Secondary research is easy also with the vast amount of data available just from a quick search. The Internet is also great to keep tabs on your competition.
- Current Customers – Your current customers are one of the most valuable resources that you have. Not only do you rely on them for future business, but they are a great resource for referrals. This is why investing in a CRM system is essential to properly manage them. The goal is to keep them satisfied and loyal. So always ask, “What am I doing to retain my customers? How do I interact with them? Do I really understand what they value and need?”
- Employees – Listen to your employees, for they are a great source of the pulse of the customer and sometimes the industry. Specifically, your front line staff such as your sales team and your customer service department can tell you much about what your customers think.
And always remember, just because you once tapped some of the above information does not necessarily mean that you know your customer or target audience. Markets change, behaviors change and most importantly, people change. Understanding your target market is a continuous process with metrics that need to be reviewed and analyzed regularly.
#2 Essential Marketing Question: Do I effectively engage with my customer/target?
Make sure you are having a dialogue with your customers and target. People want to feel good about who they do business with. They want to know that your company shares their values and that means getting to know you. Remember, customers are analyzing you and deciding if they want to do business with you. That means that your message must be clear, consistent and above all genuine. Today’s savvy customers can see through marketing gimmicks. If you have done your research it should be simple to come up with a message that resonates with your target, and at the same time is true to your company’s core values or goals.
The question now becomes what mediums do you use to build the connections that consumers desire? You should be trying to build connections with all your marketing activities, from traditional marketing activities to online activities. However, the Internet and specifically social media provides some of the best opportunities for consumers to connect with you. There are many ways for you to interact with your customers online, but the essential ones are:
- Blogging – This is the best way to show your target audience your company values along with establishing you as an expert in your field. It is also a great way to increase exposure on the Internet. The SEO from blogs can produce great ROI. Especially if you post your blogs to sites such as Digg.com, BizSugar.com and Ezine.com, along with many others. You just need to determine which sites will reach more of your target audience.
- Social media – Make sure you have as many outlets as possible for your customers to reach you. You want to make it easy for them to engage with you and your brand. The big ones are Twitter.com and Facebook.com, but there are literally dozens of social sites that, depending on your business, could provide very well targeted forums for communication. Upkeep is the key item to keep in mind when choosing where you want to interact with your target audience. You have to make sure that wherever you have a presence there is someone monitoring that outlet.
- Website – This is your company “home” and almost all marketing activities should point consumers to this site. It should also be a hub for connection to all your social media networks. A consumer landing on your website should easily be able to find all the available ways to connect with you. That means your blog, your social media sites, and any current off-line campaign and events, as well as the standard email, phone and address.
With so many different avenues to deliver your message, it is important to have control of your message. Regardless of the number of places you deliver your message or the number of people delivering it, it is important to have a written messaging document for employees that details the message and benefits to be communicated to your target market. This will ensure consistency and in so doing builds your brand. Consistent experiences with your company also build brand loyalty which is the holy grail of marketing.
#3 Essential Marketing Question: Do I measure my customer/target interactions?
Successful marketing decisions are almost impossible to make without objective information. If you are not measuring every marketing activity, whether it is online or offline, you run a huge risk of wasting money and making the wrong decisions for your marketing program. Metrics allow you to look at the impact of all your marketing initiatives by marketing function, customer segment, seasonality and any other measure important to your business. Metrics also keep your activities on track and ensure that they are tied to your business goals. You need to also know which initiatives convert prospects to customers, which build awareness for future customers, and which build your brand. Do you have the information you need to make your future marketing decisions?
Measuring online initiatives is easy with free tools like Google Analytics, but there are also paid services like Omniture that provide amazing insight into your online initiatives. However, offline initiatives can and should be measured to ensure they provide ROI.
#4 Essential Marketing Question: Do I continuously feed insight into my marketing?
Now that you have researched, executed and measured, it is imperative to analyze and make conclusions and decisions that drive increased investment in some marketing activities and ceasing of other activities. Analysis is imperative, because customers or prospects will not necessarily tell you what you are missing, but they will tell you about their experience. For example, a customer may tell you that a sales agent was not able to convince them to buy your product. This outcome could be due to an inexperienced sales agent; or, it could mean that you did not supply your sales agent with the information needed; or, it could mean that your product is missing something the customer is looking for. Your job is to make sure you get to the root cause of the problem and infuse changes into the needed area. Proper analysis will enable your company’s products, processes and services to evolve. As your company evolves to meet customers’ values and expectations, the increase in loyalty and revenue will raise your ROI.
What other questions would you suggest?