Archives for January 27, 2010

Think Like a Customer

Can We Really Live Happily Ever After?

You have revamped the golden rule, fallen in love with your customers and now wonder what’s next. Customers can still be fickle, even those who love us back. Will every day be full of butterflies and heartfelt emotions? In business, as in life, probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still think like our customers, communicate more effectively and reap a healthy bottom line.

Loving the right types of customers and seeing the world from their points of view helps us make better communication decisions. Understanding their behaviors makes this a little easier. For example, think of a marketing communication concept called the hierarchy of effects (there are many examples of this model; however we will focus on just one).

There are six steps consumers usually go through before buying a product or service:

  • awareness of the product
  • knowledge of the product (preferably accurate)
  • liking the product (a possible desire to buy)
  • preference over competing options
  • conviction that buying is worthwhile
  • making the purchase

Ideally, this process is repeated over and over, allowing businesses to grow and relationships to deepen.

Consumers’ mind-sets heavily influence the results. For example, impulsive buyers might go through the steps very quickly or skip some altogether, then later have second thoughts, revisit them and create a different outcome (they return the product or don’t repeat the purchase). Understanding what consumers are thinking will help you decide what communication messages you should use, what benefits to focus on, and what values to tap into.

Benefits Just Don’t Cut it Anymore
How does a company get to know what its consumers values are? Think like them. Get to know them so it’s only a matter of time before their values become apparent. If the competition is still focusing on benefits (and probably congratulating themselves that they actually figured out what the benefits are), trump their efforts by focusing on the values your product or service taps into for your top customers.

Through a process called means-end chaining, it’s possible to take the attributes of products and services, tie them into benefits, and connect those benefits to values. Values such as security, self-worth and a sense of belonging might be part of your consumers’ mind-sets. They might value living outside the norm or creating something from nothing. As you develop your marketing messages, can you tap into these values? To effectively connect with consumers, this approach becomes a must.

Think about a potato chip. One of its attributes might be that it is low-fat. Marketing messages detailing this element are fine, but we can’t stop there. What are the benefits of this low-fat chip? It is fun to eat, satisfying and healthy. It’s possible the consumers who love this product value self-esteem (the desire to take care of oneself through healthy eating) and fitting in with others (being able to share in a social situation through eating, such as at a party). There can be any number of scenarios for each product out there and any number of benefits and values attached. The key is knowing what your consumers are thinking.

I’m Not a Mind Reader
You don’t need to be a mind reader in order to think like customers. By treating them the way they want to be treated, gathering as much information about them as possible and tapping into their values, you will be well on your way to knowing what they want from you.

Remember to keep up with your customers’ wants as trends and preferences change. What customers want today may not be high on their lists tomorrow. Fortunately, once this process is started it is easier to maintain. Along the way, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Developing effective relationships and the communications necessary to sustain them can be the fun part of any professional communicator’s job.