Many small business owners make brand and marketing decisions according to their own personal preferences rather than their customers.  They choose fonts they like and base design elements on their favorite colors. They offer only what they want.  A brand will often reflect its owner, and business owners must stay true to their brand, but marketing decisions should simultaneously reflect the target audience as well.

Let’s look at some examples.

A certain cultural attraction discovered that many of their customers owned wildlife art. Their response was to create and host an annual juried wildlife art show. This event increased local membership by including exclusive pre-event activities for members only.  It is now in its 16th successful year.

A ski resort wanted to attract more millennial skiers and snowboarders.  Millennials tend to be influenced more by peers than advertisers. They are also the “selfie” generation.  So the resort encouraged visitors to post their own action videos to social media, which would be featured on the resort’s website and also enter the poster in a giveaway for free ski passes, lift tickets and other prizes.

The idea was that if a customer had their video featured on the site, they would share it with their friends.  And it worked; all because the resort understood the behavior of its customers.

The point is this: your marketing needs to convey an understanding of your customer.  You have to speak their language and reinforce your connection to them with marketing ideas and design elements that resonate with them.

But how can you learn about your customer?

Fortunately, the best customer research tactic is free: candid conversations with both existing and potential customers.  We often encourage our clients to grow and nurture their offline customer relationships before developing digital marketing strategies. Why? Because we live in the real world, and that is where we truly connect.

If you have a physical location, consider spending some time at the sales counter, or other customer-facing area, where you can interact with customers, gather feedback on your products or services, and learn how they utilize what you offer day to day.

Great “research” conversations can happen anywhere: from fundraisers to standing in line at the grocery store. You might make small talk with a stranger, and soon realize they’re in your target demographic.  Take these opportunities to ask for their opinions, and most importantly: listen.

Stepping back from your brand momentarily and thinking from the perspective of your customer might be one of the biggest keys to a successful marketing campaign.  Walk through the customer’s entrance, so to speak. Understand and honor their perspectives, predispositions, and preferences. Then the most effective creative solutions and marketing strategies will unfold before your eyes.

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