Customers: Not What, But Why

Do you know your customers? I’ve asked this before and will probably ask it again. Reasons for getting to know your customers are endless.

ClickZ Stats recently reported on a Yankelovich study finds consumers are becoming “marketing resistant.” They no longer trust our advertising. According to the report, “69 percent [of consumers] are interested in mechanisms that skip or block advertising completely.” I hope Google isn’t counting on those same consumers to use its new Gmail service.

On the flip side, all sorts of new ad technologies are being developed. ClickZ has four experts who write solely about ad technology. Targeting and data-mining methods and other tools are improving to help us identify the best targets for our ads.

Consider the email arena. Marketers are refining their email marketing skills, and vendors are developing better technologies to reach customers and prospects. Who doesn’t conduct email marketing in some form?

Consumers are demanding from ISPs spam protection and unchecking the “add me to your mailing list” button in record numbers. They’re deleting our finely crafted communications from inboxes without even opening them.

Where’s the disconnect? Better ad technologies and targeting methods are designed to reach consumers, the majority of whom are increasingly ad resistant. They want mechanisms to block advertising entirely. Do we need better email tools and smarter campaigns to target those consumers who demand spam blocking and delete marketing messages without a glance?

That was a trick question. There’s really no disconnect. What’s good for Joe isn’t necessarily good for Jim. It’s like politics. For every person who thinks Bush is a hero, another thinks he’s a villain. When it’s time to vote, you’ll make a decision based on what’s most important to you. Customers make decisions the same way.

Knowing your customers is the issue. Some customers will be ad-resistant and refuse to open your email. Some are loyal, genuinely care about your company, and want to read your message. A lot of them will open a message just to see if you’re offering a discount. An overall campaign response rate hides these variations. We forget customers have reasons for the choices they make.

Most of what you hear and read about campaign optimization focuses on testing and measuring response to one specific campaign. What about customer optimization? How do we test and measure which marketing efforts each individual customer responds to best? Perhaps customer A responds better to discount-oriented emails, customer B responds to newsletters, and customer C responds to on-site cross-selling.

In my utopian, multidimensional, customer data dreams, we evaluate campaigns by message, features, and so on. We evaluate customers based on the offers or communications they respond to, and why. Better still, we find a way to understand how they feel and use that information to reach them in new ways. Never, in my dream world, do customers fall into two categories: those who responded to a campaign and those who didn’t.

It’s mind-boggling to imagine such multidimensional marketing. In the election booth there will be people who love Bush and those who hate him. If you count them, you’ll have a final tally, right? Nope. You can’t forget those who don’t behave the way we expect them to, for reasons we won’t understand unless we ask. Some Bush haters will vote for him anyway. A subset of Bush fans won’t vote for him due to his stance on an issue. Like voters, your customer base is divided along multiple lines, making it difficult to predict behavior en masse. What are those lines?

In marketing, it always comes back to knowing the customer. If you know why your customer uses your product, you have information that can help you market to that customer. If you know how your customer feels about your company, that’s more information to help you market. Customer A is a satisfied customer who uses your widget to dig in the dirt. Customer B is a reluctant customer who buys your widget because it’s inexpensive and uses it as yard art. Would the same campaign appeal to both these people?

Get to know your customers. Identify ways to understand not only how they buy but why they buy. Learn not only how satisfied they are but why. Understand what types of marketing efforts they respond to and why. It’s one move closer to the utopia of marketing the right product at the right price using the right method to the customer most likely to appreciate — and buy — it.

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