Daniel Burstein

Customer-First Marketing: Understanding customer pain and responding with action

August 5th, 2016
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It’s all too easy to think of our jobs narrowly: “I’m a marketer. I’m in ecommerce. I’m in the apparel industry. I work in tech.”

But what we really do, or at least what we should be doing, is much too big to be constrained by a single job title or industry.

To give you an example, I came across an interesting story while conducting interviews at the MarketingSherpa Media Center at IRCE 2016. As you would expect, most of the interviews focused around hot ecommerce topics like Amazon Marketplace, Snapchat, and funding a startup.

But I had a deeper conversation with Joe Peppers, the Ecommerce Market Sector Leader at The Weitz Company.

But previously, Joe went to West Point and served three tours of duty in Iraq as a Captain in the U.S. Army, before going on to work in ecommerce for Amazon, Apple, Fanatics.com, and now The Weitz Company.

I discovered some interesting lessons from military service that can be applied to ecommerce, so we sat down to talk about it…

Personally, I have two big takeaways from this conversation.

Understand their pain

“Part of creating customer intimacy is understanding their pain,” Joe said.

You can imagine, serving in a foreign country and working with the local population, it was important to understand not only America’s goals, but what the Iraqi people needed as well.

Much the same is true for us marketers. The needs of your business are only half the equation. So Joe advises sitting down and interviewing customers. And then mapping out the value chain necessary for a customer to achieve her goals, discovering what constraints in the process are stopping that from happening, and focusing on overcoming those constraints.

There are two important points here. First, let’s talk about understanding the customer’s end goal (as opposed to myopically focusing on your product).

While taking the University of Florida graduate course MMC 5435: Messaging Strategy and the Centrality of the Value Proposition (which was developed in a partnership with MECLABS Institute, MarketingSherpa’s parent research organization), I’ve been reading “Reality in Advertising” by Rosser Reeves and “Delivering Profitable Value” by Michael Lanning.

Reeves says, “Do not confuse a type of shoe with the desire for shoes.”

Lanning says, “Contrary to how things may seem, customers don’t really care about your product…So what matters and what must be at the heart of a real value proposition is those customers’ resulting experiences that happen because they buy [or] use your stuff rather than some other option.”

Or as Harvard professor Theodore Levitt has said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

So understand customers’ pains or goals. But then understand the process they undertake to get there, and what is stopping them or adding friction to that process. These may be large or small processes, depending on your product.

But from this, you may identify large or small insights to better serve a customer that will make them more likely to buy from you. A small insight might be that forcing customers to register for an account before they buy from you is causing them pain, you can remove that step from the process and increase sales.

Or a major discovery might be that nobody is buying this new product called shoes because they are uncomfortable. So you invent socks. And you fix a customer pain in the value chain that occurred before they ever got to your product, thus improving the customer experience and increasing sales of your product.

Respond with action

“Respond with action,” Joe advised.

There is a lot of collateral damage in war. But winning a war involves not just a battle of weapons, but a battle of ideas as well. And winning over the local population. So when a bombing would go awry, Joe would go into the neighborhood with money to make things right.

Action. Not just messaging.

The same holds true when something goes wrong with your customers. Joe gave an example from his time at sports retailer Fanatics. There was a customer who wanted a Kansas City Royals sports jersey, but was not going to be able to get it in time.

So, Joe bought  an airplane ticket and flew a Fanatics employee to the customer to hand deliver the jersey. “The customer was awestruck,” Joe said.

Joe cautioned not to think that any customer touchpoint is not a big deal. “It is a big deal. If you treat it like a big deal, they will learn that that is the type of service you offer,” he said.

Always acting in the best interest of the customer can come at the individual level. After all, customer service is one-to-one marketing.

Or it can come at the aggregate level as well. We all know the famous example of Johnson & Johnson proactively pulling Tylenol off the shelf (even though it meant the company would lose money) when a few bottles were poisoned, killing seven customers.

Action. Not just messaging.

Every interaction with your customers – whether just one customer or a group of customers – is a valuable touchpoint. It is an opinion-shaping experience with your brand. Therefore, every touchpoint is marketing – an opportunity to improve the customer experience and thereby brand perception.

Savvy modern brands, from Zappos’ return policy to Man Crates sending a carpet cleaner to a customer’s home when a product stained a carpet, are upping the bar by acting in the customers’ best interest with above-expectations customer service.

Make sure, in your role as a marketer building a brand, you also go beyond mere messaging to customer-first action.

You might also like

Direct from the Source: What a value proposition is, what it isn’t and the 5 questions it must answer (from our sister publication, MarketingExperiments)

Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Hotline

More interviews from the MarketingSherpa Media Center at IRCE

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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