As a branding and marketing expert I've had the opportunity to work with large corporations, small businesses, as well as start-ups, and there's one thing owners, C-suites and directors all have in common. They forget something very, very important to their success. They become a tad bit narcisstic. Or as some would say "start to believe their own press clippings"!
They forget about their customers.
Yep. I said it. And, I mean it. I've sat in boardroom meetings and listened to C-suites, Directors and Managers talk about their products. I've also sat in coffee shops listening to small business owners do the same thing. They all talk about their product or service without once mentioning what the customer wants, needs or the specific problem it solves. Isn't that funny to you? It is to me.
It doesn't seem possible, but it happens far too often. Once a business owner decides what his product or service is going to be the barrier starts building. This barrier becomes so big over time that it gets in the way of new product or service development, and the ability to sell their current products. Ultimately, this is the beginning of the end for any business.
You CAN'T be in business without considering the customer at every single juncture of the process. From research to development all the way to the distribution of your product…a little something we call marketing.
YES. Customers Matter. A Lot.
In marketing, your product and service is put out there for your customers to snap up…BUY! And that, my friends, is the point when your product or service is no longer about you. It’s the proverbial “breaking point” for some.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying your company’s business goals no longer matter. Instead what I'm saying is, your business goals can ONLY be achieved if you shift your thinking from YOU, your product or service and your business, to your customer. Because, as we all know, without your customers you have no business.
This is a huge mindset shift for businesses of all sizes. During my corporate career I'd sit in our advertising and marketing meetings listening to the C-suite and directors talking about what we should do relative to our marketing. The irony is none of those folks had ever been in the position of their customer. Yet it didn't stop the "assumptions" and other "off-target" thoughts about the direction of the message to our customers. This is why companies of all sizes use market research, brand awareness studies, focus groups, intercept studies and other methods to determine "what does the customer think". I can tell you this, making assumptions and not validating them, are a sure fire way to turn you, the business owner into a, well, hee-haw!
And, not to be pointing fingers at only the C-Suites, I'd sit behind the mirrored glass watching the target customer shoot our entire television commercial in ways even I couldn't imagine. My jaw would drop, and then I'd sit there frozen like a deer wondering…WTH! It was at that point that I realized the messaging we were using to market to our customers was all wrong. How could that be? I knew our customers, inside and out, and had known them for nine years at this point. Not only that, there was a time in my life where I WAS our customer (not literally). Yet, somehow the advertising spots missed. We misjudged. We assumed what was funny to us would be funny to our customers. And, I take complete credit for this “miss”, because as the one spokesman for our customer, I didn’t understand them any better at that point in time, than did the CEO I reported directly to. And, that's why we did focus groups, brand awareness studies and the like.
As a matter of fact, we "missed" many times with our messages and branding over the 10 years I was there. We re-routed our advertising, branding, and even the name of the company, many times over that ten years. We spent millions of dollars on advertising, production and media each year. Yet, no matter how much money you spend, if you miss with your product or service, the messaging or even who your customer is, your business is not going to be a success. It will fail, at some point.
So I'll say this…you must respect your customer's position, and use it to your advantage or you'll have difficulty picking up traction in the market place. This is especially true for highly-competitive consumer-based industries, such as automotive, fast food, retail, business coaches, etc.
Unless you, as the business owner, are able to separate your self-indulgent or polly-anna thinking from how your customers really think, you are doomed to fail. Is failure part of your business goals?
Sure, you hear all the time, to succeed you must fail. Without failure you don't learn. I'll attest to that. And, that's exactly my point…it's okay to misjudge your customer once, maybe even twice, but if you do it repeatedly without changing your products or services to meet the demands and needs of your customer, you will suffer a fatal flaw, and be one 80% of small businesses that fail every year. That's 8 out of 10 businesses fail. Every year.
Warning: Don't Forget About Your Customers. Ever.