In part one of this blog post, we explored how the language of marketing and business pervades our work lives and discourages the customer centricity our organizations seek. For example, at work, we use language like “content” and “engagement,” but at home, have you ever said “I saw some good content on Netflix last night” or “I had some terrific Facebook engagement today”? By subtly changing our language from what customers want and need to what brands do, we alter the way we think and the decisions we make.
This isn’t merely a matter of style. Language matters. Studies demonstrate that the words we use do more than just describe a problem; they shape our perception of reality, influence the solutions we consider, and rewire our brain for different cognitive abilities. Corporate talk leads to corporate think and corporate actions.
So, how do you start to transition your language from brand to customer, and what benefits might that bring? Try adopting a structured format for stating your business and marketing strategies from the customer’s perspective using customer terminology.
As an exercise, let’s say you’re a marketer at a financial service provider tasked with promoting a new 529 college savings plan, and your approach will be to use an educational content strategy. Your plan might be summarized as this: “To offer educational content that engages new parents, teaching them about the high cost of their children’s future college education and promoting the benefits of initiating savings early in their child’s life, with the goal of producing more inbound traffic to our new 529 page and more leads for our financial advisors.”
Now, try to phrase that with customer language from the customer perspective. You may find it difficult, and that’s the whole idea. If you cannot frame your business or marketing concept in a way that makes sense from the customer perspective, that is a concerning omen. To help, here is a format you might follow to put yourselves in the shoes of the customer:
- A customer with these needs, wants, and motivations,
- In this specific situation,
- Who has this relationship with the brand,
- Will interact with the brand for this reason,
- Resulting in this benefit.
This approach forces you to think like a customer in some key ways, and it also suggests the level of customer understanding you’ll need. Without the right data and insight, you may be able to write a nice piece of fiction, but you must base your strategy on something more than what you imagine or hope. Step by step, this format cuts through the fog created by business and marketing lingo and forces a true customer-centric perspective:
- I: Starting with “I” forces you to see your strategy from the customer’s perspective.
- Needs, wants, and motivations: Do you have different sets of customers with different needs and expectations? On which personas will you focus? (Additional info for Gartner clients: How to Make Your Customer Personas Actionable Using Data-Driven Insights.)
- Situation: What are the events in the customers’ lives shaping their needs and interests? Where are they in the customer journey? (Gartner clients: Use Gartner’s Buy/Own/Advocate Framework to Map Customer Journeys and Deliver Better Customer Experiences.)
- Relationship with the brand: How does the customer feel about your brand today? Do they know it? Trust it? Satisfied or dissatisfied? (Integrate User Research and Testing Into Agile Processes to Improve Customer Experience and Products.)
- Reason: Why should the customer care? Why would they engage, take action, or dedicate their valuable time? (Micronarrative Messaging: Content Marketing in the Age of Many Stories.)
- Benefit or drawback: If the customer changes their attitudes or behaviors as your brand desires, what is the benefit it will bring to the customer? (The Key Factors That Drive Customer Loyalty Across the Customer Experience.)
Now, let’s revisit our 529 content plan and see all the questions we need to answer:
- Start from the customer’s perspective: I…
- Start with the customer’s needs and wants: A customer struggling to make ends meet; a high-net-worth individual; or an active college alumnus who wants my kids to attend the same school.
- Understand the customer’s situation: Had our first child and are overwhelmed with promotional offers; or had our third child and can’t fathom the future retirement and education needs of the entire family; or have grade school children and never worried about college until a friend shared their teen’s issues with college acceptance and cost.
- Consider their existing relationship with your and competitive brands: Your brand is my only financial provider and I love and trust you; or it is one of three financial providers and I don’t open any of the voluminous spam I get from you and the others; or I hate your brand because it bleeds me dry with fees and service charges, and I’d switch if not for the time and effort.
- Why will they care: I respect education and am immediately interested in a savings solution; or I can’t be guilted into saving for an uncertain future education when I’m concerned about affording next month’s rent; or I don’t and won’t care–I’m unconvinced of the value of higher learning.
- How will the customer benefit: By saving now for my child’s education I’ll feel like a caring parent; or by having a better financial plan for my family I’ll reduce my anxiety and fear; by finding a financial partner more interested in my family than in selling a product, I have confidence in the future.
Phew, our modest educational content strategy just got a lot more complicated, didn’t it? And that’s the point! It’s easy to perceive your business or marketing strategy as a simple task until you are forced to see things from the customers’ perspective. Doing so pushes you to consider personas, needs, life events, attitudes toward the brand, steps in the customer journey and, ultimately, how your strategy will or will not work for customers. It also requires you to acknowledge what you know, don’t know, and need to know.
It also challenges you to begin to think not just about communications but about product and service strategy. For some of the personas and situations noted above, a 529 plan won’t be the right solution, and they’ll require a different approach to caring for their family’s financial future. For others, a 529 plan will be just a small part of their solution. What this exercise helps to see is that our hypothetical marketing goal of raising awareness in our 529 plan may start us off on the wrong foot–by concentrating on what our brand wants rather than what customers want and need.
This exercise also points out that customer-centric strategies are not complete merely when we get a new lead or achieve a conversion but when our customer perceives themselves in a better position because of our brand. This suggests not just the financial or transaction measures we need but also the emotional and qualitative ones we must collect. And, in the end, isn’t that really the right thing for both the brand and the customer–not just to sell a product but to form a relationship with a happy, loyal customer?
We’ve focused in this blog post on a content marketing example, but it’s no different for other business and marketing strategies. If you use customer-centric language, a strategy like “provide more buzzworthy social content via influencers to improve engagement and share of voice” may transform into “listen to what customers are asking in social channels to rapidly respond with the content they desire as a means of improving satisfaction and positive word of mouth.” Or, “deploy an Alexa skill to demonstrate our brand innovation and improve our appeal to millennials” may become, “redevelop our mobile application to provide more customization and control, addressing the negative feedback received from younger consumers that our app fails to serve their needs and annoys them with overly intrusive messaging alerts .”
Change your language and change your world. Customer-centric language will result in strategies more likely to meet with acceptance, adoption, and (not ironically) stronger customer relationships that benefit your brand.