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How to Engage, Attract, and Understand Customers

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In this article, you'll learn to...

  • Encourage customers to play a role in your marketing and product development efforts
  • Avoid the wrong customers who can hurt your bottom line
  • Identify the reasons prospects buy from your competition

Are You Turning Customers Into Evangelists?

How can you encourage your customers to participate and contribute more to your company's marketing and product development? How can you provide a place for your customers to talk with each other and share ideas, enthusiasm, and challenges in the market?

Marketing is about understanding your customers with such depth and clarity that you can empower and encourage them to be evangelists for your cause or company. When you walk into an Apple store, it is often hard to tell who's doing the sales and marketing and who are the bigger fans of the product: the customers or the staff? If they didn't wear Apple T-shirts, you wouldn't know. The company has hired evangelists—people crazy about Apple's products—to work in its retail stores.

Turn Passive Onlookers Into Active Customers

Great marketing and great communities of interest turn passive onlookers into active customers of and contributors to your product. One of the world's "50 Most Innovative Companies," according to Fast Company magazine, is, an online community in which patients share experiences about thousands of medical treatments and procedures. It is a place to compare notes, recommend ideas, second-guess products, and get advice and share concerns about treatments with other patients. The community itself is a content and marketing machine that gets the word out to potential customers all over the world.

Unilever makes Dove soap, but it also engages in community building that helps the company market Dove brand products and add value for customers at the same time. Dove makes heroes of its buyers by featuring their ideas about health and skin care. Physicians, dermatologists, supermodels, and ordinary consumers volunteer to pitch their best beauty secrets in public forums that, in turn, influence other buyers.

Equally important, all this conversation with potential customers about potential products provides a lab for testing Dove products and service ideas and for creating entirely new lines of products. It helps the company better understand whether there actually is a market for specific products, and if so, which customers would be the right fit for that product.

The Wrong Customers

Best Buy discovered, to its horror, that its massive advertising campaigns for ultra-low-priced products succeeded in attracting tens of thousands of customers. What's wrong with that? Millions of dollars and many years later, the company realized that in some cases too much of the increased store traffic came in the form of customers who bought only those deeply discounted items—and not much else. Looking intensely at the data, Best Buy found that some "teaser" sales lost money for the company, and some customers had a penchant for returning items (which created an expensive product-restocking exercise).

"One of the oldest myths in business is that every customer is a valuable customer. Even in the age of high-tech data collection, many businesses don't realize that some of their customers are deeply unprofitable, and that simply doing business with them is costing them money," Columbia University professor Larry Selden and Fortune magazine editor Geoffrey Colvin wrote in Angel Customers and Demon Customers. Selden helped Best Buy (and other major firms) scrub their client data to find that "it's typical that the top 20 percent of customers are generating almost all the profit while the bottom 20 percent are actually destroying value."

Why Do Customers Buy Somewhere Else?

Competitive analysis is the starting point of differentiating your product or service from all others. Consider these key questions:

  • Who or what is your competition? Put another way, who else do your prospective customers buy from rather than you?
  • What value do these customers perceive that causes them to buy from others and not from you? How can you neutralize this perceived advantage? How can you change your offerings in such a way that potential customers prefer yours over others'?
  • Why would (or should) your ideal prospects switch to your product or service? (If you cannot answer this question in 25 words or less, your marketing strategy is probably in serious trouble.)
  • What are your critical assumptions about your competition? Errant assumptions are at the root of most marketing failures. Could your assumptions about your competition be wrong? If they were wrong, what would you have to change or do differently?

Note: This article is based on an excerpt from the book Now, Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market by Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy.

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Brian Tracy, co-author of Now, Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market, is an entrepreneur and a dynamic and inspiring speaker. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling How the Best Leaders Lead and Eat That Frog, and the author/narrator of many popular audiocassette programs. For more information please visit

Mark Thompson, co-author of Now, Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in Any Market and co-author of the bestseller Success Built to Last, is a serial entrepreneur who coaches executives on how to lead growth companies. He is a member of the board of the Leader to Leader Institute, founded by Peter Drucker, and a visiting scholar at Stanford University.

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  • by Dhana@Loyaltics Sat Mar 26, 2011 via web

    Nice article. I particularly liked the para about converting customers to evangelists.

    Infact, this has been the core mantra of our startup - where we help companies to convert their customers to evangelists !

  • by Brian Martin Thu Mar 31, 2011 via web

    We find that creating extraordinary experiential events for brands lets consumers connect with the brands, and, because they're live, allows them to talk with each other and share their passion for the brand. Experiential marketing can capture a brand's pre-existing fans, and can also engage consumers who are unfamiliar with a brand to create instant advocates.

  • by Michael Mon Apr 11, 2011 via web

    Thanks for the post. I think you are on to something when you are saying customers should become "your evangelists". You should hone into your customers and engage them enough to be everyday spokespeople for your brand or service.

    Nice job!


  • by Dewane Mutunga Fri Apr 22, 2011 via web

    I totally agree! The way to create evangelists and increase brand loyalty is to first get a great understanding of your prospects. Knowing your prospects will allow you to engage them better. The key to engaging and retaining customers is to create value-based connections and experiences.

    Great Article!

  • by Ashley K. Edwards Mon May 2, 2011 via web

    Customers are the strongest brand advocates. They always have been! And in this day-and-age of social media putting conversations at the fingertips of consumers,'s easy to go in both positive AND negative directions.

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