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 PatientsLikeMe.com, 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.