Your customers no longer want to be treated as if they are consumers who all think alike and look alike and are therefore replaceable.
Today, people are seeking value and meaning in many areas of their lives; unlike consumers in the era of mass consumption, today's customers expect brands to treat them as people first, and as potential buyers second.
For marketing teams, this shift in customer expectations requires an overhaul of customer messages. That overhaul begins with segmentation, which determines what companies know about their customers. The segmentation process is what creates a language and terminology for interpreting customers' needs.
The segmentation methods of yesteryear (demographic, geographic, and psychographic) created a language about customers that was rooted in brand value—not personal value. Those rational and logical customer descriptions created a view of customers that was merely a reflection of a company's brand.
To reach customers today, marketers must embrace a more human-centric and more customer-centric approach.
Three trends are influencing personal customer communications
Although emotions have long been derided in business, things are starting to change. Three prominent trends give emotions overdue credibility and lay the groundwork for personal customer communications:
- Distrust: Lingering anger from the financial crisis, mounting privacy concerns, and fatigue from corporate scandals all contribute to a general sense of distrust toward business and government. That's a powerful headwind for brand marketers: Deeply cynical people tend to reject all efforts to influence them. To overcome cynicism and distrust, marketers must communicate more honestly, authentically, and openly.
- Technology: Every part of our lives is besieged by technology, which leaves everyone hungry for human interaction. As a result, customers are craving emotional connections with companies in the form of rich brand experiences and authentic communications. Small craft brands are making headway against the great marketing powerhouses such as Procter & Gamble specifically because customers want to interact with real people.
- Research: A growing body of research makes a compelling case for the role of emotion in customer communications. Research from the Corporate Executive Board and Google finds that emotions drive buying decisions—even for B2B customers. After surveying 3,000 B2B buyers from 36 distinct brands, CEB found that emotions trump rational motivators by a two-to-one ratio.
Products that offered buyers personal value in addition to product or service value achieved a 42.6% increase in commercial outcomes, the research found. (Personal value included emotional appeals, such as how to be a better leader, to feel more confident, or to improve one's self-image.) Products with purely functional benefits achieved only a 21.4% increase in commercial outcomes.
The research concluded: "Not only do emotions matter in B2B buying, but they actually matter even more than logic and reason."
Adjust your segmentation strategy
Now that you're ready to connect with your customers on a more human level, it's time to learn about their mindsets. Following are five categories of audience segment attributes that are used in mindset segmentation:
- Beliefs: To connect authentically with customers, it's essential to know their personal values and principles. Focus on customer attributes that reveal personal beliefs: Are your customers active in their community? Do they value loyalty from friends and colleagues? In what ways are your brand values aligned with their personal values?
- Hopes and fears: Psychological researcher Jeffry A. Simpson says trust is the juxtaposition of people's loftiest hopes and their deepest fears. Marketers who know people's fears also know how to avoid disappointing them and thus halt the erosion of trust. Likewise, by knowing customers' aspirations, marketers learn how to delight customers and fortify trust, because that information engenders empathy for customers by giving them a true human dimension.
- Emotional needs: Customers' emotional needs for security and self-esteem are often at the root of financial decisions. To explore undiscovered emotional needs, conduct qualitative interviews with open-ended questions: How do your customers want to be perceived by their friends and colleagues? What aspects of their personal dignity are occasionally at risk? Why? And so on.
- Expectations: We know that customer trust has less to do with a specific product experience than it does with customer perceptions of the parent company. Discover customers' rational and emotional expectations of your company. What types of actions would your customers consider unethical? What social value does your parent company provide that gives customers the greatest sense of satisfaction?
- Brand perceptions: How would your customers describe your company to their peers? Remember, the goal is to capture personal value, not functional value. How does your brand appeal to customers' self-image and sense of dignity?
Through mindset segmentation, marketing teams can develop a shared understanding of customers' personal aspirations and fears. Once that vocabulary is established, team members will be able to empathize with customers' personal needs and therefore anticipate customers' reactions to new products or service changes.
This segmentation process enables empathy, thereby humanizing customers in an otherwise rational and data-driven world.
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