In his classic book The Practice of Management, management guru Peter Drucker declared, “The first step toward finding out what our business is, is to raise the question: ‘Who is the customer?’ – the actual customer and the potential customer? Where is he? How does he buy? How can he be reached?”
You can’t communicate with your customer if you can’t answer these questions. Yet these questions often are missed by the novice marketer.
Answering those questions requires marketing research. Marketing research should start internally with the information you already have. For example, the classic business inventory – how many of which products have we sold – can tell the seller what its customers want to buy. If you have a service company, you should know which of your services are in most demand. In my agency, for example, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to show us that as the 21st century dawned, the clients’ demand for online marketing services was growing rapidly. Our response was to develop an in-house interactive department to meet our customers’ need.
Another tool that we have found useful is talking to our employees and suppliers about what they’re hearing from clients. While not very scientific, these “interviews” can yield valuable information, such as a tip from a media salesperson who told us of one of his advertisers was unhappy it couldn’t get a specific service from its agency – a service my agency could supply. Needless to say, that dissatisfied company went on our prospect list, and it later became a client.
Of course, the best way to find out what customers or prospects want or need is to ask them. Using surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, etc., you can periodically determine your customers’ needs and react to satisfy them. These information-gathering techniques have a number of ancillary benefits:
When I was an eager but inexperienced reporter, my old city editor told me, “You’ll never know if you don’t ask. If you don’t know, you don’t have a story.”
That advice works in marketing, too.
Many years later, I worked with a company that wanted a slogan — a “signature.” This high-tech company offered a variety of material-handling technologies — from pressure-sensitive labeling to RFID tracking strategies — as well as multiple customer bases. Everything suggested to date had been rejected. The company was unhappy.
What did the company execs want? I asked. The answer: a tagline that captured attention yet still told the exact story. Nothing more, nothing less. Save the boneless catchphrase for some other business.
The solution: “In every sense…you can identify with us.” That slogan now appears “above the fold” on the corporate website, telegraphing to any visitor the company’s mission and its pledge.
It’s true — ask and ye shall receive. More important, ye shall deliver.
J.F. I love the wisdom of old city editors. This advice proves what I have always known: Journalism is a good training ground for marketing. In today’s story-telling, content critical online age, you have to think like a journalist. Thanks for the story. Ralph
Ralph it has been a long time since I have communicated with you. Your article in the paper the other day was right on. My wife,Judy, is manager of the Hilton Garden Inn on Kent Island, and she applies the principals you talked about to her employees(tying to get them customer friendly) and especially to the customers who stay there.
A great article, Ralph.