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By Michael J Pallerino
Identify. Target. Listen. Serve. When you break down the basic tenets of strategic marketing, the plan doesn’t get any clearer than that. Or so you would think. Driven by the continued infatuation with the prowess of Big Data, marketers seem to be doing yeoman’s work on the identifying and targeting sides of the equation. But thought leaders like Tanya Korpi Macleod don’t believe you should always be so dependent on what the data says.
Is she intimating that data can sometimes steer you off course?
Depends on your interpretation. Macleod, president & CEO of The Holistic Marketing Agency, believes that data tends to be totally context-dependent. Take, for example, website metrics. Your intel may tell you that very few visitors ever make it past the first page. The initial reaction is that your home page is just plain terrible. But what if that page contains all the information your customers need, and there is no need for them to press on?
That may be what the data implies. But what do your customers say? What information did you (should you) uncover from having real world engagements with them? Is hiding behind data analysis alone the answer?
Take that website example. By combining your high-bounce rate (bad) with customer service feedback about how easy it is to get info off of your website (good), you see a different picture. “Your customers and clients are real people to you,” Macleod says. “There are so many more sensory inputs when you engage in one-on-one conversations. You can read body language. You can sense emotion. You can connect and laugh. You can build compassion. It’s incredibly important to have an intimate understanding of what your customers want and need.”
Truthfully, that means relying on your team to get out into the field to have real conversations with people. If you don’t, you’re precluding learning. “It’s a little Zen, actually,” Macleod says. You have to have a beginner’s mind, especially with things like social media and the way algorithms and consumer buying habits are changing all the time. People aren’t fundamentally changing, but the tools they use are. You have to keep up with that. If you think you already know everything about everybody, there’s no room for new info. It shuts down your imagination. And that’s not good for anyone.”
Meet me out on the street…
In today’s technologically astute world, with so many different modes of communication available, it can be easy for marketers to hide behind data. But that’s a feeling you must shake – and fast.
And here’s the thing – it’s as hard (or as easy) as you make it. If you put the wall up, you can take the wall down. The blueprint is pretty simple. Make sure you and your team get out into the field to meet with your customers. Set aggressive, quarterly goals for meaningful customer discussions. Targeting customer engagements is a good habit to take on. Hearing firsthand your customers’ real successes and frustrations – being a part of the customers’ world – is paramount to improving the way you connect with them.
And that means leaving your ego at the door. Ask any marketer and he’ll tell you that egos create roadblocks. While it’s good to be confident in what you do and what your research says, an ego can paralyze you. Face it – you’re human. You don’t know everything. You can follow the trends, stay current by poring through the research, but in the end, there always is more to learn and do when it comes to marketing.
“It’s hard to get to know your client, or who you are marketing to if you think you are the best,” says Kathy Michel, director of marketing and media relations at Goucher College in Baltimore. “Data doesn’t hurt, but numbers don’t feel emotion. When you combine the facts and the emotion, it’s easier to prove why you stand out among the rest of your competitors.”
Facts are facts, but oftentimes it’s the emotional piece that sells. Marketing comes down to emotional intelligence. It means being self-aware and having an understanding that your clients may be making life-changing decisions, so it’s important to be empathetic.
“Marketing is about channeling and harnessing the mind of your audience,” Michel says. “That’s why that real-world engagement part is so huge. You have to know whom you are engaging with. You don’t get that sitting behind a computer screen. It’s always best to know who you’re targeting through face-to-face interactions.”
Mack Story wants you to look at it like this: Your clients will not buy from you until they feel understood by you. The key to influencing them is to first allow them to influence you. Your most valuable clients value those who first value them.
Story, co-founder of TopStoryLeadership.com, believes that you lead with influence. “Until our clients feel like they matter to us, we don't matter to them. That’s why your most valuable clients are also your most important word-of-mouth advertisers. They already know, like and trust you. Reinforce their belief in you by seeking to understand their needs.”
What Story and thought leaders believe is that while the process is not about you, it starts with you. Who you are on the inside is what others experience on the outside, which means it’s critical that you see the world through the eyes of your clients.
“None of us is as creative as all of us,” says Story, whose clients include Chick-fil-A and Koch Industries. “When we work with the client, we can leverage the synergy of two or more minds thinking as one. We can't offer a prescription until we have the proper diagnosis. The quickest way to build rapport with a client is to demonstrate through your actions that their thoughts and opinions matter. When you seek out their input, you move beyond communication and begin to connect.”