Houston, We Have A Problem

Nine times…ok, maybe eight….out of ten, you might not have a marketing problem but a communication problem.

The more years I spend in marketing, the more I realize the following truths are repeated over and over again. And yes, guilty as charged on some occasions:

1) Marketing does not ask their customers why they have chosen their product and then has to guess when crafting website copy, collateral copy, advertising headlines, etc.

2) Product Management does not utilize Marketing as the conduit to the customer to understand why people buy, what features they find useful and what they wish they had for future versions.

3) Customers do not always give feedback on the products and services they use, often resulting in the most happy or most disatisfied giving their opinions, which leaves too many unknowns in the middle.

4) Marketers are not sure which messages resonate so they communicate everything about the product/service in the hopes that SOMETHING will click (aka, the Throw Jello at the Wall and See What Sticks theory).

Let’s break this down:

1) Ask your customers

Marketers spend lots of money and time sitting in Collaboration or Innovation – or whatever they are calling them – rooms, whiteboarding possible messages to their audience. Most of the time this is based on what we think we know about the market, what an analyst has told us is important, what our competitor is saying or what our CEO has told us they want to focus on for the quarter. But here’s a thought: why not communicate with your most valuable resource, your own existing customers and ask them “Why did you buy from me?” That one simple question can open up a host of possibilities. “Well, your website was easy to navigate.” “I liked the playful tone of your brand, doesn’t take itself too seriously.” “You had the best price” “I couldn’t find this product/service anywhere else.” “I had bad experiences with your competition and your service was excellent, even if your prices are more expensive.”

Think about the possibilities of what to stress in your marketing messages to attract more people like the ones who already bought from you.

2) Product Management and Marketing: So happy together.

All too often product management (or product development) and marketing are at odds. Product management thinks marketers are just talking heads who should be the last ones to know what is in a product so they can just spin it the right way. Marketing thinks product management is a bunch of eggheads that build useless features into a product, fail to deliver versions on time and fail to understand the realities of how customers actually use the thing.

Sigh. Can’t we just get along? These groups should be working together: marketing can inform product management about how the product is really being used today, provide research and insight into what competitors are offering, and be a great reality check against prioritizing new bells and whistles that will actually drive sales forward. product management can inform marketing about new trends in R&D, feasibility and consequences of new features, and realistic timelines for release. Both groups can work together to get the best possible version out into the market by playing to their strengths and being in lockstep throughout design and development, with neither one being last to know.

3) The only customers you might hear from are the very happy or very angry.

This leaves a lot of gray. Wouldn’t you rather know what 80% of your buyers are thinking rather than just the fringe 20%? Wouldn’t that be more effective for your overall marketing strategy and product mix? And yet, we give customers no incentive, no dialogue to engage us throughout the process.

A woman who runs a lingerie and sleepwear site wants to be in constant touch with her customer base as she grows her business. So she offers a permanent incentive: tell me about your experience and get a discount on future purchases. Awesome – and simple, right? And yes, I know other companies do this, but they hide this away just in case someone might actually take them up on it. She proudly advertises this incentive on her front page so even I have an average experience, I might be tempted to spend a few minutes telling her what worked and what didn’t. I bet you could come up with other ways to do this creatively as well. The incentives don’t have to cost you much and the feedback is like gold.

4) Throwing Jello at the wall

The most common marketing communication problem by far. “But I want to attract anyone who is willing to buy from me, so I need to tell them all 15 reasons to do so.” Uh-uh. Doesn’t work like that. People only retain 3-5 messages from a field of many. So be crystal clear on what you want to say and to whom you are talking. People will not spend their time digging their way through your 15 reasons to find one that resonates with them. This is not a treasure hunt.

Yes, this might mean people will come to your site and not buy from you. But I guarantee if you are clear on who you are communicating to and reinforce a few core messages to them, those that do fit your criteria will result in more conversions in the end. 10 buyers out of 20 is a much better metric than 2 buyers out of 1000.

Communication is key – internally and externally – to make your voice heard. Just make sure your words and your interactions are about quality, not quantity.

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