No customers, no business.
But think about it — is your business really aligned to focus on and meet the needs of your customers (including your marketing)?
Here’s a quick way to tell. Look at your website and ask yourself this question, “Is my website designed to answer customer questions or does it represent how I sell my products/services?”
It’s easy to say you focus on your customers.
Really? Do you?
Marketing is something you do FOR your customers, not TO them.
I believe that.
That’s a culture shift every business should be making with their marketing (many won’t).
Too many marketing efforts continue to be geared toward “buy something.”
You need to be helping your customers.
I love this quote from Seth Godin in “This Is Marketing”
Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.
The opposite of that is talking about yourself (Is Your Sales Team Louder Than Your Customers?).
That’s the essentials of it and it really is as simple (and as hard) as focus entirely on your customer.
But I Just Sell a Commodity
“There is no such thing as a commodity. All goods and services differentiate” – Theodore Levitt (the Father of Modern Marketing)
There are some customers who are simple bottom line buyers who will go for the cheapest option. But competing on price is a race to the bottom and razor-thin margins.
If you’re a commodity product, maybe content marketing isn’t the best investment for you to make — direct mail and ads that call for direct purchase could be a better marketing spend. That said, you never know unless you try.
Regardless, you can still compete on excellent service and delivery. Every customer touch point is a marketing opportunity.
Use those touch points to move “customer focus” from goal to reality.
Let’s say you sell mulch in bulk. Not much is going to be different from your competitor’s mulch. You can still differentiate yourself with faster, more reliable delivery or willingness to help unload as part of your delivery service.
Marketing Success Through Differentiation — of Anything from Harvard Business Review is great reading, even if written in 1980.
Content for Your Customers
I don’t want to go in too deep on content here, but I did want to share a few tips that will help you focus your content on your customers.
First, and no secret here, creating good content is hard. It’s even harder when you look around the Internet and see all the SEO advice focused on keywords and going viral and be excellent (and funny and engaging and et cetera and et cetera) and all the other crap out there.
Here’s the best advice on content marketing I can give: write for your customers.
How do you do that?
Then actually listen.
Where do you listen?
Reviews. Pay attention to customer reviews on Google (you do have a Google Business page, right?) or Yelp, etc. Respond to every comment in a human way (yes, even to the trolls and bitter ex-employees you know are trying to tank your rating).
Conversations. Train your salespeople to listen and ask questions about customer points of pain (the good ones are already doing that). If you provide services, train your field personnel to listen to customer questions and write them down.
I worked with copier dealers for nearly four years. Their service technicians were a goldmine of ideas because they spoke to customers every day. Extracting that information felt like working in the salt mines, but, man, the blogs based around their ideas were some of our most successful.
Of course, if you have a help desk or customer service staff, if you aren’t logging and mining those customer conversations to identify trends and proactively answer questions on blogs, landing pages, FAQs, etc. you probably shouldn’t be in marketing.
Ask them. I regularly did a reader survey prior to putting together an editorial calendar for my print magazine. While I covered topics no one mentioned that I knew would be important, the bulk of the topics I covered matched what they said they wanted. I even got a few article ideas from the comments.
Quick SEO thought, I don’t intend to dismiss SEO.
It. Is. EXTREMELY. Important.
But it is easy to get bogged down in the technical aspects of SEO and forget you are writing for a person. So use at least basic SEO strategy while answering your customers’ questions without trying to manipulate the search engines (which true SEO experts will tell you is for suckers). You can trick search engines in the short term, but that’s the content marketing equivalent of a sugar high — it’s not gonna last.
All of the above advice sounds grim. Don’t mistake customer focus for boring. There’s still room to have fun.
Two examples come to mind.
Remember the “Will It Blend?” (www.willitblend.com) videos from Blendtec? On the one hand, they do a great job of showing how powerful the blenders are. On the other hand, watching a pool cue, various phones, bottles, and other random items be ground up in these short videos is always kinda fun.
I like to wear shorts. I have short legs, so I like a shorter inseam. NO ONE SELLS AFFORDABLE SHORT INSEAM SHORTS THAT DON’T LOOK CHEAP so my legs look about a foot long in all the cargo shorts I own.
Chubbies sells shorts online (update: OMG, there’s a store within driving distance now!). They have a 5.5- and 7-inch inseam. Thighs out, baby! They offer email discounts on thighberdays. They do random videos. They just completed a male model search online. In my order, they sent a football card and a note from whoever boxed it up.
It’s a nice touch.
When I lose some more weight, I’m buying more. Not only because the shorts are excellent, but because it’s fun to be a customer. Their emails are funny, irreverent, and focused on guys who like a shorter short. I suspect their marketing probably turns some customers off, but they attract more customers than they lose by being interesting and having a distinctive voice.
Instead of “Sign up for our newsletter” it’s “Your inbox deserves better inquire below.”
They have a voice.
Are Customers the Center of Your Universe?
I mentioned your website earlier. Look at your sales scripts. Look at your marketing materials.
Is it all about you and what you’re selling or is about your customer and what they want/need?
Are you showing your customers how you’re going to make their life better? Blendtec makes life better by being able to mix the smoothest smoothies (or soups or margaritas) with their powerful blenders. Chubbies let’s short guys (and taller guys too) wear comfortable, affordable shorts that don’t make you look like a toddler with too-long shorts.
I’m going to guess most of you reading this aim for customer focus, but end up with a shyte brochureware site of products because of internal politics and fear of being different.
Stop worrying about what you think and start focusing on what your customer thinks.
You’ll be glad you did.
About the Cheeky A-Z Guide to Content Marketing.
There are groaning shelves of books and whitepapers you can read about content and inbound marketing. What’s missing from (some) of them is the stuff between the cracks. The dirty, nuts and bolts examples of things that can go wrong and the random things that can go wonderfully well. I decided to run down the alphabet a letter at a time and highlight personal lessons learned from creating content for 25 years and from applying those content creation lessons to content marketing over the past decade-ish. I hope you enjoy.