Know your customer. Put the customer first. Understand your audience.
Such droning clichés are about as useful and arguable as campaign promises. They are all noble and worthy objectives, of course, yet they are all too often delivered as platitudes without any real, actionable steps to help marketers figure out how to really do so.
As if anyone would say, “We need to put our customers second.”
This isn’t marketers’ fault. As the practice of marketing has become more agile, technology-driven, and real-time, most professionals barely have time to respond to their mountains of email, much less invest the effort required to dissect customer insight reports from their research teams and agencies.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Understanding your customer is easier than ever thanks to social media. Here are four easy steps to understanding the voice your customer via social.
Prework: Eliminate Fake Personas, Then Go Out And Find The Real Ones
As a former agency guy, I’ve spent my fair share of time culling through customer data research and articulating personas. For those not familiar with personas, they are the carefully crafted embodiment of common consumer trends, demographics, and habits crafted into a caricature of a real, live person, complete with a pretty stock photo and stereotypical name.
Personas are not inherently bad, but don’t get sucked into the trap of looking at them as a narrow collection of dried-out stereotypes. Instead, use them as a starting point for understanding your customers, and then dedicate time and effort to walk a mile in those shoes through social media. Once you can do that, you will have a much better understanding of your customers.
So how exactly do you do that? The real work begins.
Step 1: Learn And Live Your Customers’ Digital Lives
Be your customer. Literally. Leverage technology to conduct deeper digital research of your customers to understand their online behaviors across platforms. When, where, why, and how do they go online? This leads to an entire subgenre of questions to ask, including:
- How often do they go online?
- Through what devices?
- If they have younger kids, do they share devices?
- If they have older kids, do they monitor what their kids do online?
- How often are they multiscreen viewers?
- What do they watch live, record, and/or view on-demand?
- How much of their online time is at work? At home? On the go?
- Are bandwidth and the cost of data plans concerns?
- What are their preferred social sites?
- How often do they use social sites?
- Do they just read other’s content? Do they share content? Or contribute their own?
The technology infrastructures exist to gather this kind of data, so use it.
Once you have a solid foundation, emulate. Use personas to understand the motivations and behaviors of your target, and go native. Watch their favorite shows. Use their favorite apps. Spend time offline doing what they talk about online. Join their favorite Pinterest boards. Buy a phone with a limited data plan (if pricing for mobile is an issue for your customer) and figure out how you would ration your online life. Use their hashtags. Go to that golf course. Download that Austin Mahone album.
Step 2: Be Part Of The Twitter Team
If you personally aren’t on Twitter, then you really don’t care about your customers. Refusing Twitter as a marketer these days is equivalent to saying that you got into marketing because you don’t like math. Don’t be that guy.
Think your customers aren’t on Twitter? Even if they aren’t Twitter hounds, they are influenced by the conversation. Name the last time you saw a news report that didn’t mention Twitter in some fashion. Just about every consumer segment and type of company is on Twitter. Even the staunchest of staunch old school, B2B companies are on Twitter, so you should be, too.
Being on Twitter doesn’t require you to suddenly become some sort of short-form content maven. In fact, more than half of the people on Twitter don’t tweet; they are observers and consumers. Follow your company, your competitors, your trade press, and your customers. You’ll be a better marketer for it.
Step 3: Be A Critical Student Of What Makes Your Competitors Successful
You probably already do this, so I won’t belabor the point, but in the context of digital and social, you need to be a student of your competitors’ online efforts. Sign up for every email list they have and follow every social media channel. Set up a Gmail account for these activities if you don’t want to bog down your work email account or feel uncomfortable doing so. Study their design, wording, and key messages. Look at their social posts and analyze which ones get the most engagement and why.
Step 4: Get Out Of The Office And Lurk
This point goes hand-in-hand with the first point, but it needs to be underscored. You can’t walk in your customers’ shoes unless you get out and live their lives. When I worked at McDonald’s, I would regularly do three things:
1. Take my kids to the restaurants and talk to other parents at the PlayPlace.
2. Use my three closest buddies as my informal focus group/sounding board.
3. Randomly ask people--both friends and strangers--for their opinions on either a specific product or about a business-impacting trend to which many could relate.
It’s a simple four-point plan. Yes, it requires some effort, but once you establish a few of the practices outlined above, they will quickly become part of your routine. So the next time someone talks about “understanding the customer,” you can butt in by dropping reams of not just data, but walked-in-their-shoes digital knowledge.
And that’s truly useful marketing insight.
This article will appear in Sprinklr’s Social@Scale Journal Volume 2, due out this month.