“... SMART COMPANIES DON ’ T JUST ASK THIS OF THEIR OWN CUSTOMERS ; THEY ASK THEIR COMPETITORS ’ CUSTOMERS TOO . CUSTOMERS MUST ALWAYS BE A CENTRAL PART OF THE EQUATION WHEN YOU ’ RE DOING BRAND STRATEGY .”
or —“ What would you change about this ?” Actually talking to customers face-toface is one of the most valuable things you can do to understand your brand .
One easy way for marketing managers and executives to interact with customers is by fielding customer service calls or inbound sales calls . Even at the CEO level , if you take customer service calls for a few hours every month it might just be the most valuable time you ever spend . The callers won ’ t have any idea you ’ re the CEO , so they won ’ t sugar coat how they feel about your brand . And you can ask them almost anything you want , and they ’ ll answer honestly .
Another inexpensive method is hosting a pizza and beer party ( or flatbread and wine party , depending upon your target demographic ). Invite friends and friends of friends to visit your office or your home and try your product .
Tell them you ’ ll provide take-out food and beverages in exchange for their time .
The key here is to make sure you ’ re getting honest feedback .
Friends and family will usually try to tell you they love it , even if they don ’ t . So offer them the booze in exchange for brutal , unvarnished honesty .
The above ideas are free or extremely inexpensive . Entrepreneurs in early stage start-ups , and companies without market research budgets , should take full advantage of all of these ideas and devise other methods that put them front and center with customers .
On the opposite end of the cost spectrum is formal market research . These could include everything from focus groups , to quantitative studies , in-depth interviews , surveys , or even observing your customers “ in the wild ” through ethnography . Professional focus groups can yield a tremendous amount of data , but they ’ re costly .
Regardless of how much you spend , companies of all sizes should be asking their customers about their needs .
Oh , and here ’ s a pro tip : smart companies don ’ t just ask this of their own customers ; they ask their competitors ’ customers too . Customers must always be a central part of the equation when you ’ re doing brand strategy .
Unfortunately , there are many marketing agencies out there that believe in the myth of the marketing executive in a closed-off and customer-free boardroom . To do branding in a vacuum without putting the customers ’ point of view front and center is a massive mistake .
In building a strong brand that connects deeply with customers , you must conduct discovery so you can gain an understanding of customers ’ needs as well as the trends , forces and brands that compete for their attention .
The goal is to do more than safeguard against what other brands are doing . You need to gain insight into your company ’ s unique role in the marketplace , and your unique relevance to your Ideal Customer .
Deb Gabor is the founder of Sol Marketing , a consultancy that has led successful strategy engagements since 2003 for global brands like Dell , Microsoft and NBCUniversal , and for numerous digital brands , including Allrecipes , Cheezburger , HomeAway and many more .
A leading expert on brand disasters , she is the author of Branding Is Sex , and Irrational Loyalty : Building A Brand That Thrives In Turbulent Times . Deb has been featured in USA Today and other major publications . A displaced Midwesterner , Deb currently lives in Austin , Texas , but travels frequently to help her clients build bulletproof brands . DebGabor . com