How Can You Know What Your Customers Want? Listen.

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At our Cipher Symposium: The Art of Cross Media in April, communication strategist Frank Oswald shared insights on crafting effective marketing messages. “Effective communicators work from the outside-in, tailoring their messages to what their audiences already believe,” he said. “By putting mindset before message, your organization can go beyond awareness and achieve more of the actions you desire.” View Frank’s Cipher Symposium presentation here.

So, how do marketers gain a sense of their customers’ beliefs and values? Formal customer-attitude surveys can be revealing; they’re also expensive. Understanding your audience can be simpler than that. Here are a few ideas:

Use social media. Brands and organizations that are using social media marketing effectively aren’t posting special offers and silly games. They’re using Facebook and Twitter to listen to their customers. Here’s how:

  • Test-drive ideas in development by floating them to fans and followers and inviting comment.
  • Use social media to listen to the language your fans and followers use, and echo that lingo in your marketing.
  • Pay attention and respond—quickly—to questions or comments from frustrated customers.
  • Read more about how marketers are using social media wisely in Chris’s recent recap of the Internet Marketing Week conference.

Go where your customers are. Organizations and nonprofits with a local footprint are at an advantage when it comes to understanding their customers—simply because they can connect in person. Some suggestions:

  • “Wander the halls” to watch your customers in action, whether they’re students, patients, families, donors, retail customers, etc.
  • Attend gatherings—fundraisers, special events, meetings—and listen to how your customers and prospects talk about your organization.

Use an online survey tool. Survey Monkey is an easy-to-use and inexpensive online tool for research. A couple of simple strategies:

  • Segment your customer groups and ask targeted questions. For example, you might ask a group of lapsed donors about why they haven’t given recently.
  • Avoid open-ended questions. Provide options for them to respond: Yes/No/Maybe, Always/Sometimes/Never, or use a a scale (like 1 to 5) to rate a response.

According to Frank Oswald, marketers are in the business of understanding and influencing human behavior. To do that work well, you have to know your customers.

Want to learn more about crafting effective marketing messages? Read our article “5 Smart Ways to Connect Personally with Your Audience.”