Month: September 2017

Being Comfortable With Uncertainty

I once heard a manager proudly tell a new analyst who joined her team that in their business, you have to get comfortable with not having information and making decisions in an environment of great uncertainty. She was not talking about the future and the uncertainty it brings, she was talking about right now. You see, this company did not have good customer or competitor information and over the years she became comfortable with not knowing. She simply assumed that once sales trends were in line with her assumptions, her assumptions about what was happening in the dark were correct. Concepts like coincidence and business cycles never occurred to her. Furthermore, she became adept at convincing others of the same thing and took great pride in the fact that she was comfortable navigating in the dark. After all, it takes a lot of experience to navigate successfully in the dark.

She is not unique. We all seem to accept that we are feeling around in the dark and advise others to get accustomed to not seeing their fingers in front of them. We have become so comfortable with the dark that the light actually scares us. What if the light reveals that we are not where we thought we were? Or that those who we thought were with us have long gone? So we choose to continue operating in the dark, crossing our fingers that we don’t stumble into anything too unpleasant. We actively decide to NOT even turn on a flashlight. I mean, it won’t show us everything anyway, so why bother? Plus, it’s not like we’re uncomfortable.

But does that make sense? Wouldn’t even a little light be better than none at all? Wouldn’t it be better to be sure about a little about your market than nothing at all? Isn’t the investment in a flashlight worth it?

Is who you’re targeting who’s really buying?

OECS

As part of the development of a good marketing strategy, marketers define their target market, i.e. who they are trying to attract through their branding and advertising efforts. Typically, they take their cue from the corporate strategy, which would assume, inter alia, that the products and services being created by the company would be of interest to their chosen market.

My experience, however, suggests that in some cases there’s a difference between who the company is targeting and who is actually purchasing its products/services. Consider, for example, the restaurant that is focused on attracting young families, but instead sells to a significantly larger proportion of single, busy professionals; young families hardly eat there. Or the financial institution that realised that the segment that they thought were purchasing one of their investment products did not own various high-valued assets but simply had excess cash. Or the boutique that targeted young, fashionable twenty-something year olds, but actually sold more to mature, less trend-conscious forty-something year olds.

So, how do you know for sure that who you’re targeting are the ones actually buying?

1. You ask them. Feedback and customer satisfaction surveys from customers should be part of the market intelligence arsenal of any company that is serious about keeping close to their customers. In addition to making sure you’re meeting their expectations, you should take the opportunity to collect basic information (such as demographic information, how they use your products or lifestyle indicators) to confirm that you know who’s buying your products.

2. You observe them. If you have a storefront, social media presence or any other location where you can watch customers interact with your brand and your products and services, you should take some time on a regularly scheduled basis to see for yourself who’s buying, who’s looking but not buying and who’s walking past your displays without even a passing glance. You should also ask your customer-facing team to give you their opinion.

3. You monitor them. If you’re in a position to collect customer data, the resulting database is a trove of extremely valuable insight into your customer base. The only caveat is that you have to be collecting the type of information that would allow you to check whether your target market are your customers. For example, if you’re targeting persons that are health conscious, but only collecting information on gender and age, you’ll never know if your customers are in fact health conscious. Or if you’re targeting persons within a certain income bracket, but you never actually ask your customers for their income (or some proxy of income) when they sign up, you’d never know if you’re right.

4. You listen to them. In many cases, your customers are already talking about you. They’re sharing their experiences with your products and services on social media and radio talk shows. Pay attention to who is talking and who’s responding. While the loud don’t always represent the majority, they often spark conversations that the majority chime in on. It pays to listen.

At a time when every marketing dollar spent has to count, marketers have to understand if their efforts are spurring the type of demand they intend, and, if not, what (if anything) they should do about it.