In order to know thyself, first know the customer. When developing a brand, it is important to know who your customers are—not just in a general sense, as in their demographics, but more intimately, such as in terms of their aspirations, motivations, and actual behaviors (psychographics). Without this insight, it is impossible to properly position your product or service, or to develop the brand promises that will resonate with the intended audience.
Knowing your customers seems intuitive and easy enough, but in actuality, knowing what makes them tick (their true desires) is often elusive for a lot of brands. Part of the problem is that companies are so outwardly focused on driving new sales that they neglect cultivating the relationships they currently have, often ignoring or taking for granted the most important stakeholder of the brand, the customer. It is easier for them to find new clients than it is to keep their existing ones happy. Unfortunately, unhappy customers will tell as many people who will listen about their negative experience with your company. Not only will this have a negative impact on the target audience, it will affect the perception of the organization as a whole.
To discover why customers connect with their brand and how to continue to address their needs and desires, companies should attempt to uncover their most loyal (and thus, most profitable) customers. A common misconception is that organizations should engage in focus groups to answer these questions. The problem with focus groups, according to Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery in their new book, Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company (FT Press, 2009), is that companies “will be basing [their] entire business strategy on the fact that 7 people out of a group of 12 expressed a ‘like’ in a certain direction…Mediocrity is what you end up with if you try to make something everybody likes.”
To find out what those customers really want, it is best to observe them in their natural environment, either using or purchasing your product or service. This is relatively simple if your brand is a retail product sitting on store shelves, but how do you gauge the buying habits, needs and desires of those purchasing a service? In this instance, it is possible to gain valuable insight into your customer’s needs by speaking with them directly, and asking important questions, such as why they chose your company over a competitor, and what the differentiating factors were. Equally important, although sometimes more difficult, is to ask prospective clients or customers that you did not win or lost business to. Why did they choose to work with someone else? Sometimes the answers might surprise you.
These types of soul-searching questions allow you to better understand the customer’s point of view, affording an opportunity to adjust your brand to be more effective at communicating a more relevant message. Properly positioning your product or service in the mind of your target audience forms an emotional connection with customers that build brand loyalty, reduce marketing costs, and improve profitability. The more you know your customer, the more valuable and measurable your branding efforts become.
—Ryan Hembree, principal/brand strategy