Apr 8, 201410:31 AMPoint of View

How to Connect with Your Customer

How to Connect with Your Customer

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons; Infographics courtesy Kevin Budelmann

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The future belongs to companies who better connect with their customers. Winning in the connection economy starts with understanding your customer. Getting more focused on a meaningful value proposition, creating innovative ways of expressing and delivering your value, and building new systems to support your platform will help create a sustainable advantage. Here are five steps to get started.

1. Get more focused

Focus is hard. Today, global commerce has likely flattened your marketplace, creating more competitors and alternatives. Customers are exposed to ever more world-class customer experiences and have higher expectations. New technologies offer more and different opportunities. Where are you going to play? How are you going to win?

Indecision leads to market confusion. It can be hard to reconcile near-term sales and longer-term market position goals. Organizations too often try to be all things to all people, a strategy which fails. Your company needs to mean something to somebody – or risks meaning nothing to everybody. Today, connecting with your customer in innovative ways is paramount. 

In an era of choice, you need focus. The emerging global marketplace favors a few dominant global competitors owning the middle of the market. This means that most companies need to get more niche. Your niche doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice sales—rather, you need to focus your resources on a more tightly crafted strategy to be more meaningful to your customers than in the past. It may sound counterintuitive, but more focus leads to more opportunity.

Your focus should be meaningful to customers. A brand should not be a reflection of what you do, rather, what it means in the mind of your customer. Sooner or later, what you do is going to change. What you make, how you make it, how it is delivered, pricing, competitors, and generally how you define your market is likely experiencing—or will experience —upheaval.

Your focus should be sustainable. People's needs don’t change as quickly as markets or technology. Human needs are a relative constant, and creating a narrative focus for your company will help smooth a bumpy ride. 

Your focus should be based on a human need, not your capabilities.

Like all effective strategy, getting focused is about making decisions. Steve Jobs rightly pointed out that the hardest part about strategy is saying no. How do you decide? The first step is to get out of the board room and into the heads of your customers.

2. Understand your customers better

People are complicated. Quantitative market data have become complicated, too, but it doesn’t tell you what we need to know. You can identify what customers have done, and take an educated guess about what they might do. You can ask them what they like or what they think they will do. This information is helpful. Unfortunately, it won’t tell you enough about why your customers do what they do, what they’ll do next, or really whether they’ll accept your value proposition.

Connecting with your customer means understanding them. 

You can’t understand your customer completely, but you should try. All companies are founded on an unmet need. A sustainable business is dependent on understanding a customer’s evolving needs. In an increasingly crowded and confusing marketplace, this is more true than ever. Your value proposition needs to be attuned to what your customers value today.

Customer research is critical but it doesn’t have to be painful. The important thing is to better understand the context of their decision making. Too often companies act as if the customer is thinking about their brand or offering from morning to night, which we all know isn’t true. It’s important to understand what customers are really thinking about, and how they make decisions.

Qualitative user research is a well established way to get beyond a two-dimensional demographic view of a customer, and better comprehend what makes them tick. Understanding what customers value and what they are trying to accomplish allows you to create value propositions that matter.

Seeing your customers in three dimensions will allow you to make better decisions. To make value propositions stick, customers will expect to experience your brand in all dimensions.

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