Know your customer.

Stick your feet into their shoes.

The thing about marketing is that it can be very theoretical.

You might map out a beautiful and detailed customer journey, which occurs in the real world, in that exact order, about 2% of the time. You might create a point of sale piece about safety around children, only to have the product shopped by baby boomers. You might produce a Hollywood-quality film extolling the unique value propositions of your brand, only to realize that 99.9% of people just read the three bullet points on your homepage. You might write the perfect script for your sales team, only to realize they spend 10 minutes of the pitch building rapport and only 1 minute actually pointing out a whiz-bang feature or two.

In sum, the real world is a messy place. And what’s more, tactics are only as effective as their alignment with your customer.

Marketing just isn’t an energy drink that kicks the customer off to do your bidding. It’s more of a green tea, inspirational and contemplative. To inspire someone, you have to know what they care about. And to really know them, it’s going to take some work on your part.

Here are three ways to get started:

Analyzing common characteristics of high revenue customers is a great place to start. Get into Google Analytics and look at cohorts with high Average Order Size or repeat purchases. Are they mostly male or female? Where do they live? What are their interests? This will help you with targeting, but . also with product marketing approach. Take this data and begin to map look-a-like brands targeting the same customers. What are the patterns in the ways they talk to their customers?

2. Listen.

A great place to start is NPS. Not only is NPS a great bellweather for the health of your brand, the comments section can also provide qualitative data that is extremely worthwhile.

With that said, NPS is only a start. The surveys that I’ve seen get the most attention in actual strategy development are more qualitative. The magic here is finding the right group of people to ask. You’ll want to look for influencers who are thinking about trends for their constituents, and not just their individual tastes. Focus groups and roundtables are a great way of building relationships with these influencers so that they give you honest feedback, and aren’t just pencil whipping a survey.

I’ve also had success with creating a private slack channel or LinkedIn group for influencers. This can cultivate a really unique sense of community among experts, and when used appropriately, can be a fantastic resource for innovators across design, marketing sales, and product development to get real time voice of the customer.

The awesome thing about forming relationships with experts like this is that when listened to, these people will become your biggest advocates, and not just paid spokespeople. They expressed a problem, and you solved it. Now your amazing product is also a reflection of their personal brand.

3. Get into the market.

Lots of marketing stories make sense on paper. But until you’re sitting face-to-face with a prospective customer, trying to explain yourself, you won’t know if it’s really going to work. Discovering a product-market mismatch will help you decide one of two things: that you need to change your product or that you need to find a different customer. Both decisions can be very powerful.

Knowing who you don’t want to target has the power to drastically increase the efficiency of your spend. For example, when I worked in appliances, media partners often assumed that we wanted to go after people that liked to cook. In fact, by focusing more on the design community and not participating as heavily in the cooking affinity space where other brands were spending, we were able to make our dollars go much further and take a more distinctive position in the market.

We knew that this was the right decision because we spent time in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. We knew our customers were foodies who actually sometimes just wanted to use their pretty kitchen to enjoy high end takeout.

It’s easy for each of us to want to see ourselves in our customers. However, our customers are their own people, and the more we can free ourselves to talk not about our preferences — or businesses’ preferences — but our customers’ preferences, the more meaningful our marketing will be.

Getting close to your customers is a career commitment and not a six week project that can be completed and shelved. However, if you’ve never done any work like this before, creating a cross functional coalition committed to customer discovery can be catalyst for accelerating customer orientation. The most important ingredient to success will be making sure everyone on the team is aligned on the learnings of this work.

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