Marketing Must Always Be About the Customer

There is nothing more important in business than realizing the importance of your customers. Everything you do should be directed at them. To succeed, you have to know exactly what they love, what they hate, what drives them crazy, what makes them happy, what gets them excited. Marketing is all about the customer.Often, the ads you see in newspapers, print journals, and the Yellow Pages mention how the company had been in business for so many years, and say things like “We offer quality and service to our customers.” Neither statement is significant. Being in business many years gives you some credibility, but when you talk about quality and service, you may as well be speaking Martian. Everybody claims high quality and excellent service, so the claim has no impact anymore.You can overcome that fact by really getting into your customers. Step into their shoes. Get to know them the best you can. Learn exactly what they want and what their buying habits are. Spend many hours thinking about what you can do for them that your competition isn’t doing. How can you make their lives easier and better? Those long hours of thinking and planning will be richly rewarded, because your customers will love you when you give them things tailor-made to their needs.That’s what it’s all about: filling unfulfilled desires. It’s understanding all the emotional and physical forces that cause them to keep spending their money for the things that are important in their lives. Spend some time getting to know your customers. Talk with them. Don’t just expect them to come in, spend money, and leave. Get a feeling for who they are and what’s important to them. You’ll discover things you never realized they wanted, and sometimes realize that though you thought you knew why they were buying something, you really didn’t.For example, some people just think of cars as transportation, and sure, that’s what they are at a fundamental level. But people don’t buy cars just for transportation. Transportation gives them the idea to buy a car, but they usually buy a specific car because it makes a statement about them. They buy it because they think it will make them look sexier or smarter, or any of 101 other reasons. If we all just needed transportation, we’d buy something cheap and reliable. But we often buy for psychological and physical comfort, and are willing to pay a lot for it.This is also true for many other products and services we buy. If someone’s buying clothing, they’re not buying it just to cover themselves up or to protect themselves from the sun and the cold. They’re usually aiming for a specific look or fashion. People spend money with hidden agendas in every section of business — even though they may not be entirely conscious of that agenda. They might not even know what their own unfulfilled needs are, which is why it’s so important for you to get into their psyches. Doing so separates the average businesses from those at the top. You must consider the customer the king and treat them accordingly. It’s our job as marketers to find out what they want to buy and why. It helps us create new services and products.Advertising has something of a bad rap, a misperception of aggressive marketers. Sometimes there’s a stigma in the marketplace, and society in general, towards anything that’s considered salesmanship. Some people may even perceive you as pushing yourself on people — coercing them into buying, somehow stealing the money they wouldn’t otherwise spend. These feelings are actually pretty commonplace.But even if it is ruthless or aggressive, good advertising, marketing and salesmanship must always be about the customer. If you’re doing an effective job of advertising, and of matching your products and services to the marketplace, you aren’t doing anything that would make someone buy something that weren’t already predisposed to purchase. If I have a weight-loss product and offer it to skinny people, they probably aren’t going to buy it. But if I offer it to someone already thinking about losing weight, I just might make a sale.It’s not about coercing anyone into buying something they’re not interested in. It’s about identifying a group of people already interested in the kinds of things you sell, and then making them an offer that makes them want to do business with you. If they see the value in what you have, then they may be willing to part with their cash in exchange for your offer. That’s a mutually agreeable transaction, and everyone’s happy.That’s what the business relationship always has to be about in today’s market: serving the customers and giving them exactly what they want. If you prefer to struggle in business, try selling something to people who don’t want to buy it. That’s a pretty foolish existence. It’s better to find something they want to buy and then spend your time finding creative ways to get them to say yes to your offer.Again, it’s all about the customer and your relationship with them. It’s one of the reasons I talk about direct mail so much — because it’s one of the best ways to build relationships with your customer base. It gives you the ability to write to them as if you were writing to a friend. It lets you get your message to them in a friendly way. Direct mail is an ideal way to make it all about your customer, to focus on them and for them to read your invitation or letter in a personal way. It should feel like a letter from a friend. Make it about them; the more you make it about you, the more you lose.I love reading about entrepreneurs who have done amazing things. One of my favorite stories is about Henry Ford, who changed the world with his Model As and Model Ts. But after he sold a few million, the market suddenly changed. Now people wanted more than just inexpensive cars; they wanted some differentiation, so they started crying out for more colors. As much as a world-changing genius as he was, Ford stubbornly resisted the changes in his marketplace. When his advisers kept bugging him about offering more colors, he was famously quoted as saying, “They can have whatever color they want, as long as it’s black.”In letting his disdain get the best of him, Ford opened the door for General Motors and other companies to enter the market — companies that listened to what the customers now wanted. Who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars Ford lost because he refused to stay ahead of the market changes? He was so focused on his one vision of keeping the cost of a new car as low as possible that he didn’t realize that wasn’t all people wanted anymore… and he paid for that.You have to really keep abreast of all your market’s changes-or suffer the consequences.