Knowledge is power — or so the adage goes. The obverse of that bit of wisdom is even more important: Ignorance is dangerous. This is especially true when it comes to marketing your business. Technology is ever evolving, and market shifts are accelerating. If you’re not paying constant attention to what’s happening with your brand, especially in the eyes of your customers, you run the risk of falling out of touch very quickly.
The first people you stand to lose are consumers in the consideration phase of their journey. Countless businesses are leveraging their unique offerings to vie for the same subsets of consumers, and competition is high. Professionals have become more selective when it comes to choosing content to spend time on. If you don’t offer your target customers something that catches their eyes, you often won’t get a second chance — they’ll have already moved on to the next brand.
How You Reach Your Customer Has Changed
Consider, for instance, the payola practices of the late 1950s. At that time, radio disc jockeys held almost absolute power in the record industry, determining what was played and when. Label executives would court the favor of DJs in order to get airtime for certain artists. When flattery wasn’t enough, they began paying DJs to play their albums so customers who heard them on the radio would go out and purchase the records.
It’s no secret that today’s music market — while not without its questionable practices — is completely different. Now, anyone can go to Apple Music, Spotify, or Google Play Music; preview music; and build custom playlists according to their tastes. Consumers drive their own consumption, which means businesses have to consider a multitude of perspectives if they want to appeal to a broad consumer base.
Avoid Bias With an Outside Perspective
The importance of listening to your customers can’t be overstated. Consider the way Cadillac is calling on younger generations to bring its legacy brand back to the forefront. After recognizing that its heritage wouldn’t carry it far in today’s consumer landscape, marketers at Cadillac started exploring new ways to connect. The brand now utilizes “ask me anything” — or AMA — sessions with its insight community to connect decision-makers at the company with the consumers who ultimately drive the market.
Similarly, I had to look for consumer input when I became aware that my brand was missing important audiences. We were serving an older, wealthy demographic but weren’t transacting with newly affluent Millennials to the same degree. Even if younger consumers had heard of our brand, they were often unsure of how to connect with us in meaningful ways. At first, we weren’t sure how to bridge that gap.
Though it was tempting to do our own consumer research, I knew if we did, then there would be inherent bias — no matter how hard we tried to remain neutral. It’s simply impossible to look at your own target consumers without seeing them through the lens of what you do every day. The value lies in broadening your scope.
So we brought in a consulting group to conduct consumer research. Some of the most interesting feedback we received was from people who didn’t even recognize the brand name. It’s easy to think the whole world is familiar with your company when you know your own story, but in reality, there are people you haven’t reached.
A large part of the research results focused on the evolving role of technology and how the company could use it to more effectively tell a story and develop relationships. We’ve always relied heavily on our rich history as a brand, but we had to revamp our strategy to focus more on tech.
Maximize the Research You Commission
The research process starts with commitment: You have to be in it for the long haul. When you receive your research results, it’s tempting to assume you know everything you need to know and set those insights on a shelf. But resist the urge to return to old habits. Instead, use the results to pinpoint priority action areas — for us, the first was technology — and develop actionable initiatives that your company will undertake over the next year or two.
Once you have an action plan, you need to ensure your organization is structured in a way that sets you up for success. If you don’t have the people power to complete your action items, you’re destined to fail. Your finances have to be committed to the change if you’re going to succeed in both the immediate future and over time.
Remember, your research needs to be ongoing. As you change your strategy to tackle new initiatives based on research, you must also measure the effectiveness of your changes. Just make sure you’re not measuring the same thing year after year. Adopt new strategies based on research and adapt those strategies as you find out more about your consumers.
Recruiting new customers is just as important as retaining the faithful ones, and quality research from an outside source is a must for accomplishing either goal. An unbiased perspective can shed light on issues you didn’t realize you had and open doors you didn’t know were closed. If you want to understand where your business falls short, commit yourself to outside research — and long-term plans based on that research. Outside perspectives are vital to keeping your brand at the top of the market.
Kevin Thompson is CMO of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, where he oversees and implements marketing, interactive, digital, advertising, and PR initiatives for the brand. Kevin has an extensive background working with globally recognized luxury brands. He’s passionate about creating an unparalleled customer experience through exceptional marketing and brand management.