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Customers: What customers?

Paul Cash, CEO at Rooster Punk, urges brands to plan campaigns around their customers

I was speaking with a CEO of a technology company a month ago and we got onto the subject of customers. He talked to me about the defining moment when he did his MBA. On the first day the course tutor came into the room and asked the students a very simple question:“What do you think I’m going to teach you that’s worth paying £70,000 of fees for?”

The room went silent and then for the next half hour every student contributed worthwhile and highly relevant answers on everything from strategy to branding, investment to sustainability. They talked about exciting new business models, technology trends and innovations in payment solutions, but they were all wrong.

What was this mystery answer? The tutor said in a calm and commanding voice: “The one thing I’m going to teach you that’s worth at least £70,000 is how to listen and think like a customer.”

Everybody in the room started clapping. It was a magical moment said my CEO friend. Even with all those brains in the classroom, nobody had given thought or consideration to the most valuable commodity in business: the customer.

The story sent a shiver up my spine. He was right. So many of us get lost in our own internal commercial complexity. We put sales targets before customers, we put product marketing strategies before customers, we put creative marketing and demand generation programmes before customers. The simple fact is that for some bizarre reason in most B2B sales and marketing companies the customer comes last.

How would your next campaign be different if it started with your customer?

One of the challenges I face daily is convincing clients to tear up their traditional creative briefing process and rewrite it from a customer’s point-of-view. The traditional brief goes something like this:

1. We have a new upgrade or product coming out in the next few months.

2. We need to persuade customers of the compelling benefits of upgrading.

3. The key proposition is the new upgrade will make them smarter, faster and safer.

4. We need to brief our agencies to come up with a campaign that delivers a massive ROI.

5. The agency gets bombarded with technical and commercial collateral upon which to build an effective campaign.

Does this sound familiar?
The first thing most smart agencies go back with is a simple question: “Can we talk to any of your customers?”

The answers they get back are often: “We haven’t got time, this campaign needs to be out in three weeks.” So agencies do the best job they can. But in 90 per cent of campaigns, customers are often removed from the entire process.

Here’s my tip. Rip up the guts of your creative brief and start by forgetting you want to sell anything. Then ask the killer question: “What single piece of content would your target audience willingly pay £1000 for to make their job and lives easier, more interesting, fun and productive?”

Look at trends, hot topics, personal motivations, ambitions and sector insights. Then when you’re happy you have something worth paying for, retrospectively weave your product or service into the content and create a story to wrap it all together.

In today’s complex markets, it’s too simplistic to assume your customers care what you care about. Remember: leading with a product-driven message is your agenda and not theirs. Instead try leading with a story born from their world, based on insight, emotion and relevance.