Why do companies struggle to adapt to their customers and maintain a sustainable success model?
What if I told you it wasn’t because they are failing at developing their brand, business or market, but because they are failing to develop their customers?
Brand, business and market development is something that many companies place significant emphasis on already; extending the traditional ideals of marketing, advertising and revenue growth is something that board members, shareholders and senior staff understand and support.
The ability for a brand to succeed in the present, be staged for future growth and procurement relies on four key tenants:
- Brand Development
- Business Development
- Market Development
- Customer Development
Whether you are a start-up or Fortune 50, the adaptation of brand (and/or product segments) over time is imperative to remain relevant as customers evolve. Updated identity systems to coincide with today’s design aesthetic, evolving positioning statements based on corporate changes of philosophy and even name changes as companies merge or pivot are all commonplace in 2015.
Sales are certainly one form of business development, however in this context, Business Development means the actual growth and evolution of the business itself. The evolution of product designs/utility, corporate strategic growth roadmaps, supply chain improvements and how we mine for insights from research and data are all fuel for development. Good companies with strong leadership know this.
Notice both Brand and Business Development are primarily focused on internal teams and process. Market Development is a focus outward, creating a demand. Generating awareness and letting potential customers know (or reminding them) you exist. Typically this is done through a utilitarian or lifestyle-based differentiation of brand and competitor. In either instance, there must be a compelling emotional argument for a consumer to engage.
The struggle to maintain consistent relevance, share of voice and value to customers is something all brands experience, whether or not you’re effectively driving the three factors outlined above. Brand and business evolution is only achieved by changing the way you talk about the brand or uncover new ways to improve margins. From a market perspective, there are many ways to speak to the need or to spark intrigue amongst potential customers through media, social engagement, promotions, events, etc. However, all of these elements are reactionary. The way forward to future sustainability is by addressing 7 key factors:
The 7 Facets of Customer Development
- Awareness: Is brand awareness growing in proportion to customer acquisition goals?
- Price: Can people afford to purchase? Are you pricing competitively as new competitors enter the market? Or, is the higher price justified by quality or goodwill?
- Quality: As buyers become more informed, will the product meet their expectations?
- Purpose: Will the product/service continue to serve a purpose as consumer trends shift?
- Value: Are you creating meaningful experiences that consumers will continue to value and recommend/share with others?
- Adoptability: Have you set up customers for success using and sharing the product?
- Innovation: Are you innovating against potentially new and highly disruptive competitors?
These 7 factors are generally considered part of your brand, business and market development efforts. Rarely do companies look at these from the perspective of developing a customer in real-time as they grow and evolve. Our propensity to lean towards a reactionary approach (at the introduction of a disruptive company in the space or changes in customer behavior) is what causes the constant feeling of treading water for many brands. But what if we could “pull” customers along with us as we evolve? That’s the idea of Customer Development. It allows companies to engage customers in your growth process, rather than allowing them to seek alternatives in the market and risk losing their loyalty.
In order to properly develop customers as you evolve, keep them in your community and continue to speak to the 7 Key Factors outlined above, it is imperative that your communications efforts:
- Incite a need: Make it a point to encourage action and engagement. Beyond the CTA to “buy,” create content that allows consumers to understand your place in the market and why they should desire your product over a competitors’ is how you’ll be able to drive awareness.
- Spark an interest: The first step to commitment is consideration. If you can provide value to a potential customer, they are much more likely to affiliate with your brand. Show customers value and benefits and you will gain interest.
- Solidify commitment: Make it easy for consumers to interact with your brand. There is no better way to gain commitment than to make it easy for them to interact with you. Focusing on customer experience across all channels and encouraging conversation and transactions at every touchpoint reduces commitment friction.
- Provide customers with experiences: Experiences should be memorable and shareable. If people come away from your brand feeling nothing emotionally, you failed to provide them with a reason to interact. If someone doesn’t feel compelled to engage with you, why would they want to buy from you?
- Empower customers with knowledge and educate the benefit: As mentioned above, there has never been a time where customers have been more conditioned to educate themselves about a brand they are followers of. People want to know everything from the ingredients in products to the corporate mission statement on the walls in the office. If they share common beliefs and are believers in your message, they will share it with their networks. Consumers have never been more educated. Info-lust is commonplace and people are seeking open and transparent companies that not only talk to value, but show it as well. Continue to show them the value of the changes you’re making in your company and how your planned course benefits them.
- Ask customers to share and participate: Everyone wants to find the next viral sensation when it comes to marketing. Virility is based on storytelling. Brands that find unique ways to tell their story, get their messages shared by their customers. Give them great experiences, empower them with knowledge and allow them to participate in your community and they will want to share, promise.
- Introduce new buyers: At some point if there is no motivation to open up your product or service to new customers, you will reach a saturation point. The key is finding new ways that additional customers can benefit from an affiliation with your company. Many times you don’t even have to change the product, simply the way people view it. Attracting new buyers is as much about updating verbiage in your communications as it is innovating the product itself.
- Re-engage: Don’t forget about a customer or take them for granted once they have purchased. Whether the product has a short life-cycle or is something people only buy a single time, follow up, ask for feedback and communicate publicly. People love to be recognized and asked to share their opinion. It will not only make you a smarter company, but make consumers feel as though they have a more prominent place in your community. And if they haven’t bought, reaching back out allows them to feel important and unique to incite additional consideration or provide a means by which you can alleviate any initial concerns they had with purchasing.
This isn’t an exhaustive list or roadmap to guarantee success. However, much like professional development makes you smarter and arms you with additional knowledge and value to bring to your organization, Customer Development ensures a more loyal and educated consumer community. A customer you can bring along for the journey is more valuable than one which has not yet developed loyalty to your brand. If consumers see you working at creating a better relationship, they will work harder too. A consumer-set that makes it a priority to champion your brand is the beginning of community that works on your behalf... far more efficient, honest and viable than any BOGO promotion you might offer.