Getting past the focus groups and PowerPoints to truly understanding the lives of your prospects and customers requires creativity, but it's the key to marketing success.
Understanding what makes your target customers tick is the most important factor in delivering and communicating real value to them. All too often, companies view what they are selling only through their own eyes, a potentially fatal mistake. Getting out of your own head and into the mind of your consumer is the road to success, and increasingly, tools like Buyer Personas are emerging as the all-important key to capturing both hearts and minds.
Embracing this concept of Buyer Personas--truly understanding the lives of your prospects and customers--is critical to delivering a narrative that connects with them based on where they are in their buying cycle, what problems they are trying to solve in their lives and how your product can satisfy these needs.
Successfully harnessing the power of Buyer Personas requires a level of creativity that extends far beyond the standard research report or PowerPoint slides. Any actor worth his salt doesn't step onstage or in front of the camera without first diligently researching his character's life to the point where he begins to instinctively think, fee and behave as they do. It's no different for marketers. The more you can get into character and think and feel as your customers, the more successful you will be in engaging them.
Below are a few techniques that can inspire your team to move beyond simple and impersonal demographics to make more profound and direct connection with your customers:
Have a conversation
Have you ever been in a focus group? People are forced to discuss a series of contrived questions with a pack of strangers, while staring dead-eyed at a glass wall, feeling like they're trapped forever inside an M&M-powered fishbowl. Does this sound like an effective way to capture the complex intricacies of what a human being truly thinks and feels? Of course not. A better way is to find people who fit the profile of your buyer and just sit down and talk to them. Take them for coffee, or meet with them in their office. Always make sure to steer the conversation away from your company. Instead, focus on their life and their desires, and what they are trying to accomplish every day. Then use this information to figure out how your product can best fit into the needs of their world, and when.
Walk in their shoes
It's one thing to intellectually understand someone, but it's another to actually know them--to feel the pressures they feel and to face the non-stop choices, demands and problems that make up their life. While it's almost impossible to step in and truly inhabit someone else's life, a little role-playing will go a long way toward understanding the truth about your target. It's an interesting and often fun exercise that can prove very illuminating. First, to get into character, do a quick profile of one of your key consumer targets, to serve as a guide. Then pick one of your products and start your day. While in character, consider what prompted you to seek out your product category in the first place? Where would you go to start to investigate things? Remember, you only know what your "character" does, so keep it real. What's most important based on how this person would be purchasing and using your product? In the end, decide whether "character you" would have chosen your company and products. If not, you've learned a ton!
Find a friend
One day, recently, my team was having a tough time trying to identify with a particular persona. Rather than trying to explain it to them, I asked each of them to name a person they knew who reflected the profile on the page in front of them. I then had them describe that person, and tell me a story about them. This exercise enabled everyone in the room to apply what they were working on through the lens of someone they could relate to. That little piece of paper with information on a target customer suddenly came to life and became very real for them. This completely reframed the project in a way that connected directly to things their friend would relate to.
Lets face it, customers don't really care about your products. They care about their own lives. And your job is simply to find ways to make their lives better. Reaching beyond the impersonal clutter of demographics and PowerPoint slides to enter into your customer's hearts and minds will drive better products, better marketing and better results.