Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What customer needs are you meeting?

Gwen Bell
Every once in a while, it’s good to get back to the marketing basics. I was reminded of one recently while reading Reverb, an interesting e-book by writer and consultant Gwen Bell. While it’s primarily about building a small business from the ground up, there’s one quote in the book that really struck a chord with me, as it relates to all businesses and the way we talk to customers:

The priority of running a business is to help your customers meet their needs, while staying in alignment with your principles.

Help your customers meet their needs…” Pretty obvious, right? But how often do we get so caught up in promoting the features and talking points of a product, service or loyalty program, that we forget to address a basic premise: how does what I’m selling meet the needs of my customer?

The first step in answering that question is figuring out what your customers really want from you. Remember: It’s not about what you’re selling, it’s about why they’re buying. Do they want you to save them money? Make their lives easier? Sexier? More fulfilling? Less stressful? More fun?

Until you can determine what basic customer need you’re meeting, or customer problem you’re solving, you should put your advertising, social media and loyalty efforts on the back burner. Because how you answer the “needs” question is one of the most important factors in determining the communications strategy and tactics that will work best for you.

About the second part of that quote: “staying in alignment with your principles.”

We’ve all worked for clients whose key guiding principle is “let’s sell more stuff so we can make more money”. But ideally, the products or services you’re selling and marketing are integrated with the company’s core purpose, its raison d'ĂȘtre.

For me, the gold standard for a company that’s in perfect alignment with its principles is Patagonia, the purveyor of all things outdoors. Go to their Web site and click on the Company Info link you’ll see in big bold type Patagonia’s mission statement:

Our Reason for Being
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Is that beautiful or what? Short, principled and to the point. And it fits perfectly with the products Patagonia sells and the customer needs they meet.

Now I know that not every company is going to have such a noble mission, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many successful and highly regarded companies do. From Starbucks to Southwest, each one has a set of rules they do business by which has helped them become leaders in their particular business vertical.

What about the companies you work with and for—are they helping your customers meet their needs while aligning with a core set of principles?