Listen. Your Customers Are Trying to Tell You Something

Posted on March 5, 2010 by Tony Uphoff

This is a post I did for our UBM TechWeb marketing site, Create Your Next Customer. Been getting some interesting calls and emails from the post so thought I would post it to UOM as well.

The irony of this era in marketing is that we have more tools, that connect us with our customers and prospects in more ways than ever, yielding more data than we’ve ever had, yet we still struggle to really understand them. The extraordinary power of digital media and the Internet has provided a host of new tools and platforms for reaching and engaging audiences and in turn generates a massive volume of data and metrics. I’m not sure however that we as marketers or business information and media providers are any better at understanding what our customers need based on all of this information. I’d actually argue that we are awash in so much data that it has made “listening” even harder.

The amazing power of Internet metrics is seductive. Finally, the ability to see how many people are actually going to a destination, where they came from, even when they arrived. We can see whether they clicked on an ad or offer and if so what actions they then took. We have richly detailed stats on unique visitors, page impressions, click-through rates and conversion rates to registration. As marketers we can really leverage this data. We can determine marketing ROI; cost per click, cost per lead, cost per acquisition. Like all data there can be tremendous learning from the analysis and certainly, very strong, actionable insights to be drawn from these metrics. At the same time this isn’t listening to an audience and actually as a singular focus for marketing, may be very misleading.

Take for instance something as basic as online click-through metrics. Using click-through rates in isolation as an evaluative tool to understand how marketing works for a particular audience is the equivalent of having someone stand on a street corner holding a sign with the company logo on it and counting the honks from passing cars as an evaluation of effective marketing. Billboards. Yes billboards have seen high single digit growth as a marketing medium for years. Are we to actually assume that if the audiences driving by didn’t viscerally react to the billboard, the marketing was ineffective? There is also the elephant in the living room for online metrics; the issue of demographics. The vast majority of the new metrics driving marketing revolve around online direct marketing dynamics. As a result demographics get lost, as they are particularly challenging to track online, most especially so in B2B markets. As an illustration about a year ago I was meeting with an advertising agency that represented a large, business technology client. They took me through an elaborate and detailed presentation on the extraordinary systems they had for lead tracking and analysis based on the online marketing they were doing on behalf of their client. After a 45 minute presentation I asked a simple question. “So in your system a college kid in a dorm room who responds and the CIO of a Fortune 1000 company who responds are counted the same. Right?”. There was a long, awkward silence, lots of looks around the table and the presenter basically said “well yea. I guess so”. Surprisingly I wasn’t asked back to the agency much after that meeting!

As technology marketers and technology business information and media producers we share a common customer, technology decision makers. At UBM TechWeb, we serve over 14.5 million technology decision makers; encompassing IT professionals, Line of Business Managers, Service Providers and Carriers, Software and Web Developers, Government Decision Makers and Game Developers. The common denominator across these audiences is that they all are professionally involved in harnessing the power of technology. We do our best work when we focus myopically on the needs of these technology decision makers. We listen to them very carefully. We listen to understand what issues they are facing. Which products, services and vendors they are evaluating and why. What career and organizational changes they are thinking about. And how governmental regulations are affecting their work. We do this so we can better provide business intelligence and information that enables them to harness the power of technology and do their jobs better. And so we can better serve our marketing customers, based on our insights into our mutual customer.

We think it’s time to get back to listening. We think it’s time to add qualitative metrics into the analysis. Advisory boards, panels, discussion groups, meetings and qualitative research. We think it’s time to reintroduce demographic analysis into the marketing discussion. At the end of the day the extraordinary range of media metrics we have access to are simply trailing indicators of our marketing. To really improve our marketing effectiveness, we need to go upstream in the process and listen to our audiences to assure we understand their needs and can then articulate our offerings in ways that matter to them. We need to focus on true conversational marketing and like any successful conversation, you have to start by listening. We don’t see this as an old school versus new school issue either. Many of the social networking applications and tools provide an amazing foundation for listening and engaging with audiences. It’s all in how you use them and act on what you hear.

To this point, I'd like to hear from you. Please post your thoughts to this blog or email me with your perspective on listening to your audiences and customers and share what approaches you are taking.,

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