Sometimes the most obvious solution is staring you right in the face. Take businesses thinking about or already in the process of branding or re-branding themselves. They struggle with what to say, how to say it, and to whom to address it.

But why?

If they’ve been in business for a while, they have a built-in focus group ripe for the asking—their customers. And if they’re just getting underway, they no doubt have a circle of colleagues and/or “raving fans” who would be more than willing to offer their opinions and suggestions.

Each is a perfect choice for helping you hone your message (and don’t forget your internal audience—your employees—in the process).

Nowadays, there’s no excuse for not knowing what your customers and other key stakeholders are thinking. From online survey tools to social media, access to feedback of all sorts is greater than ever . . . and usually all you need to do is ask.

What are you doing to know more about your customers and key constituencies?

Have a re-read of my previous blog about getting to know your customers better for some ideas. Enjoy!

The Customer Knows Best, But Do You Know Your Customer?

(Originally Posted on May 22, 2013)

Who are your customers? Do you know them, really . . . or do you just think you do.

For most small- to medium-sized businesses, I’m betting on the latter, and here’s why: you would be amazed at how many times I’ve been asked to spearhead a marketing effort, or retool one, without benefit of really knowing who it’s aimed at. For me, that’s like being asked to deliver a rocket to the moon without actually being given the coordinates, figuring aiming it toward outer space is good enough.


Given that kind of scenario, what’s the likelihood of reaching the objective? Nil. The same goes for marketing, especially if you don’t know who you’re talking to.

Marketing is most successful only when it has a specific target.

Let’s look at a hypothetical. You’re a small, homegrown company. You’ve been successful over the years, but recently some competition has moved into your territory. Sales are down; customer loyalty is being tested. You feel uneasy about maintaining marketshare, let alone growing. You know you need to shift gears to remain competitive, so you decide to ratchet up the marketing volume. After all, you know your customers—they’re the same people who’ve been buying from you for 20-plus years—so what more should you need to do other than crank out the same message that’s worked for you in the past?

Well that’s the problem, right there. The past is the past. The status quo is what’s gotten you here, to the point of stagnation, if not loss of marketshare. Doing the “same old, same old” is not likely to change your results.

But don’t take my word for it. The only people who know for sure why they use your product or service, why they chose your product or service in the first place, and the likelihood they will continue to use your product or service, are your customers. You need to ask them. It’s as simple as that. Absent their input, you are only guessing at what you think you know.

Customer wants, needs, and desires change over time, as does the way they learn about, buy, and even use your products or services.

Who’s to say that the makeup of your customers hasn’t changed over the years? Who’s to say you couldn’t gain even more customers if you were to target a slightly different clientele or rework your message or brand?

Again, the only way to know for sure is to ASK.

Smarter Marketing: Know your customer

Ten, 15, or even 20 years ago, gleaning information from your customers was a daunting proposition, often requiring the steadying hand of a market research firm, expensive database purchases, and even more expensive postal or telephone costs. You really needed to be serious about introducing a product or service, or wanting to know the minds and hearts of your customers, to be willing to invest such a large chunk of hard-earned cash.

But something happened in the late 1990s, give or take a few years. The Internet blossomed, the digital age bloomed, and suddenly tools to develop and disseminate surveys, collect, analyze, and report data were readily available and affordable, from online tools, to digital scanners, to automated spreadsheets and tabulators—a true marketers dream come true. (Disclaimer to all you survey purists out there: sure, nothing beats a scientifically designed survey and a pristine, unbiased sampling of your customers, but faced with no data vs. having some data, I’ll take “some” data every time.)

But then something even odder happened . . . and it’s still happening today. Businesses large and small have failed to use these data collection and analysis tools to their full advantage. But why?

For many, they simply don’t understand the power of information. They have failed to grasp the business argument for taking the guesswork out of their marketing moves. Imagine knowing what to say, how to say it, and to whom to address it . . . and all you need to do is ASK your customers.

For others, perhaps they fear customers will become annoyed if asked too many questions (personally, I feel flattered when a company asks my opinion—it shows they care what I think and truly want to be in touch with what customers want).

Still not convinced or motivated?

  • Just take a quick peek at services such as, or countless other online survey tools. Even list server giants such as Constant Contact have added some surveying functionality to their offerings.
  • If online surveying is not practical for you, for whatever reason, review your company sales data for zip codes or phone information to get a sense of where your customers come from. You might even randomly sample phone numbers and call customers (or pay your team a little overtime to do so), so you can hear straight from them what matters most.
  • And don’t forget other online data tools such as Google Analytics and, which aim to measure Web site traffic and demographics.

The point is, nowadays there’s no reason NOT to be collecting some information from your customers. All you need to do is make it a priority . . . and then ASK.

Do you know your customers? If so, how do you gather information?

Share what’s worked (and what hasn’t worked) here.