The customer is the boss (even though you think you know better)

I spent time yesterday workshopping through a marketing challenge with a team of very clever people. An electrical engineering PhD, software programmer and university lecturer. They have built the most amazing tool you can imagine. And no one is buying it.

Needless to say, as a last resort, they phoned a marketer.

Some of the questions they asked:
“How much harder must we try to sell?”
“How much longer should we spend money on marketing?”
“How do we get people to use it?”

In my experience, the way to talk about marketing to highly analytical people is to revert back to the core foundations of marketing - the stuff that is decades old and forms the basis of how companies have always grown. Market research, market segments; target customers, brand positioning, marketing messaging and the four Ps: price, promotion, place and product.

Thinking through a marketing challenge this way requires everyone in the room, especially myself as the consultant, to admit that actually, we do not know the answer. We are not the customer; we are outsiders merely trying to understand the customer.

As we workshopped through the challenge we systematically looked at each part of marketing strategy: the market segments….who have they tried to sell to? What has the response been? The brand position...what makes their product different from the competition? Messaging...what have they communicated to customers and did it resonate?

The workshop went on for a few hours as we ticked off one box after the next with no evident issue until finally, a breakthrough! One of the Ps of marketing - product - stood out as a potential problem. The core functionality of the product is great, but the way it is packaged is a problem - customers actually hinted at this. It is too difficult to sign up, to hard to try the product and almost impossible to get friends and family to sign up. A great product, packaged poorly.

Ultimately I managed to add value by using age-old marketing fundamentals as a guard rail for thinking through the problem. But here’s my ultimate learning: no matter how clever you are, the market is always the boss. Nothing you do can make someone buy your product. If they don’t want to, they’re not going to.

We should all listen carefully to our customers because they are the boss!

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