We all have someone in our lives who talks a lot without really saying anything.
It may be your poodle-obsessed mother-in-law, the neighbour who loves to yap endlessly about fertiliser, or the co-worker who drops by your desk several times a day just to say “hi.”
An attack by one of these Chatty Cathys can leave you distracted, exhausted, and annoyed.
Unfortunately, customers can view companies in exactly the same light. Many businesses have a lot to say to their customers, but they don’t take the time to consider whether the message they’re relaying is one their clients need to hear. In a world of nonstop marketing ploys, what your customers really want is some insight.
There’s a big difference between marketing to your customer and educating him. A lot of companies believe they’re educating their consumers because they’re elaborating upon the features, advantages, and benefits of their products. What’s relevant to the consumer, however, isn’t what the company values about its own product, but what the product can do to solve a problem for him. By using its marketing to do a lot of navel-gazing, a business shortchanges its customers by only providing them with the information it deems important.
Customers, of course, see through this. When businesses blindly assume that their prospects already have the information they need and are simply making a choice between brands, they shift from a learning-focused mindset to a competitive one. The smart consumer will opt to buy from the company that’s educated him on the issue and presented him with multiple solutions. That company’s selflessness has built trust — and its ability to teach him has bought his loyalty in the future.
The Silent Giant Killer
What a brand doesn’t say is just as important as what it does say. The business graveyard is littered with companies that failed because they forgot that their prospects had to believe they needed the product before they’d ever buy it. They simply forgot to educate their customers.
Even big business has hurt itself with its silence. Google Plus was launched as part of Google’s effort to enter the social realm. The behemoth search engine hoped to loosen Facebook’s vice grip on social media, but it went about it the wrong way. Vic Gundotra’s post announcing Google Plus implied that Google was inventing the concept of social sharing, acting as if Facebook didn’t even exist. This was confusing to consumers — did Google think they hadn’t heard of Facebook? Worse, it failed to address the real selling point: A company can’t demonstrate how its product will solve customers’ problems more easily if it’s implying that an already-established solution doesn’t exist. As Henry Blodget said, the language Google used was “bizarrely out of touch.”
TiVo, another technological juggernaut, failed to reach its full sales potential by forgetting to teach its own industry customers. TiVo was a godsend to TV viewers who wanted to skip ahead and avoid watching commercials. That same functionality, however, “scared TV executives into thinking the TV commercial was an endangered species,” as Kevin Kelleher noted. The company was left to fight a court battle against providers whose technology did not allow viewers to fast-forward.
Leading by Teaching
Other companies have made their mark by teaching their target audience what it needed to know. Apple’s iPad, for example, was immediately successful upon its release. It wasn’t because the market had been clamoring for tablet technology — instead, Apple triumphed because it had invested a decade into educating its customer base. By introducing its features and ideas one by one, the company enabled its customers to not only understand the iPad, but to see a need for it.
I recently visited a Nike store to try on a pair of running shoes. The sales staff wouldn’t let me buy a pair of shoes unless I got on a treadmill. They taped my running style and then explained what type of shoe would be best for me, based on my running tendencies. They played the video back for me, explaining how my foot fell on the treadmill and how that one movement translated to a certain kind of support. I was hooked into buying shoes — and coming back — because they’d taken the time to educate me.
My own industry, bedding, has made some mistakes in its attempts to educate the masses. While we knew adjustable beds enhanced users’ comfort at home, our customers automatically considered adjustable beds to be products for hospitals and old people. The remote control intimidated consumers, and our salespeople hadn’t received proper training from our manufacturers; they themselves couldn’t confidently explain what the customer needed to know. Once we shifted gears and began training the retail sales associates to train their customers, sales increased.
We realised that we weren’t talking to consumers about anything but the beds themselves. This was irrelevant to bed buyers. What they wanted to know was how a mattress would impact their sleep, sex lives, and overall quality of life. Once we pinpointed our erroneous assumption, we created a Sleep Geek community (and a corresponding Geek University) to educate our sales teams on the elements that mattered most to consumers. This way, they could provide solutions to customers’ problems.
When you’re marketing to people, you’re trying to sell them on your products. When you’re educating people, you’re helping them understand the benefit of a solution. Consumers can find information anywhere these days, but when it comes from you, the benefit is twofold: you establish a more knowledgeable customer base while you develop loyalty.
Take the time to consider whether the message you’re communicating is one your customers want to hear. When you talk, you really want to say something.
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