When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

thinkstockphotos-484055754Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, “Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has,” you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, “Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education needs to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.

Sensitivity to People’s Needs

thinkstockphotos-122408117Doing business involves a product or service and a buyer and seller. In large part, it also involves the formation of relationships. The fact that some of them are quite temporary does not diminish the importance of these buyer-seller relationships. The objective, of course, is to limit the number of temporary relationships and increase those that are ongoing. Repeat customers are intrinsically valuable for the success of a business.

Naturally, these relationships should be as positive as possible. To do this effectively, you need to be sensitive to the needs and desires of the individual. Never forget that your customers are, first and foremost, individuals with personal needs.

In years past, some companies dealt only sporadically, if at all, with this issue, trusting fully in their products to supply what the customer needed. But, the relative success and failure of many such businesses have proven this outmoded attitude to be counter-productive.

Indeed, an entire industry has grown up around the concept of customer relationship management (CRM). Today, software is available from many sources. This software can make it far easier to manage all customer contacts, enhancing the relationship to the utmost, producing greater sales through better communication. However, it still comes down to the one-on-one relationship and your awareness in general, as well as specific customer needs.

Customer Satisfaction

As has always been the case, a successful appreciation for the needs of your customers is driven by sensitivity–treating people as people rather than simply as customers. Since a business’ customer contacts are most frequently engaged in by employees rather than management, a company’s employees and their training are of paramount importance in achieving better customer interaction.

A company is in a far better position for growth when its employees are made aware that their overall performance will be judged by their customer interaction–the levels of satisfaction those clients have achieved. After all, customer satisfaction is the most effective means of achieving customer retention, a far more efficient way to increase sales than continually reaching out only for new customers.

One key element in developing satisfied customers is to ensure that they deal with satisfied employees who present a positive picture of the company. A satisfied employee is a valuable tool. This is especially true when your employees are dealing with customer complaints. When a customer is most upset about something is when your employee’s “soft skills” are the most critical. Soft skills involve the ability to address customer complaints with politeness and de-escalation of the client’s emotional responses.

This brings to mind the movie, The Negotiator, where Samuel L. Jackson’s character tells another negotiator, “Never say ‘no’ to a hostage taker.” He then tricks the other guy into saying no several times, each time castigating him for his ineptitude. As humorous as this scene is, it also highlights the importance of a skillful use of words and an awareness for the needs of your counterpart in conversation. While your employee is not going to cause someone’s death, he just might cause a lost sale. Making certain that every client conversation concludes with a positive perception can result not only in short term sales but also in a greater number of positive stories being shared among new potential customers.

With businesses becoming ever more international in scope, many organizations are increasingly investing in staff training to enhance cultural sensitivity. Cultural, political, religious, and linguistic differences do exist as potential barriers, and learning to navigate this new international landscape is an important ingredient for future growth.

Never underestimate the power of positive relationships. Sensitivity to customer needs is key to a better public perception of your business.

What Marketers Can Learn at the Farmers’ Market

Imagine walking into a farmers’ market. Like many other visitors making their way through the stalls, you’ve become increasingly concerned about where your food comes from and the techniques used to grow it. The farmers’ market offers you a distinct advantage because here you can actually speak with the people who grew or raised the food you’re looking to buy. You can ask them questions.

You approach the first stall. The farmer offers a variety of foods — fruits, vegetables, and even a bit of meat and cheese. You try to ask some questions about what pesticides were used when the plants were growing, what the animals ate, and whether or not the chickens were allowed to roam. The farmer seems annoyed by your questions. He gives you gruff, brief answers that don’t really address your concerns but seem focused instead on getting you to make a purchase or move along.

The next stall is similar, except you note that the prices are about 10%-20% higher. Still, you reach out to the farmer behind the counter and start asking questions. What a difference! The farmer comes out from behind the counter and tells you all about the methods he uses to grow and raise his different livestock and crops. He explains what safeguards he has in place to protect the consumer’s health and the experience he has in the field.

The time comes for you to make a purchase. Who are you more likely to buy from? Is it the farmer who just pushed you to buy or the farmer you’ve begun to trust because of his helpfulness, even if he does charge a few cents more? For most people, the answer is going to be the second. When people form bonds with merchants and begin to feel as though they can trust them, they become increasingly likely to buy from those vendors. This same concept should be incorporated into all your marketing campaigns.

Helping to build a relationship of trust

Becoming a source of answers and an authority in the industry for potential customers is a critical part of building this relationship. This often involves building plenty of valuable content online that customers can turn to when they have questions. Content that adds value helps customers begin to trust a company, their products, and their knowledge of the industry. When a single company has the answers a customer is looking for time and time again, there’s little question who they’ll turn to when they’re ready to make a purchase.

One way to build this kind of relationship is by working to become a regular community figure. Look for events or people you can sponsor to help get your company name in front of potential customers on a regular basis. Being available in person to answer questions for potential customers is one of the best types of marketing.

You should similarly take advantage of networking opportunities and work to establish friendships with many other professionals. As you nurture these relationships, remember that you’re building for the future, too. Even if you don’t get any immediate sales from a contact, they’ll be far more inclined to turn to you in the future if they know you’re someone they can trust.

Taking the time to build relationships with potential customers — by answering their questions, providing them with quality content, and even forming friendships — is a wonderfully easy way to grow your business. People naturally turn to the people they trust in business, so follow the same rules as the helpful farmer in the farmers’ market, and begin to improve your own marketing techniques.