• Patrick Burge

Why customer-focused marketing is about the customer more than the marketing

We have been running a series of webinars about customer-focused marketing as part of the UK Government-funded Reset Restart programme run through the national network of Business and IP Centres.


Attracting and retaining the right customers seems to be a thorny issue for many businesses, and I have found that, in a slightly provocative way, it is often best to forget about marketing and just think about your customers’ problems. I have found that many companies focus a lot on their own products and what channels to market through rather than thinking about the customer problems they might solve and if those problems are big enough for the customer to part with their money to solve.


So, let’s all forget about marketing.


We do not really mean ‘forget about marketing’, but we do implore people to focus on the fact that business is all about solving a customer’s problem and how big it is. Work out what the problem is first, how big it is, and once you have done that, you can think about how to sell to them; but deriding marketing does seem to get our clients’ attention at the start of a business coaching session.


The business graveyard is full of products and services that solve problems that did not exist or were not good enough to persuade customers to part with money.


During our Reset Restart sessions, we help identify customers segments, the decision-making unit and the decision-making process, but understanding the different types of problems a customer group may have is incredibly enlightening. It can save a lot of time, marketing effort and money in the long run.


When we talk about solving customer problems, what are we really talking about?


To break it down, we could think about the types of problems a customer might have. And then work out if the kind of customer problem our product or service is trying to solve is big enough to transact. Otherwise, what’s the point?


Here are the five types of problems. Yes, newsflash, there is more than one type of problem.


Latent problems

These are problems a customer doesn’t know they have. As you can imagine, this group of customers is the hardest to sell to. You first need to educate them on the problem, then ask them to acknowledge they have that problem, then you can start the process of marketing and selling to them.


Passive problems

These are problems a customer is aware of, but it is not a big enough problem for them to be motivated to do anything about. As with the latent problem, probably a time consuming a costly group to sell to.


Solution problems

Fitting your solution to a customer group with a solution problem is better but not perfect. This is a problem they realise they have, but maybe they are simply living with it as an inconvenience without solving it. Is the problem big enough for them to give you money to help them solve it? You may need to ask yourself if you have a great idea looking for a solution.


Active problems

What we are really looking for are people or businesses with active problems. This is a problem that the customer knows they have, and more importantly, they are actively looking for a solution to solve it. Suppose you find a customer group that has an active problem. In that case, you fit your solution to that problem exactly, find where the customers are and then communicate to them in a metaphorical and physical language they understand – Bingo. These people have a problem, they know they have it and are looking to solve it now, and they have found you to solve it.


So, what is customer-focused marketing?


Unless it is your area of expertise, for most people, marketing is a world of smoke and mirrors, especially since marketing became dominated by the online digital world. When I did my marketing training, one of the definitions said that marketing is about satisfying customer needs by putting the right product in the right place at the right time with the right promotion. And it still is.


When most people talk about marketing, they are really talking about promotion. But as I heard someone say recently, “Opinions on marketing are like belly buttons. Most people have them, but they don’t hold much water.”


So, here’s a thought for those confused non-marketeers; forget about marketing or promotion and simply think about solving the customer’s problem. Customer-focused marketing is that simple. I said simple, not easy.


It is all about the customer as an individual; understand who you are talking to and stay focussed on what is important to them. I think you will find solving that problem is what is important to them.


It may be an urban marketing myth, but there is a story about Beko, the washing machine brand, trying to enter the Chinese market in 2014. They had a brilliant tumble dryer that was faster, dried clothes better, and was cheaper than its competitors. They had good distribution channels, but the problem was that Chinese people would not buy it.


They finally asked the Chinese why they did not like the Beko tumble dryer.


It turns out that the Chinese believe that there is a spiritual benefit of drying clothes in sunlight, and so this has become the norm. The Beko dryer was drying clothes too well, so they amended the programming to leave the clothes slightly damp, and the product started shifting.


So what is the lesson?


If you can genuinely understand that you are solving an active problem for a customer, you stand a better chance of not wasting time and money going down blind alleys.


As one long gone marketing man said, “I know I waste half my marketing budget, I just don’t know which half”.





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