Customer Insights: Positioning & Selling in a Noisy World

Table of Contents

I’m going to show you how easy it is to find the one solution to your greatest marketing challenge, but first…

Do me a favor.

Open the timer app on your smartphone. Set it to 5 minutes and press start.

Walk over to your television and turn it on.

Now walk over to your stereo and turn that on, too.

As your attention passes from a commercial to a sitcom, start browsing Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on your smartphone.

…resume reading after the timer goes off, but don’t turn off the television or radio.

The average United States citizen spends:

That’s right. The average American is inundated by these marketing channels for at least 9.5 hours every single day.

When you consider billboards, word-of-mouth, and retail/restaurant environments, the number continues to grow.

You’re not alone if your marketing is not consistently growing revenue, market share, and company size.  Your target customers are suffering from Overcommunication—your greatest marketing challenge and the most common pain point across marketing departments since 1980 (that’s when I was born, and I have grey hair now).

I get it. You’re tired of the peaks and valleys in your quarterly marketing reports. “Apple and Tesla achieve consistently ascending revenue growth year-over-year—why not us?!”

Do me one more favor…

If it’s not raining or snowing, open one window in your house. If you don’t live in a house, or if there’s a storm outside, visualize yourself opening a window (trust me, you’re about to experience a Eureka! moment).

Go outside and walk around your house. Observe how many closed windows there are in contrast to the lone open window. For the average home, 11 windows will be closed and 1 will be open.

Now imagine you’re looking at a representation of an average customer’s mind.

The closed window upstairs stands for ‘Safety’. The closed window by the front door stands for ‘Reliability’. And the closed window in the kitchen stands for ‘Luxury with Performance’.

If you guessed that you’re looking at how the average customer perceives and understands automobile companies, you are correct (eg. Volvo, Honda, Mercedes-Benz).

But what about that open window?!

That open window is the low-hanging-fruit opportunity awaiting a new automobile company or one that is considering a reposition. It’s the quickest and easiest way to achieve differentiation and ownership in the mind of the average automobile consumer, and for you it’s the one solution to your greatest marketing challenge—overcommunication.

But what does that open window stand for?

Good question. You and I are a small fraction of the answer, but until an automobile company or trade journal asks our conscious, and more importantly subconscious, we’ll never know.

But what does this have to do with our peaks-and-valleys marketing reports?

Everything, because it’s demonstrating that you’re either sharing a window(s) with a competitor(s), and/or you’re owning a window(s) that has a brick wall on the other side.

You must own a position(s) in the unconscious mind of your customers.

Then, and only then, will you consistently grow revenue, market share, and company size.

Let’s stop talking about the automobile industry and switch to your industry…

What window(s) does your brand own?

What window(s) does each of your competitors own?

What window(s) are open?

If you don’t know these answers, buckle up. I’m about to show you how to create a multiplier effect in your brand strategy, account-based selling, and in how you obtain, analyze, and act on customer insights.

Simple Customers. Complex Personas.

Like oil and water, the human mind is not suited for an overcommunicated environment.

So why do marketers spend billions of dollars every year pretending that the mind will absorb that which by its nature repels?

Marketers can be ego-centric.

They believe their marketing and product are superior to the competition, and they think they have the insights to back that up. No surprise their competitors think the same thing.

Here comes the dagger in most marketers’ hearts…

Customer minds are already made up.

No matter how much money you spend, how much data you collect, or how clever your message is—customers have a defense mechanism that strengthens as the quantity of communication grows.

Here’s a representation to drive it home:

Too many products

+ Too many companies

+ Too many marketing messages

+ The unwavering, oversaturated customer mind

= Yesterday’s strategies don’t work

Before you cringe and throw the paper on your desk up into the air proclaiming, “I GIVE UP!”, I’m going to give you an extension to the simplest answer to the most common marketing problem.

The customer’s mind is simple.

There it is. That’s what you need to write in a bright-green marker on the dry erase board (just double check it’s not a permanent marker first).

The customer’s mind is simple!

You’re probably thinking, “Why haven’t we reflected on this before?!?!

You’re not alone.

Marketers are looking at it from the wrong point of view—their own—and in so doing complicating the process and reaping too little benefits.

They look at a mind map of their customer, and its dozens of valued associations and characteristics, and attempt to satisfy as many of the positions as possible.

You need to flip this process on its head.

You need to focus on the prospect first, not you, not your brand, and not your product.

Here are some cold hard reminders to drive your account-based selling, positioning, and your acquisition of customer insights:

  • Your customer’s mind is already made up 99.99% of the time
  • Your customer’s mind doesn’t have as much knowledge/experience as you think
  • Your customer’s mind rejects that which doesn’t match this small amount of knowledge/experience

Some may be thinking, “We did this already, we have buyer personas!”

Yes, that’s a great box to check. But do you have inaccurate buyer personas?

Our friends at HubSpot cover some of the greatest mistakes found in buyer personas. Relying too much on the input of staff and customers. Inaccurate data. Old data. Small sample sizes. The list goes on…

I have one for you.  You’re wasting time on the wrong buyer personas.

Why?  Because they’re going to be loyal to one of your competitors 9 times out of 10.

While your buyer persona ‘Jane’ may meet the ideal prospect profile, what you don’t know is she is hyper-focused on ‘status and individuality’, and that is not an association that has ever come to the mind of your buyers. Run away (or reposition, another blog post for another time).

Most buyer persona profiles have categories such as, ‘personal info’, ‘goals and challenges’, and ‘how they find us’.  Most buyer persona profiles don’t have ‘position of choice’.

As I mentioned earlier, you’re not getting into the simple mind of your buyer by beating them over the head with 15 talking points that may or may not affect them on a daily basis. And you’re definitely not getting in by leading with your brand name (most customers think of positions before brands).

You’re going to get in by finding that one position—that one open window—into the mind of your customer.  Not only is the window open because your competitors are unaware or ignoring it, it’s open because it’s of value to the customer, and it’s unsatisfied.

Then, and only then, can you gradually address those 15 talking points and retie the connections in your brand’s favor.

Awesome, but how do I find that position-of-choice, and how do I start improving the accuracy, selection, and targeting of buyer personas?!

The Key to Accurate Customer Insights.

Before I tell you why your positioning and consumer insights are not as helpful as first believed, and what you can do about it, I wonder if you can help my niece with something.

My niece is conducting research for a business class project, and she’s looking to ask working professionals one question. “What is it that you don’t like about working from home?

You think about it for a minute, and you reply, “I miss the quiet of my office.”

I send my niece your response, and the response of 99 other readers, and she gets an A on her project. What she and her teacher do not know is that it’s an A for effort, not for accuracy.

For decades, marketing research has assumed that your customers are capable of accurately telling you—at the conscious level—what they value, why they buy, and everything else.

This is wrong because it ignores the more powerful, the more influential, unconscious mind.

There is more to understanding customers than is grasped by traditional marketing research. Whether it’s surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews, one thing is certain: Knowledge of your customers does not grow with the quantity of customer data.

Why?  Because the quality of data from traditional market research is poor to below average.

Reports are nice, but we’re not looking for insights with an “average” confidence level.  We’re looking for customer insights that are synonymous with knowledge, ie. cold hard facts.

Customer knowledge is one of the most important assets a company can carry, and it is critical that you and your company get progressively better at understanding customers because it’s a true differentiator.

But how do we overcome the inaccuracies found in traditional marketing research methods (ie. conscious feedback)?

We have to be honest with ourselves about three things:

  • your customers will not tell you everything you need to know, and what they do tell you may be dishonest.
  • purchasing decisions are driven by the unconscious mind, not the conscious mind.
  • the conscious mind is a barrier to the unconscious mind.

While there are some very expensive, scientific, and unnatural methods to acquiring these customer insights at the unconscious level (think of the psychic card reading scene from Ghostbusters), I’m going to provide you with a simple, affordable, and enlightening survey method that your company can use across the organization to improve positioning, account-based selling, and customer insights.

It’s similar to how you already survey your customers, but with three caveats:

  1. You must limit the time your customer has to answer each question
  2. You must analyze their reaction times for each answer
  3. You must not be generous with the amount of time given

Going back to the example of my niece’s project.  What if you only had five seconds to answer her question,  “What is it that you don’t like about working from home?”.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1… times up.

Instead of pondering over the question for a minute, weighing a handful of options that you may or may not want to share, you spit out one of the first ideas that comes to mind, and the longer you wait in that five second window, the less confident the survey taker will be in your answer.

This is one way you can access the subconscious mind of your customers.

Here is a client-based example.

Four years ago, I helped a wealth management startup with their brand build. Starting from scratch, we reviewed their competition and target market, and generated a series of potential brand names and taglines.

We created a timed survey and distributed it to the target market, requesting that they match their valued ideas of a wealth management firm with one brand name and tagline. This method included the brand names and taglines of the competition 4 to 1.

The results were startling to say the least, as over 60% of the target market honed in on one new brand name and one new tagline as best fitting their valued ideas of a wealth management firm.

Knowing what was already of value to existing customers of the startup, we presented them with the proposed brand and tagline. Let’s just say their conscious mind didn’t interfere as they instantly responded with overwhelmingly positive feedback, and that gave the startup’s founder great peace of mind to move forward.

So what are you waiting for?

Whether you’re trying to discover your ideal position, or you’re trying to improve buyer personas, follow and enhance this process to make it your own:

  1. Lay out your hypothesis or research goals
  2. Build out your list of respondents
  3. Create your survey with time limits for each question
    1. Use a tool with such features like QuestionPro
  4. Review the strongest responses and the confidence in each question’s time to answer
  5. Rework your hypothesis or research goals with the unconscious data
  6. Perform traditional marketing research methods with the same list of respondents
    1. Share their unconscious answers with them as a lead-in; they will further lower their guard and offer more accurate insight.
  7. Present and use the knowledge to your advantage

Starting with the unconscious, and then moving to the conscious, best helps you get to the why behind what they’re saying in conscious responses.

Whether you think you know, or you’re just getting started, you’re about to improve your customer knowledge set with unconscious marketing research.

Conclusion on Customer Insights

Thank you to Starbucks for the Venti Blonde Roast that fueled my contribution to this blog post.

If you’re wondering why I led with brand positioning before pivoting to account-based selling and customer insights, it’s because everything should start with your position.  It’s literally the key to opening the door (at the surface level) to your customer’s mind.  Without this key, you’re going to be scrambling for impossible ways inside, and there’s no easier or smarter way of acquiring this key than unconscious marketing research.

Stay tuned for an addition to this blog post from Account Based Selling thought leader Karin Schaff Glazier!