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Why your customers aren’t you (and assuming they are will cost you)

By Mark Stecker




Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once famously said, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.”


Steve was a brilliant mind and a total nightmare to work for. Despite Apple being in a bad way when he came on board – Dell CEO Michael Dell reportedly said if he were Jobs, he'd shut the whole thing down (to which Steve responded, “F*** Micheal Dell”) – Steve helped Apple go from $6 to $80 per share in just three years.


Steve Jobs clearly knew a thing or two about his customers. He obsessed over the user experience so that Apple’s products were a breeze to use and a delight to behold. And so, he left this earthly plain with a company now worth nearly $3 trillion; his legacy lives on through generations of smug Apple users and his trademark black turtleneck.


POV you are an android user


Assumptions are… (complete the sentence)


The road to hell is paved with good intentions. For many businesses, good intentions can mean making assumptions about your customer – but these assumptions can cost you.


Take this guy, who thought he had it all figured out when he launched a cigar company. He ended up selling to the wrong audience, because it turns out that cigar aficionados are extremely brand loyal and his target audience was, in fact, women and wedding planners.


Or Starbucks in Australia. The brand experienced over $140 million in losses, and only after 23 years they've finally started making a profit. Why? Because (surprisingly) the land of sheep and Shane Warne already had a strong independent coffee shop culture before Starbucks entered the scene in 2000.


However, a couple of decades later they shifted their focus to tourist areas with more international customers (where overseas visitors hanker for a familiar taste) and a younger demographic (they also realised that Gen Zs love convenience and flavoured syrup).


Disions based on their personal preferences


Too often, businesses and CMOs make decisions based on their personal preferences or ‘how it’s always been done’ – and not their audience. To see marketing success, you must go to where your customer is and step away from your ego.


Get out of the way (of yourself)


Marketing managers and business leaders must step back from making sweeping decisions based on personal motivations. Countless times we see people writing off a platform because they don’t use it or dismissing a marketing method because they don’t understand it.


You may even know your customer inside and out (which you should), but your preferences may not necessarily align with what your customers respond to.


For example, you might spend all your time on X and assume that your audience is there, too – when they’re all on LinkedIn. Or your product might be aimed at an older target market, and you’ve been sending out mailers when they’re all sitting on Facebook.


What if you are your customer? Say you’re a hardcore gamer who sells specialist gaming chairs. You’re passionate about your chairs and know exactly what a gamer looks for in ergonomics and gaming comfort. So, you target gamers who are obsessed with comfort.


However, after a few failed campaigns, you realise people willing to drop 10k on a top-of-the-range gaming chair – like you – only comprise a segment of your target market. Most of your market wants cheap but reliable headsets – so you pivot to your mass segment and you’re golden.


Go with the changes, but let the data guide you


The Bigger Picture


Decision-makers must look at the bigger picture and contextualise where their brand fits in. Often, what you start off doing and what the product or service ends up being are very different. The businesses that scale are those that listen to their target market and evolve with what they want and need.


Just look at Patagonia, an outdoor apparel brand that has embraced sustainability as a core value in response to shifting consumer preferences. Patagonia shows how important it is to align brand values with evolving consumer wants and needs to drive long-term brand loyalty. Sustainability wasn’t a buzzword in 1973 (when Patagonia was founded) – the hole in the ozone was only discovered in 1985 – but the brand has kept moving with the times and now they’re the epitome of eco-conscious.


Let the data guide you. Data is magical; it can tell you what is landing with which customers. If something is flopping, whether that’s a platform, piece of content, brand messaging, or even the audience itself, the data will show you where you’re going wrong and what to do about it.


As with life, assumptions in marketing can bite you. Understanding that your customer is not you and continually adapting to what your audience wants and responds to is what will take your business forward. Be like Steve and “get so close" that you know what your customer needs before they do – but try not to be weird and ditch the turtleneck.



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