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Understand Before Being Understood

When I first heard Stephen Covey utter those four simple words many years ago, it had a profound impact on both my personal and my professional lives. Because the fact was--and to some degree still is--that I am both an excellent listener and a very poor one. Unless I am focused on staying tuned in, my mind is seldom where my body is. Having been a student of behavioural psychology for many years, I understand the power of emotional triggers. In my case, they serve to engage my imagination and send me off on the exploration of a creative idea or concept, which has served me well in my chosen profession as a strategic marketer. But it has also allowed me to appreciate that as marketers, understanding what a customer's needs are before trying to influence their buying decision goes a long way towards making the sale. Because taking the time to "understand before being understood" convinces the customer that you know exactly what kind of produce or service they really need.

We are all aware that people make decisions based either on logic or emotion. We are also aware that trying to influence a person's rational thought processes is a good deal more difficult than influencing their emotional ones. However, appealing to a potential client on an emotional level gives us a greater opportunity for creative flexibility, and hopefully, for positively influencing their rational thought patterns. Savvy marketers know that making that all-important emotional connection begins with understanding the customer as well as the product or service being sold. We know that making sales means helping people to understand that they are being offered a solution to their shopping frustrations, as well as a level of fulfillment in knowing they'll get the benefits they desire once they've made the decision to buy.

Emotional appeal is a powerful component of motivation and when used properly can deliver dramatic results. But having a clear understanding of how a prospective customer arrives at a buying decision is a marketing fundamental. A simplified process of a typical buying decision includes problem/need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, establishing trust, making a decision to purchase, followed by a purchase, repeat purchases, and eventually, loyalty.

B2B marketing is a multi-step process. It encompasses the transition from being a Suspect (the entire universe of potential buyers for your product or service) to a Prospect (Suspects who have expressed an active interest in your product or service) to a Customer (Prospects who are in negotiation with you and have made a commitment to buy) and finally to a Client (Customers who now consider you a preferred supplier and remain loyal). An emotional connection should provide the momentum necessary to take a prospective customer through all the above phases. It needs to be present in each communication vehicle and be consistent throughout the entire campaign. The questions "What's in it for me?" and "Why should I buy from you?" are both emotional and rational in nature. But they must be answered early in the process and keep being answered if a customer's concerns are to be allayed.

An emotional connection should provide the momentum necessary to take a prospective customer through all the above phases. It needs to be present in each communication vehicle and be consistent throughout the entire campaign. Understanding something about the person who's asking the question, along with a predetermined knowledge of their level of interest, the language that suits them best, and their dominant personality style, is another marketing fundamental, as is having a clear understanding of where a prospective client is in the buying process. This allows the marketer to design appropriate and effective messages that respond to the Prospect's level of interest. Too much detail early on can interrupt or confuse interest in the process. Not enough information later in the process can terminate without success.
It could be said that Marketing is communicating the right thing to the right person at the right time. The resulting action or sale could happen immediately or at some time in the future. Experts suggest that 93 % of communication is non-verbal, which means the 7% that is verbal is crucial. Media copy must come together intrinsically with graphic design and overall visual to provide one message. The emotional connection begins! The design and layout must maintain momentum and actively lead the prospective customer through the buying process.

Brand marketers understand advertising value in terms of brand affinity, recall, intent to purchase, etc. They tend to measure results by making a connection between these metrics and revenues. Direct marketers measure audience composition, size, and response, and final conversions. But most attempts to apply one set of metrics to other disciplines fail.  They are totally exchangeable as long as the reach is the same because from reach come sales. This is proven using branding metrics, not ROI (return on investment). Direct/database marketers tend to manage customer retention: reduction in frequency means declining customer visits.

Traditional advertising has never been judged by the value of the customer; it is judged by the value of the media--because the customer has no individual value. As a marketer who's been around a while, my money is on brand loyalty, since I believe that frequency of use is one of the factors in establishing loyalty and referral. Frequency predicts repeat action. The average frequency of the visitors created by different campaigns can provide measurement as to which campaigns generated the best response. Loyalty generates traffic beyond direct promotional activity and is usually emotion-driven. The Internet is participatory since its potential customer is a volunteer and his or her participation is a function of this medium.
Participation is the strength of an Internet brand. It is the measure of how persuasive a website's architecture is in prompting dialogue with its visitors. Again, understanding the dynamic nature of the medium is critical for maximizing ROI. Time and money are proportionate. The website that receives the largest percentage of a potential customer's time is the one most likely to achieve the best results. The 'average time spent on a site' should be measured relative to other sites that offer comparable products or services since time spent on a site is the most reliable single indicator of customer interest next to actual sales. One way of achieving maximum marketing effectiveness is if brand building and persuasive direct marketing are used intrinsically.

Marketing success lies in seamlessly combining the perception shaping and relationship-oriented power of brand advertising. The persuasiveness of one-to-one direct marketing can be used in different phases of a customer's lifecycle since direct marketing enables the potential customer to feel that they are in control of the relationship. In doing so, the marketer can reinforce the brand's value proposition. In an infinite potential customer universe, non-targeted brand advertising is critical to building awareness, anchoring emotional connections, and establishing true perceptions of a brand's offering and value. They must seek out the Prospect's objections in such a way that their response naturally leads the Prospect to the next step in the buying process. Objections (other than affordability) must be seen as nothing more than unanswered questions. It's not what we say that is critical. It is what the potential customer hears and understands.

Marketers must fully comprehend the Prospect's point of view, and intentionally choose the powerful copy that is energized and concise in order to deliberately prompt the need for more information.

Persuasive tactics guide people through the Suspect, Prospect, and Buyer phases where they need the incentive to choose you over your competitors. Current Internet technology provides marketers with information that allows them to determine the effectiveness of the message being delivered to visitors. This is called data mining. If the right objectives are defined, marketers can measure just about everything a prospect perceives when interacting through this medium. Successful ROI marketing is a matter of identifying the necessary information within the data to test and tweak messages for optimal performance. The more marketers know about their target audience, the more effective their messages will be.

Building top-of-mind awareness with a potential customer, or establishing an emotional connection with them before the need for their product arises, is another sure-fire formula for success. The challenge is to be the brand the consumer thinks of first and to keep him thinking that way when the need arises for that product in the future. Smart advertisers make no attempt to predict the moment of a customer's need. They ensure there is enough repetition (or search phrases) to ensure they will immediately spring to mind whenever that need arises. Marketers can also determine and affect how people find a brand online. They can identify which search engines will find a website, and which keywords or key phrases to use in the search engines. They know what kind of description persuades Prospects to click through. Thirty-three percent of users believe that the top ranking in search results indicates the best brand. When a Suspect locates your website by using a keyword or key phrase, and your page is relevant, they'll continue browsing. If not, you'll lose them.

Marketers control whether the Suspect finds relevance in what is offered. After exploring the website, the Suspect decides whether they are interested in what is offered. If they continue, your Suspect is now a Prospect, and turning Prospects into Customers depends on the website's persuasive architecture. Some traditional marketers are reluctant to adopt the power of the Internet, but remember that regardless of your particular marketing-focused expertise, or of the communication medium or combination you choose to employ, without achieving an emotional connection with the prospective customer, the potential for results will always be minimized.

Doc Halliday is the Strategic Imagineer with Twin Creek Media