The following is the sixth in the series "Marketing Like the Big Brands," running every other week in which marketing expert Jim Joseph shows entrepreneurs on a small-business budget how to apply marketing strategies used by big brands.
My first marketing job was at Johnson & Johnson. I was working on baby lotion and baby powder, yet I had never held a baby before in my life. I had to immerse myself in the life of being a mom, if I was ever going to understand my customer's needs. It was a lesson I have carried with me ever since.
Many marketers define their target customers by demographic profiles alone. But really understanding your customer should go beyond knowing facts like their gender, age and geographic location. The more you know, the more you'll be able to create a specific brand experience catering to what your specific customers want and need.
To say your customers are moms, for example, is just too general. At Johnson's Baby Products, I needed to know a lot more about the kind of mom we were targeting to create a meaningful experience for her. Is she a first-time mom? Has she prepared her nursery yet? What advice is she getting? What aspect of being a new mom is she most worried about?
Gathering such information requires some planning on your part, but it doesn't necessarily require a big-brand budget. Here are three ways to get inside your customers' minds to better market to them, regardless of your business size:
1. Step in their shoes. When I started that first job at J&J, I spent time with expectant and new moms. I talked to them about what their days were like and what they were worried about. I changed diapers and bottled-fed newborns. I learned about what would help a new mom get through her day. You can do the same with your customers by spending time participating in how they live their lives.
2. Use social media as a market-study tool. Social media has given us an incredible view into the world of our customers, particularly those who "like" us. You can observe commentary they make about their daily lives and create ways to make them better. Platforms like Facebook should be used for more than just broadcasting your brand. You can literally reach out and ask customers about their lives via social media, keeping track of the analytics on how they respond.
3. Create a survey strategy. Another alternative is to send customers a simple survey that they can complete through the survey provider SurveyMonkey. For a small annual fee, you can create customized multiple-choice questionnaires that also include open-ended psychographic questions. You will be able to learn how your customers think and feel by asking questions like: "What is most important to you?" and "What's your greatest fear?"
These techniques will help you transcend demographic lines to understand your customers' emotions and behaviors. Knowing how they feel will allow you to satisfy them emotionally, making you're brand experience more meaningful in their lives.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jim Joseph is the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, part of the media company WPP Group PLC. He is the author of three books, including the latest, The Personal Experience Effect (Happy About 2013). Joseph also teaches marketing at New York University and blogs at JimJosephExp.com.