10 Ways to Get Into Your Customers' Heads Beyond Creating Buyer Personas Buyer personas have one major weakness: they're completely made up. They're a good start, but try these tactics as well.

By Aaron Agius

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Exceptional insights create exceptional businesses. How exceptional? Let's look at a real case study about what happens when you can read your customer's minds: Let's talk about Steve Jobs.

Jobs knew his customers well. He could anticipate their needs, exceed their expectations and secure their loyalty. But he didn't always have this uncanny knack for reading his customer's minds. For 30 years, he missed the mark. Apple II, Macintosh and PowerMac all suffered low market share throughout the 1990s.

Then he came upon the idea of creating a familiar product with a simple design, leading to deeper insights into what people really wanted. And this turned the tide for Apple. The company's fortunes changed after a slew of inventions: the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad.

By 2012, Apple became the largest publicly traded corporation in the world. Its $626 billion market cap exceeded that of Google and Microsoft combined. Jobs figured out what people wanted and gave it to them.

One way marketers typically try to get into customer's minds has been to create in-depth buyer personas. This is a composite of characteristics of many real customers. Marketers envision an imaginary customer, giving him or her a name, an image and a set of discernible characteristics and demographics.

Unfortunately, buyer personas have one major weakness: they're completely made up. Even if they're well-researched, there's no guarantee that the composite you wind up with fully encompasses your unique target buyer. So while they can be a great start to understanding customers, there are plenty of other ways to get into the customer's mind.

Related: The Science of Building Buyer Personas (Infographic)

Here are ten other ways to get into customers' minds. Use them to complement, or in place of, traditional buyer personas:

1. Review your data.

Your company probably has plenty of customer data stashed in different databases. Analyzing your data can yield a wealth of insights about buyer behavior. What exactly can you learn?

  • Where and when customers buy.
  • How long it takes them to buy.
  • How much they buy over time.
  • How satisfied they feel about their purchases.

2. Interview customer-service reps.

You can understand customers fairly well by interviewing the people who talk to them every day. Here are some sample questions to ask your customer-service reps:

  • What expectations and disappointments did customers express?
  • What improvements did customers want?
  • What value were customers hoping to find, and what price were they willing to pay for it?

3. Innovate to explore deeper needs.

Customers only ask for what they know they can get. According to a commonly-misquoted, but still-apt Henry Ford saying, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses.'"

Steve Jobs used innovation to probe the deeper desire behind customer desires -- his customers didn't know they wanted an iPhone until they saw one. Observing customer responses to your company's innovations will reveal their hidden desires, giving you a more complete understanding of their psychology.

4. Build rapport through emails.

Email marketing, when done right, can create rapport between marketers and customers. A warm welcome email sets a friendly tone. Following up with valuable content in later emails establishes it. You stop being a salesperson and become a mentor. As a result, you'll get honest feedback. They'll share their real goals and desires, fears and frustrations.

5. Become a good listener.

No matter what kind of business you run, there are likely many points of contact where you can talk directly to buyers, such as through social-media channels, blogs and live events. During these interactions, open your ears. Buyers will tell you what they like or don't like.

6. Speak your customer's language.

You'll earn your customers' trust when you talk to them in the language they use to talk to each other. Once you have their trust, it's easy to survey what's on their minds.

Trying to reach photographers? Poke around EyeEm's community to see how they speak to each other. Selling a product to horse lovers? Consider The Horse Forum your new home away from home. Looking to understand health-conscious consumers? Watch the posts and comments being left by the more than 250,000 followers of the Healthy Living Magazine Facebook page.

Every subculture has its own language. By learning yours, you become part of the group.

Related: 3 Influencer Marketing Secrets to Steal in 2015

7. Research online.

You can use the Internet to eavesdrop on customer conversations. Use Twitter search to hear any conversations about your business or that of competitors. Ask questions on social media, forums and Q&A sites such as Quora.

Visit other people's social-media profiles to gauge buying interests. Join conversations happening in blog comments sections. Do research on what keywords people are using to find things in your niche. Use Google Trends to spot what's popular.

Basically, do whatever it takes to find out what exactly your target customers are up to online in order to get inside their heads.

8. Survey your customers.

According to ProOpinion, customer surveys are particularly useful because "businesses, governments, public bodies and similar organizations are interested in the views and attitudes of the people who use their products and services. The more they know about what customers and citizens think, the easier it is for them to improve and adapt what they supply."

Surveys are easy to set up, and they're valuable tools. Add one to your market-research repertoire today.

9. Think like your customers.

Marketers don't think like customers -- even when they become customers. They're much more technically sophisticated, psychologically savvy and analytical than average customers, giving them a skewed perspective on how their customers think. Even their buyer personas are a reflection of their own way of thinking.

By hanging out incognito in customer forums, you can better understand how real customers think -- not just how you think they think.

10. Talk to other marketers.

By favoring cooperation over competition, it's possible to share marketing experiences about customer behavior and bolster both of your understandings of your marketplace.

When you stop to think about it, there are plenty of ways to get to know your customers.

Think of customers as friends you hope to influence by remembering the following wisdom from Dale Carnegie: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

Have another tip on understanding your buyers better? Share it by leaving a comment below.

Related: 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Customer Feedback

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Aaron Agius

Search, Content and Social Marketer

Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with IBM, Ford, LG, Unilever and many more of the world's largest and most recognized brands, to grow their revenue. See more from Agius at Louder Online.

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