The definition of what constitutes effective marketing in an increasingly globalised and rapidly shifting world is changing. Tactical marketing no longer cuts it, with the old world of flyers, trade shows and business cards becoming less prevalent. Today's focus is all about the strategic element of understanding the needs, wants and desires of customers before you even think about trying to satisfy them.
What has prompted this change? Factors include globalisation, increased choice and the availability of substitute products, combined with the ease of switching. However, the most important factor of all is the ubiquity of digital technology. Today's consumers are so used to having tech at their fingertips, quite literally, that they can easily find the products and services that they need in just a few clicks and inform themselves of comparative features and purchase prices in an instant.
At the same time, customer groups are becoming far more segmented. The old categorisation methods are not in depth enough in a world where consumers identify themselves in myriad ways and have complex and changing needs. They also have ever-higher expectations of the businesses from which they buy.
This explains why it is absolutely essential to a) understand who your customers are and then b) work out what they want, need and desire, before you attempt to position your offering to them.
How Can You Understand Your Customers?
Existing businesses will already have a wealth of data at their fingertips from operational and sales systems. With modern CRM systems, this can be intelligently mined for insights.
A big leap forward has been the use of big data and customer analytics in micro-targeting. Companies can now collect new forms of data, such as ‘how’ people are using their phones. Such information can help improve the customer experience and help companies better understand and influence behavior.
Marketing teams using automation and digital communication methods can also gather similar insight metrics to start to identify groups and trends from their data. Understanding consumer behaviour must be approached in a planned, thorough and strategic way, rather than as a sporadic activity.
Ideally, data sources from across the business, including sales, marketing, operations and business development, will be gathered into a single informative dashboard. This can then be combined with external marketing data, which can be commissioned for specific purposes or licensed for use where it already exists. This kind of research data, primary and secondary, can be used to help pinpoint specific customer groups and needs, or to answer questions that the business has about potential target markets.
Once this dataset has been gathered, it needs to be analysed expertly in order to identify existing and potential customer groups, their behaviours, their reasons for switching away, their purchasing drivers and so forth. This will start to create rich insights that can be used to make informed assumptions about existing and potential customers and their needs.
Getting It Right
In theory, the approach sounds relatively easy, but in practice, it can be incredibly hard to encourage businesses to embrace the fundamentals of customer management. When the initial strategic assessment is complete, the same efforts need to be made to mine valuable data from the business on an ongoing basis. This is because customer drivers and behaviours change constantly, and the business needs to analyse its data to see where changes may be on the cusp of occurring.
Opportunity for Strategic Marketers
The good news is that firms are starting to recognise the value of customer insight and understanding as a core fundamental of the marketing work that they do. This has led to the creation of specialist courses, such as online masters degree programmes in Marketing. The focused study of customer understanding gives MSc Marketing students the ability to position themselves strongly in the market for high-level and well-paid jobs with plenty of scope for future career development.
If you're looking for a long-term, rewarding career in a changing world, then the online MSc Marketing programme at the University of Exeter is well worth reviewing as your next step.