In doing some client research I stumbled onto an article that presented 196 questions that business owners should ask themselves when planning a marketing strategy. Yet, there wasn’t a single question related to the business owner asking their customers anything at all, let alone asking the customer what they wanted from the business owner. In previous posts we’ve discussed the importance of differentiation, and how that process should start with asking why you do what you do, and why should anyone care.

Creating a good marketing strategy includes a value proposition that directly maps your points of differentiation (that is, your why) to the client’s needs and desires (their why.)  In fact, every marketing optimization strategy emphasizes understanding customer motivation as the most critical factor to success. And the best way to understand client motivation is to ask them.

Marketing Strategies that Go Beyond the Data

In a world of big data and marketing technology solutions, it is so easy to get caught up in the science of marketing strategies and market research, that it is easy to forget the humanity that lies behind the data. But while data can tell you what someone did, it can rarely (if ever) tell you why they did it. Sometimes it is much more powerful (and even easier) to simply ask what the market wants and why.

One of the best techniques, and admittedly sometimes easiest to skip, is actually picking up the phone to talk to real people. It doesn’t have to be a huge focus group. In fact, there are some downsides to doing more formal focus groups, or even informally as a group.  Group dynamics introduce a whole set of other factors that need to be accounted for.

Instead, talking to individuals, even if it is just one person is valuable. By taking a personal interest, using dialogue instead of a survey, develops a much more nuanced understanding of the client’s goals, experienced pains, and desired gains. While it must remain in context of being a sample size of one, at minimum the feedback presents a picture of “people like this” which is what developing a marketing persona is about. The other upside is, it create a more intimate knowledge, understanding, and connection with the person you are brainstorming with.

Do you know your customers?

Talk to a Real Persona

While market research and persona development is something that Idea Spring does when helping construct marketing strategies for our clients, the concept of understanding client motivation and asking questions is something business owners should do throughout on-going client interactions.

Successful marketing strategies depend on knowing more than the logical client jobs, goals and tasks. It is equally important, if not more so, to really understand the emotional drivers that underlie those needs. Truly knowing your target audience is a critical key to both gaining and keeping clients.

So how can business owners know what those emotional drivers are? Ask. Develop open-ended questions that help uncover what really matters to your client. Ask questions that expand beyond a direct connection to your business products or services. Often times new opportunities for adding value and differentiating your business and yourself emerge as you gain a more holistic picture of what matters most to your clients.

Start asking why

Example Questions

Below are some questions that can as starting points. The questions should be modified to better reflect your specific business, and the person you are brainstorming with. Frame the questions in context, and in a way that reflects your authentic interest in learning more about the person and their motivation. If you aren’t authentically interested in your clients, it may be time to consider a different line of work.

Go beyond the business-transaction level, and dig deeper to understand the experienced pains and desired gains. Be sure to dig deeper by asking follow-on questions.  For example, if someone answers “I don’t know… I guess because we trust you.” Then ask why they trust you. And if they respond with why they trust you, ask what it is about those actions that they correlate with trust.

Some Starter Questions

  • There are obviously other choices out there, so why do you do business with me / us?
  • If you could picture us sharing our office space with another firm or type of service that would meet your needs in one place, what would it be?
  • If I wanted to put on an educational event for my clients, what topics do you think would be interesting enough for you to attend?
  • What is one thing you’d change about our industry to make doing business with someone like you even easier?
  • Everyone gets inundated with email these days – what could I provide that would actually be of use to you – that you would actually look forward to getting?

Inbound isn’t the be-all and end-all of marketing. Columnist Scott Vaughan offers up some steps to help make your outbound just as effective as your inbound marketing efforts.

Sourced through from:

Inbound marketing (like many other buzzword strategies) often initially appear on the scene as “magic shortcuts” to sales and marketing success. While inbound marketing, and in this context, marketing automation is really only effective when it is part of a larger marketing strategy.


It’s often not a traffic problem. Driving traffic is easy. What’s really needed is understanding your target audience well enough to make a compelling offer, and ensuring that your entire (not just inbound) marketing works together.


Outbound marketing, as the article points out, is often categorized as “old school” cold-calling. But when you have a well thought-out marketing strategy all aspects are important. Even though digital marketing means more efficient (and more track-able) marketing – the basics still apply:


  • Know your audience and what motivates them
  • Have a clear value proposition
  • Have content and messaging for each target audience and stage of interest
  • Make it easy for potential customers to dig deeper and/or reach out when they are ready to engage
  • Have systems in place to ensure that you can reach out to establish relationships with real interaction (beyond automated-drip marketing.)
Read More

Find startup retreats, coworking vacations and coliving spaces to work remotely together with other digital nomads.

Sourced through from:

In my personal quest to bust the work-life balance myth, and build a business where purpose, passion, and profession are completely integrated — I’m thinking, Why not do it from somewhere amazing?

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If there are quality problems with your data, there are ways to clean it up — but it’s often more efficient to refactor your processes to prevent “smelly” data.

Sourced from:

As someone who often applies Agile programming practices to business and marketing efforts, I really like the approach of using refactoring techniques to clean up data.

Even for our small business and organizational clients there is a lot of data that can quickly start to “smell” with no commitment to standardization and keeping the data clean. Common examples include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, e-commerce customer lists, email subscriber lists, and accounting data.

Of these, it is often the CRM solutions that create the biggest problem, with out-of-the-box fields that seem self-explanatory but in reality are subject to a wide range of interpretation. To extract the most value out of a CRM solution, the most vital action is not the construction of the system and fields themselves, it is the construction and defining of how the fields and contained data will be used.

I recently had a client with only 5 employees where their e-commerce reporting could not even be done consistently because it turned out that each person had a different interpretation of how to use various intermediate order statuses. On the surface each status seemed “obvious” and therefore had not been discussed. It wasn’t until the data was needed for reporting that problems started to arise.

A big part of what we do at Idea Spring is help clients with the pre-planning, and developing appropriate definitions and guides to various data systems. We use an internal process and method that helps us dive into how the data will be used to create actionable intelligence and achieve mission-level objectives.

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When your value proposition is clear, and it connects with client need, then the odds of that client selecting you, your firm, or your product increases.  When the value proposition is both clear, and experienced (i.e., you deliver what the value proposition promised) then your clients are more likely to share and champion your business.

I spend a lot of time focusing on differentiation. Differentiation is certainly not the only factor for success. Timing, team, business model, and funding are all important to a greater and/or lesser extent.  Differentiation is incredibly important for all businesses, but especially so for service businesses that rely heavily on referral and word-of-mouth.

Here are some main principles and beliefs I hold about differentiation:

  1. Differentiation must be authentic and aligned with your core values.
  2. Differentiation must be both articulated in a way that aligns with client need.
  3. Differentiation must be aligned with the client experience.
  4. Both the articulated and experienced differentiation needs to be easy to share.

Aligned with Values

To be briefly philosophical, I personally believe that this starts at the very personal level of an individual owner or entrepreneur. In other words the exploration of one’s purpose on this planet. It may sound a bit cliche, but reflecting on those ‘meaning of life’ questions often influence the decisions about the type of business we run, and the corporate culture we establish.

Having authentic and sustainable points of differentiation requires serious and honest reflection of one’s self and the corporate culture. Unfortunately, these are tasks often left undone because they fall into the “Important but Not-Urgent” quadrant of time.

As an aside, this is one advantages that startups have over larger mature organizations. For existing organizations, changing corporate culture is one of the hardest feats to undertake.  It is far easier for new organizations to do the work upfront to define the desired and authentic culture. Once defined, it is easier to hire the right cultural fit, instead of trying to get existing personnel to bend to a new culture.

What is your purpose?
What’s Your Purpose?

Aligned With Client Motivation

When it comes to articulating value-proposition, understanding client motivation is critical. I am still occasionally surprised when we have clients that want help with their marketing and strategy, but they don’t want to spend time in discussion or discovery about what really motives their clients.

Often these clients are looking for silver-bullet solutions, or jumping straight into the technical aspects of marketing tactics or creative design elements. For example, looking for the “magic” frequency of social media posting, or the right Search Engine Optimization (SEO) approach, etc.  However, as important as mapping out client values and motivators is — it is still only one part of a much larger equation.

Aligned with Client Experience

The first part of having corporate-client aligned value propositions is then to take both the branding and messaging, and incorporate that into every aspect of the client experience. Any physical item that the customer sees, hears, touches, smells, or tastes should all be thought of as “marketing.”  Every customer ‘touch-point’ or interaction should be evaluated and aligned to maximize customer value.

If your points of differentiation do not genuinely flow out of your personal and corporate values, then at best those “unique” attributes will not be sustainable. At worst they will be uncovered as inauthentic. When you have a deeper understanding of “why” you do what you do, then your clients will experience your points of differentiation because they will flow naturally from your core values.

Articulated Easily

The last part to touch on, but no less important, is the ‘communicability’ or clarity of your value proposition statement.  There are a number of scientific reasons why this is so important, but that is likely the topic of a different post.  However, the point here is that if you cannot articulate your value proposition clearly, neither can your clients.

Of course the definition of ‘articulated easily’ can be expanded to include not just the clarity of wording – but how easy it is for your clients to share. Some of the other factors of custom decision include attributes such as friction, incentive, and anxiety. From a conversion optimization perspective, these attributes are applied to getting the customer to take initial action.  However, you can apply the same evaluation to the sharing of your business or product.  Find ways to increase incentive, decrease the friction (how easy it is to easily share your business or refer clients), and reduce the anxiety related to doing so.

Creating a positive client experience

I believe that some of the philosophical questions we have with our clients are equally important (if not sometimes more so), as the actual marketing materials, logos, and websites we create. Of course it can be easy to get too caught up in the altruistic and romanticized version of who we think we are and what we want to be.  At some point these efforts have to surface into tangible branding, messaging, and processes.  But when points of differentiation are authentic, and those points connect with authentic client need, then branding, messaging, and strategy comes much easier.

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