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.)
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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.

Improving marketing effectiveness is a function of tapping into what truly motivates your potential client or customer. Understanding their tasks, goals, pains, and gains is the key to improving marketing efforts. Before applying too much science and data, start with the basic of truly understanding your customers.

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Out latest original blog post on improving marketing effectiveness.

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Know Thy Audience:
Relevancy Marketing Strategies

In Seth Godin’s book, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers there is a concept of the permission marketing ladder that defines the stages potential customers and clients move through. Godin describes these stages as:

  • Stranger
  • Friend
  • Customer
  • Loyal Customer

There are many different books, marketing strategies and patterns, each with their own variant of the permission ladder and customer progression. The stages and recommended tactics for moving customers between each stage might vary depending on whether you are selling products, services, or information. Regardless of your industry or profession though the key takeaway is understanding the importance of being relevant at each and every stage.

In this world of content and social media marketing, it’s becoming increasingly important to engage across multiple channels to multiple audiences. Yet, the paradox is that the technology and tactics that makes so much communication possible, is actually making it harder to reach people through all the noise. The importance of content marketing strategies is exponentially adding to the amount of information available. Still, the solution to the problem isn’t to stop marketing and generating content altogether. The key is to make your content and marketing more relevant.

In fact, one of the key points that Godin makes is that communication must provide the customer with an incentive for actually paying attention to you. Your messages must be “anticipated, personal, and relevant.” So that is the goal – but how do we actually achieve it?

Start With Defining Relevance
The first step is really understanding your target audience, =i digging in beyond just those needs that map 1:1 with your products and services. Sometimes it is hard to spend time focusing empathetically about your customers – it is so much easier to just tell them about how great you and your product are.

However, investing time to formally detail your audience, to know what they really care about, and to figure out how to communicate in a way that is meaningful to them is important. Especially so if you expect your audience to invest their time in what you are saying or offering. Realize, too, that “audience” goes beyond your potential or existing customers. Consider how you can become more relevant to meeting the needs of other people you communicate with. From professional colleagues, to industry referral sources, partners, and suppliers.

Here are some ways you can help improve your relevancy:

Value Proposition Canvas
The value proposition canvas is a great tool for mapping out the jobs, tasks, goals, along with the pains and gains experienced by your audience. Move beyond just those tasks related to your specific product or service, and really spend time thinking about the person in their entirety. I’ve worked with clients who were willing to spend some extensive time digging into their clients needs and concerns, and as as result created some really unique points of differentiation and more value-added services – some that didn’t even cost anything to add.

Take a Sample Size of One
Nothing beats one-on-one listening to someone who represents the audience you are trying to reach. Sometimes this occurs after we’ve done a value proposition canvas session. We meet with someone we can safely share our hypotheses with and get some feedback. Other times, it is helpful to start with some questions to start mapping out the canvas.

Obviously every person is different, and so you end up with a data sample size of one – so you may not want to launch an effort full scale without some more testing and research. However, I’ve also found that some of the people I have interviewed to gather data have in turn continued ask other people and reported more information back to me.

The key is to do more listening than talking. And one way to do that is to record your call or meeting (with permission.) That way you can really watch facial expressions, listen to tone, and spend less time taking notes.

One Question Surveys
If you have enough traffic sources, you can create surveys on your website, through email, social media, etc. that pose a single question instead of an extensive questionnaire. In fact using some of the amazingly granular targeting options, this is a quick way to get some information about a particular target audience. Of course, realize that you’ll need to make the question relevant to the audience to maximize your responses. Consider breaking up longer surveys into single questions that you can post and ask quickly.

There are many other methods and techniques, each more or less applicable to any industry or profession. But all of the patterns for improving and optimizing marketing results have one thing in common: they all start with understanding the needs of your audience. Invest the time in making your marketing relevant, and as with any investment what you get out of it will be in proportion to what you put in.

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