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Customers ... Your Most Valuable Marketing Tool

By Andy Marken

Whisper, Don't Shout -- It may seem easier to make a lot of noise to get people to believe you but there are times – lots of times – when people listen harder, respond better when you whisper. Big marketing doesn't always bring big results.

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Sometimes talking consumers into "doing the right thing" is as tough as communicating with horses.

3D was cool but no one stampeded to buy it.

UHD TV is even better and folks are only slowly warming up to it.

Cloud everything is super, but folks are "hesitant" because of little things like privacy, security.

Over-electrified cars are shockingly neat.

Don't blame the companies. My gawd, they pump out new stuff, new ideas as fast as they can! And they're spending truckloads of money everywhere to convince you that tomorrow is here.

It's better ... it's time to make the move ... NOW!

Marketing people aren't stupid ... honest.

They'll do almost anything to get you interested in their new product, new service.

They want the press coverage, the reviewers' praises, the analysts' reports, all of that marketing buzz that makes products fly out of the warehouse and off the shelves.

They have more plans and programs in the works to convince you that if you don't get on the horse and ride, you'll be left in the dust.

There's only one thing missing.

Customers!

First in Line

Sure, they have innovators and early adopters.

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Source – Geoffrey Moore's "The Chasm"

Jumping the Chasm – Innovators and early adopters will buy almost any new technology, the next great leap. But getting the early majority/late majority can take a year plus. Laggards? They wait until the next generation!

You know, the guys/gals who buy bleeding-edge anything. They just haven't been able cross Geoffrey Moore's Chasm to get the volume, profit they want.

So what do they do?

What any red-blooded marketing/sales person would do:

- advertise more

- add features

- introduce new versions

- lower the price

Today's promotion options are endless.

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World of Options – There are promotional opportunities for new ideas, new concepts at every turn. But those with the greatest influence require patience and kid glove handling ... word-of- mouth recommendations.

They leverage all of them.

All except the best ... the innovators and early adopters.

The horse whisperers!

Why spend money/time on word of mouth (WOM)?

Why only focus on people others turn to for advice, assistance, guidance?

Are you out of your freakin' mind?

That requires time ... effort ... patience ... and painful "self analysis" that the product/documentation/solution may be fallible and might – just might – need a little work, a little time before it's ready to go mainstream.

You overlook the fact that the post-Chasm crowd checks every source possible before they climb on.

They Listen, Believe

But it's other folks' inputs--word of mouth--that carries the most weight.

You know; face-to-face, blogs, company review sites, community interest/networking sites.

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Let's Talk -- Today, when people get serious about looking to buy a product or service they turn to their best, most credible sources ... people who have purchased or used the product/service. WOM, whether face-to-face or half-way around the globe, it lets real people find out the strengths and weaknesses from other real people ... just like themselves.

With very little effort, folks today check all of the sources. But they give the most weight to colleagues'/friends'/consumers' insights/recommendations.

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All the Tools – Customers – businesses or individuals – see all of the marketing efforts from suppliers/sellers. But when it comes to making the buying decision, the recommendations and ideas from other customers count the most.

Unfortunately, most companies only give WOM lip service.

Why?

Oh yeah...

- it's time-consuming

- it requires patience ... lots of patience

- it means you have to look at the users' views, opinions, ideas in a non-defensive manner with an understanding that the user – the real user – might know more about what he/she wants, how he/she wants to work than engineers, programmers, designers (translation – sometimes the king may not have clothes or he has mismatched socks)

- it requires cold, hard analysis of what was said – and not said – and delicate handling of the feedback to the people who nurtured the product from concept to introduction. Trust us ... no one likes to be told their kid is ugly!

Smart companies get the message.

They know unfiltered user inputs, ideas and recommendations can help, even when it hurts ... a "little."

Sometimes the damn horse is right!

The challenge is two-fold.

Today, the ticked off customer posts his/her complaint and BAM!!

It's instantly out there for 10-50 million people to read ... and pass along.

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A World of Passion -- People who are passionate about their area of interest look everywhere for information, ideas and insight. Finding credible assistance in today's Internet-connected world is extremely easy.

Getting happy consumers to spread the positive words – the praise – is tricky.

Do it wrong and they'll stampede.

They'll think you're trying to con them, turn them into shills.

Not good.

Do it right?

Very good.

Passion, Empowered

There are millions of passionate, empowered consumers out there in special interest/user groups.

They are more than a little favorable to things they like/use in their work, hobby, home.

They spend hours at work and late into the night scouring the iNet; chatting on use lists, checking web sites, devouring blogs; sharing information and ideas with people who share their passion.

Some have product sites where they exchange information and share product "tricks."

Special interest groups have web sites where they review products with varying degrees of expertise for anyone/everyone to read.

Folks read them ... trust them!

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Online Reviews – Increasingly, when people want to learn about new products/new services, they view public review sites to gain an understanding of what other people think of the product. Public and company sites provide excellent references.

These groups, sites and reviews carry a lot of weight because:

- people share a passion, an interest with the reviewer

- the reviewer talks in terms the reader can identify with ... where the rubber meets the road

Unfortunately, the only time most marketers seek out, work with the influentials is when they want to sell something.

Other than that, the influentials, the early adopters are a pain in the ***.

There's no immediate ROI (return on investment) in:

- helping them with their web sites/publications

- supporting their special events, educational activities

- assisting them in developing a more organized effort to expand their membership, their numbers

Oh yeah?

The Whisperers

According to eMarketer, there are about 58.7 million influencers (you know, folks who are regularly asked for advice) in the U.S. today and 258.5 million worldwide.

They're not only first in line to buy your whatever; they actually enjoy the idea of helping others.

When they spread the word ... influencees buy!

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First in Line – Innovators and early adopters are the first in line to buy anything that is new, fresh, different, advanced, better. They buy like there's no tomorrow. They buy until their cart is completely filled.

O.K., it isn't as sexy as a thoroughly researched/crafted ad that taps into the very deepest reaches of the consumers' behavior.

But if you're in this business for the long-haul, a few of those geeky, weird, passionate influentials might do a helluva' great job of talking to customers.

They might convince them they need to join the herd.

Sometimes, manufacturers should just stand still, shut up, listen to the quiet whispers of their innovators ... their early adopters ... their customers.

www.markencom.com

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