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Three reasons marketers are failing to connect with their customers—and how they can succeed

Over the course of my two decades in the digital agency world, I have rarely seen marketing leaders identify the core questions and needs that creatives at the agencies they partner with must address to connect to their audiences. For this reason, many creative campaigns fall flat.

What’s the cure? User-centered marketing. Applying the principles of user-centered design to marketing efforts allows you to fully understand the unique needs and goals your target customers have in relation to your products and services. By doing so, you’ll give your agencies and partners a cohesive and informed approach for them to create successful campaigns that resonate with customer needs and sensibilities.

How do you know if you’re suffering from a lack of user-centered marketing and what do you do about it?

You don’t know the core questions your target customers are asking about your product or service

I’ve seen it time and time again. A large enterprise client has developed a robust marketing communications website. There are literally hundreds of pages of content, yet the site is not converting on KPIs.

An example: last year, Fell Swoop conducted a website audit for a large, Fortune 100 client. As part of our assessment we conducted research interviews to truly understand the needs of the customers. Through our research we discovered that two very simple, yet essential customer questions were not being answered: “How much does it cost?” and “What does it look like?” You might think it impossible to miss these questions, but it wasn’t. While the client team responsible for the website was intelligent, experienced, and skilled, they did not practice user-centered marketing and get to understand what questions their target customers had about their products and services. After redesigning the site and better addressing these two questions, the site’s performance against their KPIs improved significantly.

Solution: Seek to understand your customers’ needs through research. Interviews, surveys and usability studies are powerful tools for gaining insights.

You don’t know the language your customers use to ask their questions

Marketers often take it for granted that the words, phrases, and terms they use will be clearly understood by customers, but that’s often not the case. Industry insiders know their business too well—they’ve been living and breathing it. They just can’t see their business with the fresh eyes that a target customer might. Truth is, it’s not enough to understand the questions and needs your target customers have—it’s also critical to understand the language they will use to formulate those questions.

There are research methods and forums for gathering insights into the language customers use and understand. Focus groups, when expertly moderated, can reveal language through conversation amongst the study participants. Journaling studies where participants provide written thoughts and notes over a longer period of time can also reveal valuable insights.

Marketing today is about having a conversation with your customers. If you don’t speak their language, how can you connect?

Solution: Use focus groups, customer interviews and journaling studies to gather insights into the terms and phrases your customers use to express their questions and search for their answers.

You don’t know why an ad, campaign or website does or does not work

We are awash in “big-data” these days, which means we definitely know if something does or does not work. You can clearly see when your ad doesn’t receive clicks or your buy flow doesn’t have a good conversion rate. However, the knowledge we’re seriously lacking is why a campaign, feature, or content piece has failed.

At the core of solving this problem is leveraging quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Quantitative tools, or “quant” for short, provides us with the raw data—the numbers. We can see which social campaigns are gaining traction or which newsletter subject lines garner the best open-rate. While assumptions can be made about the quantitative results of a campaign, it’s often unclear what’s really driving the success, and without truly understanding the why it’s difficult to repeat success.

In comes qualitative research. This is where in-depth interviews, focus groups, contextual inquiry, and other forms of deep and thorough research can illuminate what’s really going on. By working closely with prospective customers and testing creative campaigns, ads, buy flows, and other collateral, insights emerge—why, say, a subject line actually works or why a Twitter post received a high-level of engagement.

Solution: Use quantitative data as a true test of what is happening with your campaigns, but use qualitative testing and research to understand why it’s happening.

Know. Your. Customer.

Ultimately, what drives all these points is the importance of truly knowing your prospective and existing customers. By applying user-centered marketing, you’re on the path to successful marketing efforts that connect. And succeed.