You Already Have the Data to Understand Your Customers

Apple’s new privacy updates are great for consumers, but they’ve left businesses worried about how to effectively target advertising. But don’t fret — chances are you already have access to a wealth of information about your customers right at your fingertips. Here are a few ways to unearth it:

Check Your Demographics

Basic data is still extremely valuable if you know how to interpret it. Anonymous information like age, gender, and device type is still compiled through Google Analytics, social media channels, and even email services like Mailchimp. It may not seem like much to go on, but with a little imagination, this data can be very useful.

For example, you may learn that the majority of your users are women aged 34 to 45 using mobile devices. This likely means that a large portion of your audience is busy moms on-the-go who are more likely to watch a 30-second video than they are to read a 1,000-word blog post. Once you’ve put a face to your audience, it becomes much easier to extrapolate what their problems are and how they go about solving them.

Be sure to check your demographics for each platform as it’s likely they’ll vary. Noticing that your email list subscribers are aged 45+ and that your Instagram followers are largely 18 to 25 is information you can’t afford to ignore. It’s a golden opportunity to adjust your tone and messaging to suit each audience.

Review Your Search Terms

Search terms can be a gold mine into figuring out what is going through customer’s minds and they are easier to get than you may think. There two types of search terms, each with their own valuable insights.

You can use Google Search Console to see what terms or phrases people are typing into a search engine to reach your website. Google Analytics, on the other hand, can be configured to give you a list of what people are searching for once they are actually on your website. Think of these terms as a free gift — people are telling you exactly what it is they’re looking for.

You can also use Google Trends to take a look at what search terms are trending in your region or across the globe. You may discover that people are asking a question that you have an answer for, so you can now make it your mission to let them know.

Talk To Your People

Data is a powerful tool, but nothing beats a boots-on-the-ground approach. If your business model allows you to interact with customers, do it! You don’t need to be pushy, but sincere curiosity can lead to valuable insights.

Even if the topic of conversation has nothing to do with the business itself, learning more about your customers’ daily lives can help you build empathy so that you can make your messaging more relatable. You don’t need to track people’s phones to find out what their favorite restaurant is or where they like to shop — if you engage with them openly and honestly, they will probably tell you themselves.

And even if you don’t deal directly with customers, someone on your team does. Your front desk and phone teams have the most direct interactions with your customers and they probably already have a list of common pain points as well as a general sense of what your customer’s lives are like. So don’t forget to ask them about it!

Conduct Formal Surveys

The old standbys of marketing research, consumer surveys do still have a place in the modern world. Depending on your scale and resources, this may be as simple as an online form or as sophisticated as an in-person focus group.

In order to get the most value from these tools though, you need to keep in mind that people are more willing to share surface-level feedback than their true feelings and opinions. A good survey will be able to dig into the why behind their feelings. That is the information you need to make sure your business is actually solving their problems.

So now that you’ve gathered the data, what do you with it? Create user personas! User personas are amalgamations of your average customers: their likes, dislikes, challenges, and needs. And now that you are armed with your customer research, the process will be much easier. Learn more about personas (and how to use them) in this post.

And if you need help along the way, Matt Jensen Marketing is here to be your guide. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you define and reach your desired audience.

Save Time, Dollars, and Guesses with Customer Personas

There are plenty of marketing strategies that aren’t worth the time, dollars, or guesswork.

Building customer personas isn’t one of them.

The vast reach of social media and the web in general can be a siren song to many marketers and business leaders — it seems logical that the more people who see and hear your message, the better.

But the reality is, blanketing your message to large groups that only meet your basic demographics is diluting the message for your true prospects and wasting it on people who never were your prospects in the first place.

Enter the customer persona. A well-researched one will lessen your workload and target your marketing dollars toward your best prospects.

Personas also help you empathize with your customers. It’s easy to only think about what your business wants from those who use your products and services without considering what they need from your business. Increasingly, consumers are seeking companies they trust. One way to build trust? Empathy. One way to empathize with your customers? Personas.

What exactly is a persona?

A persona is a fictitious character who represents a group of real customers with common traits. Creating a persona is much like a novelist creating the heroine for his next bestseller. Except in this case, instead of using your imagination, you’ll draw from research. This can include surveys, data analysis, and demographics.

However, since data points can’t be marketed to, personas must also include details about customer attitudes, beliefs, goals, and motivations. It’s not enough to know that most cataract patients are in their late 60s to early 70s and are 60% female. You need to note that on the day of their surgery they’re likely to clear their calendar, dress a little nicer, arrive with plenty of extra time, and feel nervous.

A persona is useless unless it gives insight into what your customers are thinking, feeling, and doing while they try to meet their needs. That’s the information you need in order to see how best to help them succeed.

How do you build a persona?

Like many things, there’s no one right way to create a customer persona; however, at MJM we recommend these steps to our clients who are just starting out.

Step 1

Gather your customer data. This likely begins with basic demographic information. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to glean that data from your Google Analytics and website logs. This will give you a base you can use to build your persona. Demographic data largely reinforces what you already know so use it only to begin seeking insights you may not already have.

Step 2

Identify customers you can talk to and ask them lots of questions. MJM strongly recommends gathering as much firsthand insight as possible. The only way to truly do that is to take the time to talk (and listen!) to your customers. You may even consider specifically seeking out those whose experience was less than ideal as their assessment can point out gaps in service your satisfied customers may overlook.

Step 3

Group customers and look for patterns. Find similar responses and traits from the customers you’ve spoken to and build a persona around them. Highlight the beliefs, goals, and frustrations that bring this group to life. Give your fictitious customer a name or title and attach a photo to make the character memorable and more realistic.

Have fun with this! Some of our clients have found that they enjoy the process and when it’s done, they’re relieved to have that “person” to return to time and again to make wise marketing decisions.

The MJM team loves personas! And we’d love to help you with yours. Download our starter worksheet or contact us for a consultation.

Pinpointing the Competition Starts With Your Customers

Scoping out your competitors is to business what a flashlight is to hiking in the dark.

In a word, it’s essential.

However, selecting which competitors you’ll keep tabs on can also be overwhelming. A Google search can bring back hundreds of businesses similar to yours, making it hard to choose which to watch and which to ignore. Even companies with seemingly obvious competitors can overlook valuable data if they don’t have a solid approach to pinpointing who their competition really is.

If we’ve learned anything about competitor research at MJM, it’s this: begin with a thorough profile of your ideal customer. Why? Because understanding your customers’ values and mindset will lead straight to the places where they spend their time and dollars.

As you build customer profiles, keep in mind that consumers are often buying experiences, identities, or even aspirations more than they’re buying goods and services. Gym membership, anybody? Many of the other companies that your ideal customers do business with are your competitors even though they may occupy different spaces. A restaurant and a clothing boutique are markedly different, but because both vie for the same slice of a consumer’s household budget — in this case, disposable income — they become competitors.

This isn’t to say that if you’re trying to market your dental practice you shouldn’t monitor other practices. You should do that, too.

Here are a few tips for selecting your direct competitors:

  • Google search. We panned it at the beginning of this article, but here’s how to get it right. Instead of searching “dentists in Orlando,” which will bring back too many results, search your own business instead. Then, look at the four or five results that surround it. For comparison’s sake, you should search your version of “dentists in Orlando” to see how you rank among the larger pool of similar businesses, but when it comes to those you really want to dig into, keep it to the few who lead the search results when you search your specific business by name.
  • Old-fashioned sleuthing. Not all your research has to be digital. Local and national magazines cater to specific demographics. Find one that reaches yours and flip through it. Who’s advertising in it? Likewise, billboard and outdoor advertising in the part of town your customers frequent or the commercials during television shows, podcasts, or radio programs they prefer are good places to pay attention. This includes both over the air and streaming platforms.
  • Just ask. Being direct always yields results. Draft a survey or, if possible, talk to your customers in person about the other companies they do business with. Asking for their preferences takes out the guesswork, but be sure to approach your interview so that customers give their honest feedback rather than what fits your agenda.
  • Use digital tools and platforms. Google offers competitor analysis tools that show which companies compete most with your content on search engines. Facebook has rolled out a similar program, and if you pay for digital ads, there are plenty of tools to gauge how much traction you’re getting among your competitors.

Pinpointing a few competitors to monitor is essential, but being overwhelmed by it isn’t. Implementing just a few of the tips above will have you reaping the benefits in no time.

To get you started on your customer profile, we’ve compiled a report on how the pandemic has influenced consumer behavior. Download yours: 

Scouting the Competition? You Should

Imagine you’re camping for the weekend. You’ve hiked and cooked over an open fire and now it’s time to settle into your tent for the night. You kick off your shoes and climb through the zippered opening, and as you do, you realize you’ve left your toothbrush in the car. Slipping back into your shoes for the hike to the car, you reach for a flashlight.

To borrow grade school language arts, that flashlight is to your hike what scouting the competition is to your business. It sheds light on the landscape and provides important clues for your success and survival.

It can be scary to click on the light (what if there’s a bear nearby?), but it could be even scarier not to (what if there’s time to escape?). Having all the information always leads to better decisions, and that’s never more true than when it comes to scouting your business’s competition.

Knowing what your competition is up to can:

  1. Give benchmarks. Sticking with our analogy, there’s no need to stumble around in the dark. Not sure where to set your price? Check your competitors. Wondering how to structure your offer? Check your competitors. Thinking of sending emails but not sure how often? Check your… well, you know what to do. Gathering data from the field gives perspective, takes minimal time, and saves you the anxiety of guessing.
  2. Push you to do better. Comparing your business only to itself cheats it out of the healthy pressure sparked by competition. It isn’t uncommon for CEOs to cite competition as the reason for their greatest periods of growth. To stay ahead, they had to strive for top notch customer service, products, and business operations and were better for it. Keeping tabs on the competition means keeping away from a complacent mindset.
  3. Help avoid pitfalls. While checking in on a competitor, let’s say you notice two social media posts — one that received lots of attention and one that, even though it advertised a sale, didn’t get a single like. It doesn’t take long to see why (there’s too much text on the sale post), and you’ve just gleaned valuable information that will help your own social media campaigns. Scanning Google for reviews will often yield similar results as customers air their unfiltered opinions about what pleased or displeased them. Put the detailed information they share to good use on your own customers.
  4. Hone your strategy. Deciding how to stretch precious marketing dollars can feel like roulette, but evaluating where your competitors are spending theirs can provide clarity. If one of your competitors is dominating billboards, do you go head-to-head or spend your budget elsewhere in order to own another space instead? How are others using social media and what can you do to stand out on those platforms? That kind of research and the discussion it sparks can lead to big payoffs.

The moral of the story? Avoid bears, but not competition. Having competitors means there’s a market for what you offer and that’s a good thing. Regularly taking stock of what others are doing reaps benefits for your business, your industry, and most of all, your customers.

Need help identifying your competitors and ways to outperform them? Here are some steps to get you started. Need more assistance or just want to chat? We’d love to. Contact us today.

5 COVID Consumer Habits to Refine Your 2021 Media Budget

A pandemic changes everything.

Or does it?

MJM recently performed a market analysis for one of its clients with locations across the Midwest, and while our findings may not be an apples-to-apples comparison for your company, our research did bring to light a more accurate assessment of consumer choices during the pandemic. In a nutshell, COVID is accelerating trends we were already seeing.

The acceleration is most notable in consumers’ media consumption, which, unsurprisingly, is up from 2019.

In 2020 consumers chose to:

  • Cut the cord more than ever before. We’ve seen a steady migration to streaming services, particularly Hulu and Sling TV, from cable; however, the pandemic was a boon for both (+44% and +30% respectively). Cable television is still a major contender, but streaming platforms should not be overlooked for 2021 media placement. In addition to their growing viewership, ads can’t always be skipped and are highly targeted. Additionally, 2020 saw those aged 55+ adopt streaming services in record numbers, a trend experts don’t expect will reverse post-pandemic.
  • Tune in to local news. It seems contrary to the cord cutting trend, but consumers still trust their local news stations. While prime time television viewership has declined, according to Nielsen, local news broadcasts have spiked as much as 192% over 2019 as viewers seek the latest COVID updates for their area.
  • Consume media throughout the day. The shift to working and schooling from home is reflected by a reciprocal shift in viewing times. Consumers are now tuning in, logging on, and scrolling throughout the day instead of confining their use to lunch breaks and after 5 p.m. Furloughs, layoffs, and less commuting is also contributing to this trend.
  • Give podcasts a try. Podcasts were already trending upward, but during the pandemic their listenership has tripled. More than 55% of Americans report listening to podcasts in 2020. This media presents a double opportunity for 2021 as companies explore creating their own podcasts to educate their customers or purchasing ads during existing ones already catering to their target demographic.
  • Skip the sports. The kingpin of many media buying strategies, sporting events and the related content they generate, toppled during the pandemic. They have rebounded some, but it’s too early to tell how they’ll perform in 2021. Setting aside some advertising dollars and monitoring the situation is the best plan, especially for the first quarter of 2021.

These and other insights are included in MJM’s 2020 Consumer Analysis. Just fill out the form below to download the full report. Need one that’s specific to your company? Contact our team to get started.

Consumer Analysis Download

How to (Actually!) Deliver an Outstanding Customer Experience

I used to dread calling the doctor’s office. It wasn’t that it led to stepping on the scale (though that also wasn’t always pleasant) or the occasional shot or two.

It was that it led to music. Invariably, I’d be put on hold while the scheduler took another call, and for a few torturous minutes, I’d be accosted with a screechy, tinny distortion of The Four Seasons.

Vivaldi and I were not impressed.

My doctor’s office needed more than just higher quality on-hold music; they needed to examine their customers’ experience. Sure, they’d covered all the expected bases, but with a little insight and attention to detail, that office could have — in keeping with today’s analogy — gone from passable high school band to South Dakota Symphony Orchestra in no time.

What are your customers really buying?

Business leaders all agree that making customers and clients feel taken care of is paramount and worth the investment. But what they sometimes overlook is that customer care extends far beyond an aesthetically pleasing website and timely delivery of goods and services.

That’s not as far-reaching as it sounds, and even better, can usually be done gradually with a few simple changes. Whether you’re designing the experience at a coffee shop or a healthcare center, here are a few strategies to get your customers raving about their time with you:

  1. Experience your customer’s point of view. Start back at a Google search and move to filling out your website’s contact form. Call your business for directions, park in the customer section of your lot and sit in your waiting room or public area. Walk through the entire experience, being mindful of ways to improve. And don’t just do this once; do it on a regular basis.
  2. Take every sense into account. What do customers smell when they visit your location? Is the space too dark or too light? If there’s seating, is it comfortable? Consider the noise level and background music. Are they pleasing or distracting? Look at accessibility. Are counters too high for someone in a powerchair to see over?
  3. Train your staff. Customer care goes beyond being friendly and helpful and doesn’t always come as naturally as we assume. Be intentional about training your staff to show empathy toward customers, clients, or patients. These changes can often be simple to implement. Instead of calling patient names across the waiting room, staff at Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls make a point of walking to patients before greeting them. It gets the interaction off on a personal note and puts patients at ease. Another business realized that handing its clients off from one professional to another, while efficient for them, was disorienting for their clients. They adjusted their workflow so that clients worked with the same representative from the beginning to the end of their experience.

Making your customers feel valued and cared for is crucial to your business. The kind of marketing a loyal ambassador provides is priceless, but with some mindful changes you can tap into its benefits. (And this time Vivaldi *will* be impressed.)

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Brand vs Brand Identity: Is There a Difference?

A brand is not a logo.

Nor is it just a combination of logo, typeface, and color. And it’s not just the products and services the company offers. It’s a bit more. It might seem like a silly distinction to draw, but we believe it’s an important one to recognize.

So, let’s set some quick definitions.

Brand identity is the tangible, visual component of a company (name, logo, communications, how the collateral looks and feels). And then there are touchpoints. Touchpoints are moments in time where people interact with a product or service. Touchpoints and identity are the parts we can see, touch, feel, and interact with. Every product or service ties together multiple touchpoints into what some might call a journey.

Does the sum of all this equal a brand?

Not quite.

It’s like a relationship.

The brand itself is more of an intangible thing – the gut feeling (as Marty Neumeier describes it in his book The Brand Gap) about the company that its customers have. Brands are an abstraction that exist in the minds of those who interact with them. The brand itself is not created by a company alone – it is also created by the people who interact with the company’s offering. Their gut feelings, memories, or experience will be anchored or attached to the brand identity. The visual identity becomes a symbol to hold all of that meaning. When they see the logo for the company or hear its name, they quickly recall those positive or negative feelings. Ideally that identity feels authentic and an appropriate fit for the associations it takes on.

In that sense, a brand is like a relationship between two people. The relationship isn’t a physical thing you can drop on your foot, but it’s very real and represents an emotional connection you have with another person. Over the course of time, that relationship takes on meaning through shared experiences, future expectations, and how we choose to talk about it.

What does this all mean?

You can’t create a great brand just by having a clever name or creating a cool logo. Just like you can’t develop a strong friendship by only looking like an interesting person. Branding as a discipline is more than slapping a coat of glossy paint on at the end. It takes time and intention.

You can’t create a great brand just by having a clever name or a cool logo, any more than you can develop a strong friendship just by looking like an interesting person.

Creating a visually stunning brand identity can do more harm than good. If the company is not operationally sound and is creating a negative experience for its customers a strong identity will serve as a lightning rod for negativity and brand terrorism.

A strong brand identity will make it easier to identify the good and the bad alike. Before you invest in a new identity, make sure that the experience you offer customers is a quality one. And then craft an identity that will help solidify the connection between hard-earned good experiences and your company.

Why Do Your Mission, Vision and Values Matter?

A good leader knows that in order to lead a project, people need to know why they are working, how they are working and who they need to be as part of the team. This is why we must focus on our mission, vision, and core values.

Mission Statement

What is a mission statement? Look around online and you will find many definitions for mission statements. A summary definition would be this: Why do you exist? Why are you in business? Answering these questions is central to writing your mission statement. At MJM, we often speak of “commission” rather than “mission.” A commission not only identifies what you are doing, but why you are doing it. So what is your commission? What have you been commissioned to do with your life and your business?

Vision Statement

Going deeper, your vision statement should paint a picture of where your business will be when it is wildly successful. Your vision should be bold, inspiring and paint a clear image of what will make you successful. It’s okay if, in some way, your vision statement is not actually attainable. But it must be an inspiring and powerful image that helps people see where you are going.

For example, the vision at Vance Thompson Vision is “Best on Earth.” Now, measuring whether they are actually the best on earth can be tricky, and they are not able to be best on earth in everything—only in their areas of specialty. However, regardless of whether “Best on Earth” is measurable and attainable, it definitely allows staff and patients to clearly envision where they are headed as a business and what they aspire to be. That is the power and importance of a vision statement—it paints a picture of success that is motivating and inspiring.

Core Values

Of these three foundational items, your core values may be the most important. They certainly will be the most important for your daily operations as a business. In simple terms, your core values define the way you operate and exist and live as a business. They are the values you make decisions by, the values you hire and fire by and the values that set the culture of your business.

Your core values should be very memorable for all staff. Ideally, you will be able to reduce your core values down to three to five words or short phrases. These core values only have power if you actually live by them, make decisions based on them and champion them within your staff and customer base. Choosing the right core values will make your decision-making easier and bring much clarity to your business.

These core values only have power if you actually live by them, make decisions based on them and champion them within your staff and customer base.

Perhaps the hardest part of finalizing your mission, vision and values is coming to agreement with your leadership team on the final version of these items. There are so many good reasons we exist and so many great values we want to embody! Many groups have a hard time editing down their content and ideas to the most vital and actionable statements. But this editing and simplifying process is vital.

Your mission, vision and values need to be short, inspirational and actionable. Don’t give up on editing and building these vital statements until you finalize them in forms your entire team can live with and execute. Spending time as a team discussing, debating and agreeing upon a clear and powerful mission, vision and values can power your business to new clarity and new success.

Subaru: A History of Advertising Excellence

Car advertising can run the gamut of wonderfully genius to utterly divisive. On one end of the spectrum, you’ll find the endearing message present in Porsche’s 2006 ad “Through Children’s Eyes” that boasts the child-like wonder that a luxury sports car can conjure up. On the other end is the ad campaign that Chevrolet has been running for the past couple years showing “authentic” reactions to new models of vehicles and industry awards they have earned. The irony here is that the reactions have been edited so neatly that any actual earnestness that should be present is gutted for time and content. This is where Subaru has consistently deviated with their advertising in their history.

Subaru first entered the US market in the 60s with the 360. This vehicle was known for its efficiency but not exactly for its aesthetic. That’s putting it lightly. The car was a major eyesore. But this is where Subaru did something brilliant with their marketing. Instead of sugarcoating the benefits of the car, they steered into the skid. Literally.

“Because it’s cheap and ugly, a little Subaru goes a long way to make you happy”

Their ad campaign at the time actually stated that their car was “cheap and ugly”. That’s a brave statement to make about your product. But the draw is still there. Even though people get a chuckle out of it today, the commercials are honest in a way that advertising is usually not. Only a few brands have been able to capture the same truly authentic message.

A good example of another car company that has taken from Subaru’s retro playbook is Smart’s ForTwo Offroading commercial from 2013. This ad shows how poorly Smart’s vehicle performs in an off-road setting. It thuds into an unfortunately placed rock and is brought to a punctual halt by a shallow creek. But Smart doesn’t care. That isn’t where their machine thrives anyhow. It transitions to an urban setting and a larger vehicle passing over a parking spot that is slightly too small to fit in. Then the Smart car bulldozes in and takes the spot with ease. All of this is accompanied with some delightfully dated nu-metal for a humorous edge. But the same message is there. Everything has its cons, but you’re better off knowing them upfront.

“Smart reveals that the hero doesn’t need to win all of the time, but just needs to win in the end.”

Now it’s worth auditing Subaru’s strategy in the modern age, where high-angle shots of cars driving down stretches of roads or dirt at high speeds with pulsing synth and a deep-voiced narrator dominate the industry. They currently are running a broad campaign called “Love” that focuses on the people using the car and the how it benefits them, not just on a logistic level but on an emotional one as well. The specs of the cars themselves are rarely touched on in an intrepid move by Subaru.

“Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”

A fantastic example of this is their Impreza 2017 ad “Moving Out”. This commercial tells the story of a boy growing up before his parent’s eyes and heading to college with the family car. The vehicle itself takes a back seat to the people that own it as a toddler packs his bag to leave for school and by the time he reaches the car, he has grown into a man. It really tugs at the heartstrings in a very Hallmark movie-esque way. The dog aging from a puppy to a grey-jowled hound is the cherry on top.

This is only one of many of the ads in this touching campaign that Subaru has been running. While admittedly more refined, it does having something in common with the “cheap and ugly” roots of Subaru’s American marketing. The emphasis isn’t so much the car itself, but what the car will do for you, the people around you, and your wallet. That’s a welcomed fresh perspective in the automotive industry that other brands can and have learned from.

Keep on keeping on, Subaru. The roads ahead are clear.

Brand Identity Guidelines: Consistency Is King

Or at least kind of a big deal.

When we collaborate with our clients to help them refine, reimagine or build a new brand identity from the ground up, we always recommend codifying the good thinking that occurs into a set of identity guidelines. These guidelines spell out the essential elements that an organization uses to consistently communicate its identity, story and messages.

So… what’s a brand?

Consider that a brand is a collection of expectations, experiences and relationships that a customer feels towards an organization. As Marty Neumeier defines it in his book The Brand Flip (a recent favorite addition to our shared library), this collection is like a gut feeling that a customer has. It’s their immediate impression when they hear the name or see the logo.

A brand derives its value from the impression or trust that its customers identify with it and the values that they share together. When a brand works hard to deliver a positive and compelling experience, it needs a strong identity for its customers to tie that impression or gut feeling to. That identity comes to symbolize the shared values between the brand and its customers, and the good work that the brand carries out on their behalf. The value is not in the logo or name, but in the good work and relationship it symbolizes. It’s important to apply and live out a brand identity consistently to reinforce that relationship and good gut feeling.

What do brand identity guidelines consist of?

There are many components. Some are related to belief and purpose: name and logo, story or narrative, taglines and messaging. Other components help define the tone or personality of the brand and its visual vocabulary. These include colors, typographic style, imagery and illustrations. The combination of these elements helps to create a unique identity — an identity that communicates purpose and a set of shared values that click on a gut level.

Finding the right combination of these elements takes time and hard work. And yet the process is rewarding. We’ll outline that process in the coming weeks, and why it is one of the favorite experiences we share with our clients.