Your customers have no idea what they want. In fact, they’re waiting for someone like you to tell them.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford, in reference to the first mass-produced and widely-available automobile in America, the Model T.

As divisive as this quote may be, there’s still plenty for marketers to unpack and learn from it – even after more than a century after the Model T was introduced. As communications and marketing professionals today, we have arguably vastly greater resources than our counterparts did 100, 10 or just 5 years ago. Everything is digital. The old “spray and pray” techniques have increasingly less impact each passing day.

Now you can experiment, measure, optimize, iterate and perfect to your heart’s content. So why, in a world with so much data, do marketers still struggle to reach and engage their audiences? Just as we need to recognize that (most) customers have no idea what they want, we need to admit we have no idea what they want, either! Until we ask.

In a world with so much data, why do marketers still struggle to reach and engage their audiences?Click To Tweet

How the Modern Buyer’s Journey is Transforming Thought Leadership Marketing

We’re living in the “knowledge economy.” Our fast-paced, globally connected world has enabled and empowered consumers to pose and answer questions, conduct research and make decisions much faster than ever before. It’s also completely transformed the way people make purchasing decisions – commonly referred to as the “buyer’s journey” or marketing funnel.

Source: HubSpot

The basic premise is this: 1) your (potential) customer has a symptom, so they start by gathering information from reputable sources; 2) the customer identifies their problem and begins considering options to address it; 3) once they’ve evaluated their options, the customer is ready to choose a solution. It’s simple enough, but the fact is companies that are part of that information-gathering process begin building trust and are ultimately much more likely to be considered among the customer’s solution set.

Let me put it this way: if you aren’t actively part of that process, your customer is probably going somewhere else. Commonly referred to as thought leadership marketing, this technique can position you as a trusted influencer just at the right time as your potential new customer is making a purchase decision.

3 Ways to Unearth Your Audiences’ Most Pressing Challenges

  1. Ask smart questions: Some of the most stimulating business conversations I’ve been involved in were sparked by someone in the room asking just the right question at just the right time. This can be in the context of a formal new business meeting, internal team meeting, networking event – you name it. Put your elevator pitch aside for a moment and home in on 2 or 3 thought-provoking questions for your contact. Remember: your goal isn’t to “stump” your counterpart, but rather to elevate the conversation and to learn something new about their business. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself!
  2. Do your homework: Google. If it’s not already your best friend at work, it should be. Back in August 2008, Google introduced Google Suggest (later called Autocomplete), which gives searchers suggestions for common searches in real-time as you begin typing. In a business context it’s a treasure trove of customer insights. For example, simply typing “how to get media coverage” yields other commonly searched terms like “…for your startup,” or “…at your event,” or “…for your nonprofit.” These common questions are opportunities for you to reach an audience looking for insight from expert sources. For even deeper insights, spend some time exploring Google Trends.
  3. Always be listening: New business or client meetings can be tough. You’re “always on” – selling yourself, your agency, your company, all while seemingly “having all the answers.” Take a moment to catch your breath, ask a smart question (refer back to point 1 above) and spend time listening – no, really listening – to your counterpart’s challenges. What’s keeping them up at night? What are they most excited about this year? What are their biggest challenges? Reflecting on these questions will ultimately yield more insight, opportunities, and yes, customers.

It’s unfortunate that our friend Henry Ford didn’t get to experience today’s world of free-flowing insight in the form of content marketing (apparently, he didn’t value customer feedback too much, anyway); if he did, I suspect he would have unearthed a trove of interesting insights that could have made him – and his automobiles – even more successful. As marketers, we’re so focused on our key messages, our voice, our products/services and our brand. If we devoted that same energy to truly understanding our customers’ needs and wants, we’ll be able to reach and engage with new audiences in very different ways. And that’s a good thing for all of us.

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Justin is responsible for leading overall direction on all digital programs and projects as well as overseeing and advancing the agency's digital competency and teams. He works alongside our senior management team to provide strategic and tactical client counsel; help set client expectations; and collaborate with account teams on project implementation and competency training. Justin holds a Masters in Business Administration with a dual concentration in Marketing and Management Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Arts in English, General Literature and Rhetoric from Binghamton University.