Informed Customer Understanding Should Guide Marketing


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by Anton Scherbik

At the start of every year, CMOs and their teams can be besieged by proclamations of the three, four, five, or six things that they must do to succeed in marketing.  Each of these proclamations can come with dire warnings that if you do not heed this advice, then you are bound to fail.   While others portray that if you just do these few things, then there will be a proverbial pot of gold, at the end of the year filled with overflowing coins of new leads and customers.

If it were only that simple….

As many CMOs are finding, the complexity of the new global digital economy brings on many challenges.  With some challenges easy to define and some not so easy to clarify.  One thing that is clear is the dynamics of markets, customers, and sellers continue to unfold in new ways.  Bringing forth new behaviors related to choices and decisions.

Because these dynamics are unfolding at a rapid pace, it is getting harder for CMOs and their teams to resist the many cliché expressions that will suffice such as “grabbing the shiny object” or “jumping on the bandwagon”.    The temptation being great to go “all in” on the latest hot topic or trend and hope for the best.

For example, one shiny object has been content marketing.  For some who have gone “all in” with content marketing, they may just be discovering the constricting of their marketing to such has not been fruitful.  And, in some cases, has been a detriment to revenues and the bottom-line for other more rewarding (in hindsight) marketing tactics or strategies were abandoned.  While others, were able to achieve significant growth via content marketing – whether by chance or by knowledgeable strategizing.

What Should Guide Marketing?

This is just a hunch but it may be close to being on the mark.  Most survey results in the past two to three years related to content marketing effectiveness has shown that only approximately a third of business marketers considered their content marketing efforts to be effective to very effective.  Thus, as mentioned above, it leaves approximately two-thirds who have either experienced no growth or may have actually seen a decreased in revenues.

The point being made here is if marketing is being guided by going “all in” on a perceived new hot trend, then the odds of succeeding can be fairly low.

If this is the case, then what should guide marketing?

For marketers today, guidance should be derived from an overarching framework using deep customer understanding as its foundation.  One of the primary goals of such a framework is to engage in identifying what customers want to achieve (their goals) and then orchestrating organizational resources towards help customers to achieve their goals.

While this may sound like common sense, it is very hard to attain.  Most often, there is an inertia to marketing being guided by projects, campaigns, and initiatives.  Without deep customer understanding, marketing is left to brainstorm a list of potential projects and initiatives.

Choosing Wisely

When it comes to informed choices on what will guide marketing, most processes will lack in assessing how well projects, campaigns, or initiatives meet the test of helping customers to achieve their goals.  What we do see is the resorting to and relying on what tends to be the latest trend or fad in marketing.  Amounting to, in reality, a series of best guesses.

This can cause a repeated cycle occurring every year or two.  A cycle of plans or projects put on hold, very little support or enthusiasm from other departments, and a cycle of campaigns or initiatives that quickly run out of steam and ultimately fail.

In order for CMOs to choose wisely in this rapidly evolving digital economy, a guiding framework based on deep customer understanding can be of help.  The thrust of the framework centered on linking marketing planning to deep customer understanding, as well as, how well plans contribute towards helping customers achieve their goals.

Guiding Framework

CMOs can incorporate a guiding framework sound in qualitative research to reach the deepest level of customer understanding possible.  Making use of relevant insights to help guide marketing planning.  Using user and buyer personas to help communicate a common view of customers to the organization.

Such a guiding framework based on buyer research and a communications platform consisting of personas can help ensure the organization is working in concert towards helping customers to achieve their goals.  Whereby the linkage of planning and initiatives to this greater purpose is evident to not only marketing but also to the enterprise.

Without this guiding framework based on deeper customer understanding, links between plans, projects, campaigns, and initiative to customers will be forever broken.

(The following is a brief video, which serves as a reminder.  It highlights an exercise a Harvard class underwent to incorporate search, systematic data, and qualitative research into informed decision-making.  Often, most marketing teams are using the first two and often forget the third.  A healthy reminder on how to achieve an integrated approach towards informed deep customer understanding, which can guide marketing.)   


Article by Tony Zambito

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


  1. Hi Tony

    As you suggest, marketing should be guided by customers, their goals and their resulting behaviours. Marketing should be customer-driven. After all, as Sam Walton famously said, “Customers have all the best ideas. And they have all the money”. But it would be a mistake to slavishly base all marketing purely on customers. Marketers also have to drive customers as well as be driven by them.

    Graham Hill

  2. Hi Graham,

    Thank you for the comment. A key point is – if you want to drive customers towards action, then it is best to be informed on what drives customers to take action…this level of insights can then lead to innovations, which even customers could not have articulated…


  3. Yes . . . But . . . well, it’s complicated.

    I agree with your statement that “In order for CMOs to choose wisely in this rapidly evolving digital economy, a guiding framework based on deep customer understanding can be of help.” In fact, many of my clients experienced revenue problems after losing sight of this ideal.

    But I read somewhere lately (I forgot the source) that marketing is the systematic creation of dissatisfaction. That is, the interactions that marketers and salespeople have with prospects and customers often revolve around pointing out the inadequacies of their current conditions and situations. Thus, vendors thrive by exposing – even inventing – needs that prospects didn’t know they had. Or didn’t have.

    Nowhere has this approach surfaced more poignantly than with how beauty products are marketed to women – and now, increasingly to men. My epiphany on this topic arrived 21 years ago, when I first read the book, Reviving Ophelia. The book describes how confident young women are overtly messaged to feel inadequate or dissatisfied, and how purchasing a given cosmetic product will alleviate the misery. That approach goes on as I write this, and it continues to drive billions of dollars in revenue. Yes, that still requires a ‘deep customer understanding,’ but the cynic in me prefers to call it ‘exploitation.’

    On a separate, but related note: the reason that companies succumb to chasing ‘shiny marketing objects’ results from a lack of understanding of the uncertainties they face. If they approached these challenges with statistical rigor, they could model expected results and make more effective marketing investment decisions. (Not by coincidence, that is one of the services my company provides!)


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