How Your Team Can Actually Do Customer Centric Marketing

By Drift

These days, progressive, modern marketers like you and me are always talking and hearing about customer centric marketing. We know that it’s customers, not brands—or investors, or CEOs, or yesterday’s wisdom—that hold the power.

And since the [good] products we build solve customer problems, it’s our customers who hold the real insight, too. So we’re certainly wise to listen to them.

The problem is, “customer centric” can too often be little more than an empty rallying cry, an idea without a plan, a one-shot initiative where insights are half baked, unshared, and certainly not acted upon. It really doesn’t have to be this way.

To be a customer centric marketing team, start building a habitual research practice. The key to being truly customer centric is simple: talk to your customers, track and share insights, do something with those insights. Rinse and repeat.

Product, design, and UX teams have been perfecting the art of understanding users in an iterative and ongoing fashion for decades. So, let’s steal their best ideas and translate them to a marketing context. Here goes:

Get To Know The Product Development And Research Cycle

Very early, in a totally new product, product and design teams might focus on discovery research, to really understand the user’s overall motivations and context. This isn’t so dissimilar from market research marketers typically do. The difference is product teams do this consistently, adding new research when the research already on hand doesn’t answer the questions they have for the new product offering.

As features start to take shape, they test prototypes for usability, typically giving users a set of tasks to accomplish, watching them try to accomplish the tasks, and talking through what they’re doing, then asking questions about the experience afterward.

Take a look at the various marketing “products” you’re building—content, promotional materials, emails, web pages, etc—and consider their calendar, how frequently you update them. From there, you can think through how research fits into building and updating these marketing products, and plan ahead for it. Here’s a classic research cycle, illustrated as a mindmap, you can borrow from for you marketing efforts.

Let’s briefly look at each of these phases using a company’s hypothetical new podcast as the marketing product we’re developing. As you’ll see throughout this example, you can use these methods for both new and existing marketing products, campaigns, programs—marketing stuff. There is no perfect set of methods that works for everyone all the time. If you want to know more about your users to create better stuff, research can help you. Our UX Research Field Guide at User Interviews and Nielsen Norman Group have a ton more information you can use to experiment with new methods you can add to your toolkit.

Discovery Research To Understand The Big Picture And Context

In discovery research, one of your primary tool is interviews. Those could be internal stakeholder interviews or, more importantly, interviews with your target audience. Who is your ideal audience for this podcast? Whether they be customers, target customers, influencers of your customers, or another audience that matters to your business, once you’ve identified that audience, talk to them. (Hey, User Interviews can help you with that).

For your podcast you’d probably want to understand things like:

  • What podcasts do you already listen to?
  • How did you discover those podcasts?
  • What do you like about your favorite podcasts?
  • Do you read or listen to any content on {insert topic of your future podcast}?
  • What do you want to know more about that you don’t hear about a lot?
  • Depending on how developed your audience persona is or isn’t, you might also want to add more foundational questions about their lives, contexts, motivations, etc.

These kinds of questions will help you understand what gaps you can fill, what traits and topics to mimic, and how to distribute your podcast, among other things.

Pro tip: Ask questions about past behavior, not hypothetical future behavior. That’s why you want to ask what they like about podcasts they already listen to, not what their best self wishes they listened to. You can learn more about building a great moderator guide here.

Of course you can and should fortify these interviews with quantitative research using tools like BuzzSumo, Moz, SimilarWeb, Google, reports form podcast distribution platforms, etc.

Validate and test to make sure you have a good solution

You’ve launched your podcast. You are watching the numbers. They may be bad, or good, or great. No matter what, you probably want them to continue to grow, and to understand why things are how they are.

Let’s say in your discovery phase you learned a short interview style podcast featuring a mix of perspectives would best meet your audience where they are and where they want to go. You launched! You have a small audience and have gotten good feedback so far, but you want to increase your subscriber numbers.

You hypothesize you need a more robust web presence to drive those signups, showcasing things like past episodes and guests, the core benefits of the podcast, and then making it really easy to subscribe across a variety of podcast platforms.

You (or your design friends) build a quick sketch or prototype of this concept before fully designing and coding it. That way, you can gather a couple of quick insights first. You’re going to do a qualitative usability test, or some version of it.

  1. In a qualitative usability test, you want to see if users can accomplish a goal. Here the goal is to subscribe to the podcast. You might create a secondary goal of learning what the podcast is about, because you believe that will make them want to subscribe.
  2. Find 3-5 participants. You might want to use a mix of current subscribers and your untapped target audience. (User Interviews makes this really easy for both your own users and target users).
  3. Then set up a Google Hangout/Zoom experience
  4. Tell the participants their goals for the session, then watch them interact with your prototype. Ask them about the experience afterward.
  5. You transcribe or take notes on each session.

Modify this format based on what you want to learn and what you have time for. Done research is better than perfect research.

After the interviews are complete you’ll look for trends on why they can or cannot understand what your podcast is about and how to subscribe. If there are clear areas to improve, you make those improvements now, and save time and improve performance versus launching the experience without validating your solution. Worst case you make no changes because you had it right the first time, but you have confidence you’ve launched with something that should work. That’s a pretty good worst case.

Ongoing Listening Helps You Continue To Iterate Your Way To The Best Experiences Possible

Your new podcast signup page is a massive success. You’ve gone through a few iterations with some further a/b testing and have a truly mobile optimized version too. Subscriber numbers are ?. But nothing is ever done or perfect. You need some tools to gather feedback in an ongoing way, so your podcast remains fresh, engaging, and those subscriber numbers keep growing.

Here you might invest in an analytics technology specific for podcasts, looking at things like subscriber retention by source or cohort and unique downloads. You’ll watch for which sources and cohorts yield the best results, promising or potentially bad trends compared to your baseline over time, and specific content that drives the most downloads and subscriptions. You’ll use this data to inform your ongoing production and distribution efforts.

That kind of quantitative data is hugely useful, but what about the qual? Make sure you have a way for listeners to get in touch with you. This could be a simple email or form on your podcast page, or you may even want to mention that email in your podcast, where most of your audience will experience your podcast product most of the time. You could also conduct interviews occasionally with some of your most engaged users, seeking to understand what makes them connect so closely with your offering and how you can continue to improve it and reach new audiences.

Make Research A Habit, So You’ll Do It

Whatever research makes sense for you, and it will absolutely evolve over time, you want to automate it. Automation gets a bad rap, but at its best, it’s really all about building habits for things you care about, so you don’t have to think about them all the time. Make user interviews your marketing oatmeal, get them on the calendar and don’t think about them so much—you know they’re good for you, and your users.

You could even use a tool like Drift to invite users to interviews, segmenting with data you already have, when people visit your podcast page, or asking a few basic questions through a bot to find the folks you want to talk to. You could then invite them to sign up for an ongoing or one-off study using Research Hub from User Interviews, which helps you manage all your research operations and participants in one place.

Know that research builds on itself

So far we’ve focused on how to incorporate research into your marketing development cycle. But you’ll get the most bang for your buck by making sure your habitual research builds on itself.

The market is always changing, and your customers are too. But some of the basic truths of who your customers are, and what motivates them, are not going to change on a weekly or monthly basis. That means you can front load a lot of your discovery research, then build and iterate on it over time. As new projects come up, see what insights you already have before launching a new study.

As you conduct research throughout your marketing development cycle, store those insights in a way that lets others benefit from them beyond the immediate task at hand. At its most basic you can share your Google Docs and Presentations as findings in Team Drives, or, over time, you may even build a more sophisticated system like Polaris by WeWork. You could also join up with the system your product and design teams are using. Why silo customer and user insight? Regardless, it’s hard to remember or access what you don’t document, share, and promote—hey, that sounds kinda like marketing!—so start by making sure you are doing just that. Document. Share. Promote.