It might sound obvious, but your customers are your business – which is why building a brand around them is vital.
By Masha Kubyshina (Managing Director, Yellow & Young Agency)

Your product might have great and even unique features. Your price might be better than the one your competitor offers. Your customer support might be extremely efficient. However, if your brand is not customer focused, people might not notice you.

Your brand is not about the quality or utility of your product. It goes beyond that. It is the concept that the customers have in their minds about your product and how it makes them feel. Your customers won’t ask themselves if your product has all the newest features or the coolest design. The questions that will pop up in their heads will be “Does it make me feel smarter?” or “Does it make me feel good about myself?”

To answer these questions you need to know your customers. And I am not talking about collecting a set of weak measurements, such as age and income, of your target market. While those might be good to know, they will not make your brand standout.

This week we have worked with two startups. One was a Swedish company creating an eLearning application and the other was a Spanish platform for stock imaging. Both startups have used survey data to learn about their customer segments. This kind of data provides insufficient insights into the customers’ needs and wants. As a result, the product positioning, branding and marketing turn out to be very average.

With both companies we created a plan how to get a better understanding of their customers, redefine their brand, and redesign their product offering. If you are facing a similar problem, here are the steps to follow:

  • Collect strong measurements on your customer segment. Here we are talking about psychology. What excites your customers? What are their aspirations? What makes them dream?
  • Contact real customers and ask for an interview. Even better: be with them when they are using your product or shopping for it.
  • In your mind, position your customer, and not your product, at the center of the target. Figure out what your customer values in her life.
  • Make a list of experiences that are important to the customer segment you are trying to reach. Specify how your product or service will help them reach these experiences. How it will help them achieve something in their lives?
  • Based on your findings and insights, redefine your brand and redesign your product offering. Generate a new message.
  • Communicate this new message to your customers focusing on what is important to them. Do not describe your product. Instead tell them how they will feel about themselves if they use it. Make them aspire to it.

If you follow these simple steps, trust me, you will be far ahead of the majority of the brands, big and small. In my experience, people shrink at the notion of getting out of their comfort zone and talking to real customers. It is intimidating, it is scaring, it is challenging. Companies tend to run massive surveys and to analyze metrics. Its anonymity and avoidance of face-to-face communication make managers feel safe and in control, at the end of the day they can always decide what metrics to scrutinize.

Yet, not getting the real life feedback makes companies numb. Metrics do not disclose the emotions and fears of your customers. Surveys do not unveil facial expressions or things one can’t write. Until you get out of your office chair, your company will never be customer centered. In our data driven world the human connection with customers is scarce, and thus valuable.

In my experience, what makes this work truly exciting is this possibility to talk to real people. It presents you with a chance to assess the things from a different perspective and to discover something new. Do not look at marketing at as a sales channel. Look at it at as a door to the lives of others and at as an opportunity to challenge yourself. And if you care enough you should use this knowledge to change your brand and the experiences of those it touches.

Are there other ways of ensuring your brand is customer centered?

About the guest blogger: Masha Kubyshina (@MashaKubyshina) is the managing director of Yellow & Young Agency. She mentors startups at ESADE events and at SWBarcelona, and is an organizer of a meetup for Barcelona founders. For the past 10 years Masha worked in marketing and business operations in startups in San Francisco and Europe.