This was originally published in Adweek.
One of the most important things I’ve done as an executive is to relentlessly focus on understanding the customer, even beyond traditional research. In my current role as CMO, I put time on my calendar to read my company’s reviews once a week and meet with customers any chance I get. When I led a product team, I created a group of our most vocal critics and asked them to give us feedback as we were developing the offering. When I was at an ad agency, I reviewed a social media dashboard every morning to see what my clients’ customers were saying. And when I worked in video game advertising, I didn’t just look for online chatter from gamers—I ran focus groups while simultaneously playing the games with them. And yet, as I look back on my career, I’m still convinced that I could have done even more and it would have paid dividends.
These small-but-important ways of “checking in” are just the tip of the iceberg for understanding what we marketers call “customer voice” and using it for the essential components, such as intelligence, segmentation, messaging and even product vision. Customer voice, by definition, describes your customer’s feedback about their experiences and expectations for your products or services. There are many ways to capture customer voice, such as customer interviews, surveys, monitoring reviews, social media analytics, recorded calls, and measuring your brand’s net promoter score.
Yet, companies too often take qualitative intelligence and essentially store it in a box rather than using it as the lifeblood of their brands. When harnessed well and consistently, customer voice is an outsized opportunity for marketers to gain competitive advantage.
Here are three ways to break it out of storage and put it to work for your brand:
Powering your go-to-market strategy
Customer voice should guide go-to-market strategy (GTM) for every new product or service introduction. It starts with zeroing in on who your customers are and listening to what they value and how your products connect to that.
Really listening to your customers – their desires, fears, and even the language they use – is an art that, done well, can inspire your marketing efforts for years to come.
For example, Slack’s executives brilliantly identified that email was not only time-consuming but also lacked engagement features for growing sales, marketing and product teams. From the time it launched until today, the brand has listened to customer feedback to improve its product and power its marketing. For the latter, its marketers positioned Slack as a fun, easy-to-use, system that keeps communication straightforward and allows users, per its tagline, to “be less busy.” Founded in 2009, it now has more than 10 million daily users and is one of the most highly-rated products on G2 with nearly 29,000 reviews.
Co-creating product and marketing experiences
Customer voice will be even more important in the next year or so because significant consumer privacy changes are afoot with Apple’s IDFA policy change and cookies going away one web browser at a time. These moves by major tech players severely limit advertisers’ ability to reach the right audiences, as well as measure campaign performance. To combat these challenges, brands should co-create product and marketing experiences with their customers. The best method of doing that, of course, is by empowering customer voice. In a cookieless world, the brands that shine will be those that grow their own audience, create platforms that enable sharing and collaboration, and scale communities of evangelists.
Salesforce, with its Trailblazers Community of nearly 2 million users, might be the best example of co-creating with customers. The brand has a dedicated website for its global community of marketing, sales and tech customers where they can exchange ideas, pay it forward and create a path for others to follow. It’s all about community, and this style of collaborative marketing, which creates online and offline word-of-mouth, is one of the wisest methods of engaging customers.
Championing customers in ads
Customers are, potentially, the most powerful marketing strategy you haven’t yet tried. B2C marketers can look to Dove, Spotify and Bumble in recent years as they’ve made their customers the stars of ads. These brands hero their customers and their feedback, recognizing that the “user” is the most trusted authority on why a brand and its products matter.
While this approach is less common in B2B, B2B marketers may stand to benefit the most from a more customer-centric approach. In a recent survey run by G2, only 38% of B2B software buyers trusted a company’s website the most, but 86% turned to peer reviews. At a time when customer voice has never been more visible and powerful, it stands to reason that the most successful brands will elevate their most loyal champions.
In these examples, customer voice shows how meaningful the brand is to everyday users, rather than just telling the market that the brand should be trusted. Further, they demonstrate how brands that focus on customer voice—across GTM, co-created experiences and advertising—are well-positioned to create a true flywheel effect. Together, they can build long-term happy customers that become advocates who bring in new customers.