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The One Thing You Should Know About Your Customers

Whether you’re putting an email together or building a brand from the ground up, audience is everything. The golden rule of branding and copywriting is that you need to understand your customers – their motivations, their interests, their desires.

That’s why the first step in a big new copy project is often a customer survey – a look at perceptions and preferences that you can use to underpin your decision making. Things like where you’re most likely to reach people, or what’s most likely to convince them.

But there’s one thing I see that’s overlooked again and again. A single finding that affects everything.

Nobody gives a shit about your brand, your survey, your personality or your copy.

People don’t know what they need

Ask around the office or around the dinner table. People don’t accept the idea they’re influenced by ads and brands.

They know brands exist. They’re willing to concede that brands hold influence. But not over them.

Brands influence all the sheeple out there and, at our cores, we all think we’re way too smart to fall for that kind of thing. We’re the outliers.

“It doesn’t really work on me,” we say over our John Lewis dinner table, sipping on a glass of Schloer with an iPhone in our pocket and last year’s Mercury prize winner playing on the Sonos.

People are inherently resistant to brands – particularly in a B2B context. So when you ask what’s working about your brand – and what’s not – you can’t expect anything other than a detached, third-person look at how your brand might influence other people.

Not how it’s actually influencing them. Because it 100% definitely doesn’t affect them at all.

People don’t care about your rebrand

When you’re reinventing your brand to get new customers, in what world would you expect your existing customers to care?

Whether it’s true or not, service and quality are seen as zero-sum games – if you’re spending your energy nurturing new business, what’s in it for the customers you’re contacting for their insight?

In the vast majority of cases, firms get customers to engage in a rebrand – to answer a few questions – with an incentive. Sometimes, it’s an explicit incentive, like a donation to a charity or discount. If not, it’s an implied incentive, like a friendlier relationship.

They’ll share their thoughts because you asked them to, not because they care. And that’s why so many answers come straight from the path of least resistance.

Your survey is just another to-do item

For most people, responding to your survey isn’t a highly anticipated moment of pure pleasure. It’s a box to check off for the day. And that leads to lazy, uninspired answers.

Across every brand perception survey I’ve seen, the same traits come up time and time again. Brands are uniformly seen as professional and friendly by the sort of people that respond to a survey because, essentially, you conduct a professional activity without berating people or thinking of spiteful ways to make their lives harder.

If your survey is going to be worth anything, you need to look beneath the surface. People typically give you the first thing that comes to mind – and that’s rarely accurate, interesting or actionable.

Brand surveys need more scrutiny

So are brand surveys ever worth the money? Is there any point in asking people what they think of your business and how you present yourself?

Yes – but only if you analyse the results from a position of real scrutiny.

Assume nobody cares. Assume people haven’t thought about the answers, just thrown out whatever will make you leave them alone. And never assume you’ll find anything of value because, more often than not, you won’t.

A brand perception survey can spark a new idea or bring issues to light. But in the majority of cases it’ll do nothing more than cement the status quo – so you end up regurgitating the same brand you already had, sending your copywriter out to create new collateral that’s just a coat of paint on the old stuff.

Trying to make sense of what people say about your brand?
I can help with that.


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