The Need to Understand Changing CustomersStaying on top of consumer trends is a necessary task for all marketers. By watching what is happening among current and potentially future customers, marketers can gain insights that may affect their marketing decisions. However, while it is very easy to say this, actually having the time and, most importantly, the money to keep up can be a tough task. It is especially challenging for organizations that do not have a dedicated research staff, whose job includes collecting such research. Fortunately, while a marketing organization may not have the time to undertake their own research or the funds to support their own researchers, other options exist.

One way is to tap into inexpensive research sources. As we note in our Low-Cost Secondary Research tutorial, there are many alternatives for finding affordable research, such as information produced by industry trade groups, government sources, corporate white papers and academic research centers. Another option is to find information provided by cause-related groups, in particular, non-profits that focus on specific issues. Many of these not only conduct excellent research, they often offer their results for free. For instance, for information on how consumers use technology, one of the best free resources is the Pew Research Center.  Pew offers unbiased research on many areas including studying consumers’ usage of the Internet, mobile communication and other technologies for many years.

A really good example of the valuable information provided by Pew can be found in their latest report titled, Mobile Messaging and Social Media 2015, which asked questions of nearly 2,000 U.S. residents. Results provide a demographic view, including gender, age, ethnicity, education, income and residential location, of mobile messaging and social media usage.

For marketers, the report should serve as additional evidence consumers have adopted new behavior. Consequently, marketing strategy for nearly all organizations must consider the impact of these behavioral changes. This is especially important for smaller organizations, such as mom-and-pop companies run by people who are not particularly involved in these technologies. Whether smaller organizations understand it or not, consumer interaction is changing, and organizations need to adapt or face a potentially difficult future.

The impact social media is having on the field of marketing is inescapable. is certainly part of a large crowd that has advocated the need for marketers to be fully engaged in social media. This can be seen from our post a few weeks ago in which we discussed how understanding social media has grown to be such a critical component of marketing that, in some ways, it has become as essential as understanding how to use Excel.

While social media is an undeniable force across all marketing areas, it would be a mistake to conclude it has had an equal impact. The fact is, while those responsible for such areas as distribution and personal selling may use social media in a general way, such as sending out announcements, there are other areas of marketing where social media has significantly transformed how things are done. And maybe the most impacted area is public relations (PR).  For instance, as we discussed back in February, social media is changing the goals of PR, such as moving it away from being primarily a relationship building function to taking on a more promotional role.

This story from the Philadelphia Inquirer provides even more insight on the ways social media is impacting PR. As the story title suggests, social media has forced PR to change media relations strategies. Before social media, efforts in media relations were primarily directed at print, television, radio and a few online news sites. Now, the influence of bloggers and other persuasive individuals is changing who PR views as being important.

Additionally, PR is now becoming much more involved in creating content and strategies for a company’s or client’s own social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And this has led to PR careers for people with not just communications, graphic design, and journalism skills but also Internet technology and research expertise. This is evident in the need for people who can interpret the information provided by online “social media listening” tools PR professionals are using to monitor what is going on in the social media world.

If one hundred marketers were brought into a room and asked to explain what it takes to be successful, nearly all would respond by saying success starts by offering customers something they want.  For most marketers, this means providing products or services they believe are of interest to their target market.  How do they know this?  Typically by conducting market research and essentially asking customers: “Would you buy this product if it fits your needs?”

However, organizations sticking to the “let’s-ask-customers-what-they-want” approach may not realize the full demand for the goods they market. This is due to customers not always knowing what they want.  For instance, they don’t know what they want because they may not fully appreciate the benefits a product offers (e.g., “I don’t understand how that product works”). Or they don’t know because they have yet to experience a usage situation (e.g., “I’m still in college why do I need to save money in that savings fund?”). Or they don’t know because they do not realize the product exists (e.g., “I have never heard of that product”).

No matter the reason, encouraging purchases of unsought goods, which include products customers do not know about or think they do not need, is one of the most challenging aspects of marketing. But let’s be clear, we are not talking about marketers directing efforts to get people to purchase something for which they do not have a need. Rather, we are talking about marketing strategies aimed at broadening customers’ understanding of something that may actually benefit them in ways they may not clearly understand or appreciate.

The challenge of getting customers to direct attention to something they currently do not believe they need is seen in this story from Re/code. It discusses issues facing a new venture within e-commerce giant Amazon. The new area is called Amazon Launchpad, which is populated by start-up companies selling a wide-range of products.  Compared to what is sold through the general Amazon site, many products found in Launchpad are quite different than what the average Amazon shopper is seeking.   Thus, a marketing challenge exists in how to expose customers to a product if they are not looking for it. The story offers some ideas of how Amazon is trying to generate customer interest, though it seems it will take a lot more if these start-ups are to reach customers who may have little knowledge and interest in what they are selling.