Marketing and customer insights – how to make it work

Marketing and customer insights working together can help marketers deal with the increased pressure to perform. What’s working? Is something else working better? How many leads is this specific strategy driving? Are we gaining voice of share in our market? Understanding our customers better makes our lives easier because we can figure out what works and what doesn’t – based on what our customers are actually looking for.

"Understanding the customer really has to be ingrained in everyone's day-to-day."

Teams, of course, continuously look to drive more results by improving on:

  • strategy
  • tactics
  • cadences
  • channel integrations
  • funnel analysis
  • understanding the customer

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Starting with the customer

Any strategy really needs to start with the customer!  Everyone on marketing teams, regardless of their roles, needs to remember who they are trying to reach and why. What unique problems are you solving for them?

One of my favorite stories stems form a marketing team that talked about their main customer persona like a friend. They called her Susan.

“Yes, Susan would care about that.”

“Oh, no, Susan wouldn’t need to know that to do her job better.”

Read next: Customer-led product development through design thinking

As marketers, many of us have created personas and use them, but how can we take marketing to another level of customer understanding? We can create better experiences for our customers, if we understand our customers better. But which role on the marketing team should own customer insights?

Eva Tsai, a marketing executive at Google, joined Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing for Voxpopme, to discuss the topic on the “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” You can watch their chat here on YouTube or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Marketing teams and customer insights

Teams need certain roles, including:

  • Strategists
  • Production
  • Ops
  • Analysts

Some experts have shared the concept of the T-shaped marketer, which basically means the marketer is good at a few core areas and stretches into other areas. That can work for some teams.

Company and team size

It’s also important to remember the difference between startups and large companies, Eva said.

Eva has worked in large companies – such as when Citrix increased annual revenues from $2 billion to $5 billion. She now leads global marketing at Google Cloud, with annual revenues of $13 billion. Before that, she spent six years working with startups, some in their pre-revenue days.

"Data is the new thing. Whoever controls the data is the one that has the most insight and can really engage with the customers most intimately."

“It’s important that your teams are stage-appropriate,” she said. “In a startup, they tend to be centrally run. And horizontally. But when you get to a larger company, the emphasis will shift along more to the regional side.”

For example, at Google Cloud, Eva has a central team and regional teams, with regional teams treated as autonomous units. Those teams can employ the best strategies for their specific regions, Eva explained.

The central team, as well as the regional teams, align with their respective sales teams. Who is responsible for understanding the customer?

It’s easy to make assumptions about what potential customers are interested in, how they consume content and make decisions. Sometimes those assumptions can even be correct.

But the best way to understand your customers is to hear from them through their words or actions. The ways marketing teams accomplish that include:

Eva said that everyone on the marketing team has to own and understand the customer.

“How can anyone work in this digital age of transformation without understanding the customer?” she asked.

“When I talk about ‘everyone,’ it really is everyone I can think of,” Eva said. “Everyone that is doing any function at Google has the responsibility of being customer-centric.”

What does it mean for marketers to understand the customer?

It depends on the specific function within a marketing team about what specific insights matter most.

At the very least, brand marketers should understand:

  • customer mindset as it relates to your brand and offerings
  • where customers hang out and how you can reach them
  • what content customers consume and on what channels

Product marketers work closely with the product team and determine how to position the product.

“Why would anyone want to buy your product?” Eva said. “What are they buying, and what are the solutions?”

To be able to do this, you’ll need customer insights. “How else are you going to do the positioning?” Eva said.

For demand generation, the goal is to land the account and expand it. The more you know about your customers, the easier this can get.

“Demand gen should work with sales and customer success to not just hook them but then also expand them,” Eva said.

While it’s important that everyone has a role in understanding their customers’ needs, what that specifically means for each role depends on their job function, Jenn said.

“Understanding the customer really has to be ingrained in everyone’s day to day,” Jenn said. Get customer insights that can help you do your specific job better.

SoFi, for example, has grown the relationship with customers – which they call members – by meeting with them, holding events and really understanding what the members want and need.  SoFi held these events all over the country and was able to get member feedback in an informal, conversational setting.

“The member at the center really is the secret sauce,” said Lauren Stafford-Webb, chief marketing officer at SoFi, during a session at the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit. “It is the core to everything we do.”

Also keep in mind that things can change and teams need to adjust to that, Lauren said.

“We improve the flight path while we are flying,” she said.

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How important is collaboration with other departments?

Eva said her marketing team works closely with other departments, including finance to determine proper financial modeling. The Cloud Systems team is another partner that helps her team achieve a good customer experience.

When companies grow quickly, Eva said, they often do what’s easy. That works for a while, but when the business grows and gets more complicated, data needs to be consolidated and analyzed holistically – another area where collaboration becomes crucial.

Some of that data messiness comes with acquisitions, Eva explained, so collaboration between current teams and new teams becomes important to gather and analyze better customer insights. Centralizing the data can help.

“Data is the new thing. Whoever controls the data is the one that has the most insight and can really engage with the customers most intimately,” Eva said.

And, Jenn added, there’s “so much data that we have access to. It’s crucial to turn that data into insights.”

When it comes to marketing ops, which is a relatively new discipline, it’s also wise for some companies to combine marketing ops, revenue ops and sales ops into one.

One trend that we’ve seen is that business development reps now sit on marketing teams to ensure a smooth transition of Marketing Qualified Leads.

“Once you have revenue ops signal that it’s owned jointly by marketing and sales, it’s a companywide initiative,” Eva said.

Lauren said that cross-team collaboration also matters when it comes to the relationship between the product and marketing teams.

“I hold my team to that the brand work should always halo the product work and the product work better halo the brand,” she said. “And when that system doesn’t work is when you have tension. When it works you get to the 1+1=10. They have to work together to really solidify yourself as a brand.”

"Learn, iterate and get to the truth."

Are marketing teams taking full advantage of customer insights?

Like anything in marketing, it’s a learning curve, and measurements, insights and tactics continue to evolve. Marketers get better at applying the latest strategies and techniques.

Eva did mention she’s seen an increase in data-driven marketing in the last five to 10 years.

“At Citrix, I led analytics-driven marketing and just made sure we tap into our data and signals to get to the insights we have on the customers,” Eva said. “What I learned was that it was relatively easy to get sales on board. After all, sales is numbers driven. They think about numbers all day. So if you can get numbers that can help them, they’ll say ‘do more of what you are doing.’ ”

It took a bit longer to convince marketers to start the data-driven journey. But, ultimately, it’s about combining the art of marketing techniques with the science of lead scoring and customer insights, Eva explained.

Doing rapid research has been fundamental in building a strong brand.

Jean-Michel Hoffman, vice president of brand marketing at  SoFi, said during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit that doing rapid research helps the team do what’s best for the customer.

Jean-Michel said really anyone on the marketing team is empowered to test their ideas and see what works and what can be improved upon.

The relationship between marketers and insights professionals

“It used to be marketing has an idea, a thing they want to create, an experience they want to bring in the world and they go down to the sixth floor and do a market research survey and wait for the results,” said Ryan Barry, president at Zappi, a Voxpopme partner, on an episode of “Reel Talk.” “I think that needs to change for a variety of reasons.”

In this setup, we require the marketer to slow down, come talk to us and then wait. That’s just not very efficient and with increased pressures for speed, won’t help them succeed.

“They are going to find other ways of doing things, which might not be the best way to get customer insights,” Ryan said. “And you see this. There are a lot of product marketers, innovators, marketers that are just saying ‘I’m going to go around the insights department.”

"I think it needs to exponentially evolve more than it is."

Also, if a company doesn’t have this setup, Ryan recommends an ecosystem of solutions that allow anyone to access customer insights – no matter what department they sit in.

“The gate-keeping stuff, we need to stop,” he said.

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Focus your personas

Understanding your customers better also can help you focus your efforts on specific personas.

Eva mentioned that some companies have dozens and maybe even hundreds of customer profiles. Understanding your customers, their needs, behaviors and trigger actions, can help you focus on the highest-value personas.

From there, use insights to determine where you need to focus your customer’s journey. That could include more or different content and experiences at the top, middle and bottom of the funnel. Jenn even breaks it down further – like the bottom of the top of the funnel – for some prospects.

“That will change how marketers do their jobs,” Eva said. “It’s not only based on their years of tribal knowledge but also looks at the data to complement their thinking.”

It also depends on people’s personalities, Jenn added. “It’s like you kind of have to bring people into the middle. There’s a balance of that qualitative and tribal knowledge with that mix of hard numbers.”

On the flip side, don’t over-rely on the numbers. Combine your industry knowledge with the insights you gather to create better customer experiences.

Product-led marketing

Remember the value of leading with your product and letting the product do the marketing. Show it off when it makes sense to customers, based on what you know about them.

We've tried to empower everyone on the marketing team to be a source of insight generation.

Product-led marketing works when your product helps customers, and you can then share those stories. Jenn said products that make the signup and buying process easy also have an advantage.

When we order an Uber, for example, we order what we need at the speed of thought, Jenn said. “Offering that to customers in the B2B model is another level of growth,” she said.

“Why do I need to take a 30-minute meeting with you if the product is easily downloadable?” Eva added.

Diversity on marketing teams and in marketing

It’s important for marketing teams to be diverse. Eva mentioned this is an initiative at Google, and all teams try to reflect their customer base. Teams that do that already have an advantage because they are closer to the customer.

It’s true. I worked on an OB-GYN content campaign before and, as a male, I can’t create any content on the campaign from my own experience. But as a marketing practitioner, it’s easier for me to create content in that industry?

Read next: How to integrate multicultural research into your insights strategy

Assets and product experience

The same carries through to advertising and speakers at conferences. All campaigns should show the diversity of the customer base.

Eva shared a story from the early days of YouTube: Some uploaded videos were upside down. After some investigating, they learned those videos were uploaded by left-handed people. All the YouTube engineers at that time were right-handed, Eva said.

Read next: How to ask inclusive demographic questions in your market research

“The more diverse your team’s background is, the more robust your product is going to be,” she said.

And don’t forget about testing creative, said Lauren. At SoFi, creatives test their work for performance.

“Art is great and you want work that makes people laugh, cry and smile,” Lauren said. “But you also need to make sure it drives your business.”

She said that creative directors come to reviews with data to show how creative has already tested.

“Performance isn’t just about how much revenue is it driving,” said Jean-Michel. “But is it actually resonating with our target audience?”

To get started

For marketers to get started and evolve their knowledge of the customer, learn how to:

  • get the data
  • analyze it
  • separate signals from the noise

“There’s so much data out there and then how do you conduct very disciplined experiments?” Eva said. “And then as you get insights, look at how you are going to implement it.”

And remember: It’s an evolution. Fail fast and see what works. Think of your funnel in as structured a way as possible.

“We all learn a lot from our successes,” Eva said. “But we learn even more from our failures.”

At the end of the day, getting better insights about our potential customers can make our lives easier and set us up to have a chance to succeed.

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