When I first visited Chicago with my parents, we did the obligatory visit to the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower). Walking the blocks to the building and looking up – you begin to think about what a wonder of engineering it is. It’s 4.56 million gross square feet, 110 stories high, took 3 years to build, and used enough concrete to make an eight-lane, five-mile-long highway.
Then you get in the elevator and go up 103 floors to the Skydeck. At that point, 1453 feet above the ground, you forget about the building. Looking out at Chicago, Lake Michigan and the horizon blows you away. The perception totally changes from the base of the building to the top of it.
There’s a problem with perception… it tends to lead us astray. If you always stood at the bottom of the Willis Tower, you’d never appreciate the incredible city that you’re standing in. We tend to do this as marketers. We tend to position our company or its products or services as the centerpiece of our customers’ lives. We think we’re the largest building in the world. We may be big, but to the city – you’re just one of thousands of buildings.
Sometimes our clients ask us about developing private, customer-based social networks. They’re aghast when we tell them that they’re not that important. They tout the thousands of clients they have, the standing in the industry, the experts they have on staff, the number of phone calls they get, the number of hits to their website, yada, yada, yada. They launch the network… no one cares. No one comes. Now it’s an ego hit and they’re embarrassed… so they do things like force customers to use the network for support, log them in automatically, and force the managers responsible to exaggerate how great the network is growing. Sigh.
If they understood the perception of the clients, they would have never gone down that road. They would know that they’re a small part of the customers’ overall workday. Perhaps they fit into a 15 minute slot once a week that the customer has set aside to use their product. If they understood their customer’s perception, perhaps they would push to remain agile and responsive to their clients’ needs rather than investing in something their customers don’t need nor want. Instead of developing a social network, perhaps they would have developed an improved editor, a FAQ section, or put out additional videos on how to best leverage their tools.
Perception isn’t about listening to your customers, it’s about understanding your business from their perspective. Understand how, when and why they use you. Understand what they love about you and what frustrates them. Understand what would make their lives easier working with you. Understand how you can provide them more value.
When you figure that out, utilize that approach in your marketing. Perhaps you’d be better off not listing the 438 features you’ve added in the latest release – and instead acknowledge that you know your customers are busy with more important work… but for the 15 minutes they need you, you’re always there.