3 Shifts You Need to Make to More Fully Connect With Customers

What’s the most effective way to get to customer truth?

It seems like hardly a week passes that a brand doesn’t find itself in hot water for creating a campaign that rubs the market the wrong way, sounds tone deaf or otherwise misses the mark. And it’s not because brands have suddenly decided to offend. Rather, it’s that there’s been a decided shift in what consumers expect from advertising.

Simply put, consumers want authenticity.

Let me share an example. In a study we recently conducted at FocusVision, we found that 60 percent of millennials felt that brands had a responsibility to support the LGBTQ community. But a deeper dive found that what they didn’t want was rainbow-washing—paying lip service to the cause. Qualitative interviews determined that authenticity was the key to doing this right.

So, while you grapple with ways to connect with your customers, it’s time to figure out what it takes to authentically connect your brand story to your customers’ story. Three essential shifts in the way you develop, test and engage your customers are key:

1. Find your customer truth

The most powerful tactic that can be used by any business leader is authentically understanding, engaging and connecting with your customer. This comes from identifying customer truth—why they do what they do and how they think, feel and act. To determine what is actually true, you need to interact with them holistically and understand how and why your brand is making an impact in their lives.

Customer truth is what connects your brand’s story with the customer’s story.

Marketers have long listened to the “voice of the customer,” but that’s just not enough. Customer truth understands the heart and the mind of your customers by getting at the connection between what your brand stands for and what your customers care about. This is achieved only by doing the right research—both quantitative and qualitative—and looking through multiple lenses that give a holistic view of the audience and the motives behind their behaviors.

2. Don’t forego ad testing

Advertising shapes consumer opinion and builds brand awareness. It can also help you tap into consumer emotion, arguably the biggest driver of brand selection.

While ad testing is a well-established practice, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is when connecting with your audience. Not only should you not forego ad testing, but you need to think about who you are testing it with and whether you need to extend your reach beyond simply your direct target audience. You need to be able to make an informed decision about your campaign performance, and that includes anticipating things like negative backlash.

What you ultimately need to gauge is whether your intended message is landing, and what can be done to improve its performance. An ad test survey, formally known as a copy test, can cover any medium, including radio, television, digital, outdoor, etc. These tests can help answer questions like: How does the ad impact consumer perceptions of the featured brand? Is the ad memorable, and what do people like or dislike about it? Is the ad’s main message getting through to consumers? Does the audience feel it is authentic?

3. Ask and keep asking

There are many ways to ask your customers what they think and conducting surveys is probably the easiest and most used. But that just scratches the surface. To get to the actual customer truth, you need to build out qualitative data from one-on-one interviews.

Surveys provide robust numerical data, but complementing the results with focus groups lets you dig deeper. Rich insight can also emerge through customer narratives or detailed stories of how your advertisement is being experienced and perceived. Having your customers in the room–even if it’s a virtual focus group via webcam—can yield insights that ensure your story resonates more deeply.

Success starts with creating the right strategy to really listen to your customers across all your marketing efforts. Remember: The brands that see their advertising having a positive impact on the bottom lines are the ones that connect with their customers’ core values and beliefs in an authentic way.

As CMO of FocusVision, Dawn Colossi drives worldwide marketing strategy to build the brand and create demand. She has built an always-on customer-driven marketing model based on big data, including intent signals and digital body language; and small data which allows an understanding and clear perspective of what drives behavior and decisions to increase FocusVision’s revenue and market share.