As an agency, we talk to our clients all the time – daily in many cases.
We see them IRL too, quite a bit. They complete satisfaction surveys and get monthly or weekly reports depending on the intensity of the campaign, they pay their invoices (mostly on time), we meet our objectives. We hang out with them at networking events, bump into them in the third-spaces of the north – the cultural sector is a small world.
We talk about all sorts of things, but not about our feelings.
How do they feel about the services we are providing, as a marketing agency that considers itself experts, who make professional lives easier, bring a spark, energy and know-how to marketing, PR, events and audience development? We felt like we were on point – but, honestly, we had no idea if our customers felt any of those things, whether they were feeling some of those things, or God forbid, none of those things.
When you start having those existential crises – it’s rarely as simple as it first appears.
If you’re in a marketing team, these questions about clients, customers, audiences might arise if all of a sudden audience engagement dips, sales or footfall drop, your client retention rate goes through the floor or you’re not winning new business. You may get questions like “but this works every other year,” “why aren’t people buying X or doing Y,” “what can marketing do to hit our sales target this month…” on the 28th of the month…
You’ll already know that there isn’t a quick fix to any of those things.
And, if you were one of the lovely folk at my talk at the first-ever Newcastle Marketing Meetup at the beginning of July (big shout out to Beeny and Joe, obvs), you will already know my answer to most of those things is: talk to your customers and ask them how they feel.
Marketers are the synapse between the customer and the business, you are the connector between what the business thinks it wants to do, say or even sell with what you know the market wants, needs or has space for. You cannot make that connection valuable to the business by simply pontificating from your office.
The most useless place a marketer can be is behind a desk eight hours a day.
Data, experience, research, campaign analysis, creative thinking, cross-team-working is essential. But without the voice of your audience, you are without.
When we started talking to our clients, in what ultimately became a rebrand (not all conversations lead to a rebrand, fear not) we found that there was a disconnect between…
- What our audience felt about working with us
- What our audience felt about our aesthetic (brand)
- What we thought about our aesthetic
- What we thought about our working relationships
Public Service Announcement: this is not an easy exercise, and if you’re going to do it, you have to mean it. Because sanitised feedback from a client or customer who doesn’t feel the environment is safe enough for honesty does not help your marketing or your business.
As professionals, perhaps with many years’ experience, we make assumptions every day, every minute, every second – about what our customers think, what’s the best way to deliver X, launch Y or obtain coverage for Z. It’s human nature, when you feel you know something so well, you circumvent the thinking and go straight to the action.
When you embark on any kind of audience research, listening exercise or even marketing campaign you must break that pattern; leave behind all your assumptions, stop attempting to create a narrative before the results are in (classic marketer behaviour, guilty as charged) and are entirely open to ‘the journey’. And this is how we take our journeys, both internally and with our clients:
Diag 1: Impartial decision making model for business adapted by Crystallised from
National Decision Model – College of Policing APP
This is a thought-process and decision-making model for business, based on the National Decision Model used across policing in the UK. (I will tell you another time how I came to be involved in that!)
Adapted by Crystallised, we use The Purple Wheel (if you will), to create a framework for ourselves and clients to challenge assumptions and work more openly and collaboratively the model relies on three things:
- A set of agreed professional behaviours for all the team involved, which are:
- Accountability – You are answerable for your decisions
- Fairness – You treat people, colleagues, customers, clients fairly
- Leadership – You lead by a good example
- Objectivity – You make choices based on facts and your best professional judgement and experience
- Openness – You are open and transparent in your communications
- Ego-free – You act in the business interest, you are not precious about your ‘own’ idea or desired outcome
- A willingness to trust in the process without preconceived ideas of outcomes – you ‘spin the wheel’ and you act on the information received
- A set of organisational values that anchor the process
Hands up who can recite the values of their organisation?
I’m guessing, it’s probably not many of you – and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist it just means that sometimes, organisations aren’t the greatest at embedding them.
But you see, without values anchoring your organisation, decisions cannot be made in the best interest of your teams, customers or your business.
And by not talking to your audiences (which btw, include employees), you are unable to a) ascertain if your already established values are resonating b) if your values align with your customer perception or even c) create values if they do not yet exist.
When we started our ‘journey’ the objective was to understand whether our values matched the feelings of our clients and whether our services matched the needs of our clients.
After one ‘spin of the wheel,’ we learnt that there was a brand disconnect, which led to a revision of our brand values.
For your version: From what to what – and why?
But as you know, wheels keep on turning; and by committing to the process – the next spin led to a rebrand, and the next spin, a website redesign.
So, what does this mean? Since you’re asking, three things:
- Know your organisational values and how they should influence marketing activities (both internally and externally).
- Ask your customers how they feel, go beyond the transaction metrics. We’ve found they are usually fairly receptive to being included in the conversation.
- ‘Spin the wheel’, try it out, answer each section on your next campaign or project – you might be surprised what it turns up for you. Notice, too, how many times you skip straight to ‘delivery’, and just check yourself.
Thank you for indulging me, if you want to chat any more about any of this, including running through examples of how we’ve used The Purple Wheel – just get in touch @laura_crystlsd or firstname.lastname@example.org.