Which Comes First? Your Message or Your Market?

If you think about it, this is an interesting and not-so-uncommon marketing conundrum. Should your marketing program focus primarily on delivering your product message, touting the unique features and benefits only you can bring? Or should your communications first speak to your target market, delving into your customers’ wants, needs and concerns in order to make a connection?


Unlike the classic chicken-and-egg riddle, which generates plenty of comedic discourse but no definitive answer, the marketing riddle does indeed have an answer – namely, “Yes!” You need both.


Effective messaging depends on where you are meeting up with your customers in the marketplace, and what needs are driving their purchasing behavior. Marketers call these meet-ups between brands and potential buyers “touchpoints.”  There are potentially numerous touchpoints from the time your customer first encounters your brand, to the point of purchase and follow-up with your company as a regular buyer.


Let’s say a prospect has already decided to buy a particular type of product – a home mortgage – and is now comparing interest rates, terms and lender services before making a final decision. This point-of-purchase touchpoint is exactly when features-and-benefits messaging is king. Product information must be compelling enough to make your prospect’s selection of your brand an easy one.


But what about the rest of the time – which is most of the time! – when prospects are not ready to buy and your goal is to create market awareness or increase loyalty? A customer-focused approach is generally far more effective here. Why? Because the hard truth is that prospects don’t really care about you or your products. They care about themselves – this is human nature. They’re not spending time thinking about your brand, but brand messaging that causes them to respond emotionally can create the possibility of a positive connection to the brand. And this can translate into future sales.


One of the best examples of superb customer-focused marketing I’ve found is the “Thrive” campaign by Kaiser Permanente. Rather than talking about their fantastic medical facilities and staff, every advertisement tells a story that is touching or amusing while referencing their brand promise to help people live better lives and “thrive.” I continue to be impressed with this long-running campaign.


But back to the chicken-and-egg riddle – this is essentially a holistic concept representing the eternal cycle of life. There is no correct answer to “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?” because each is vital to the ultimate outcome. The same can be said of your customer communications. Both product messages and market-focused communications have their place in the customer dialogue, and each must be used appropriately to achieve the primary goal – a mutually beneficial and productive customer relationship. Ultimately, that’s what comes first!




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