Turning clients into the target audience

The first rule of being a strategist is to know your audience. We need to understand what makes them tick to have the best chance of truly connecting with them. So, we regularly walk a mile in their shoes, seeking that special insight into their lives that will help unlock a brief. It’s the bit of the job I love most.

So a few months ago, I decided to apply that same approach to the people we spend most of our time with: our clients. I turned marketers into my target audience, taking part in a mini MBA in Marketing with Mark Ritson in the hope of better understanding what excites and motivates marketers – as well as what keeps them awake at night.

As we all know, Mark doesn’t mince his words. Owner of the most powerful bullshit radar in the industry, he regularly rebrands marketing theories as myths and pulls claims to bits using logic and evidence. Famously, he exposed the weaknesses of ‘influencer marketing’ using his arse, literally. Unsurprisingly, the MBA course was delivered (online) with similar wit and enthusiasm.

Mark’s step-by-step approach to the enduring fundamentals of what good marketing actually is, and what you must do to know what you must do, blows away the smoke and smashes the mirrors that can distract us from the real job. The course concluded with a case study exam in which you get to play marketer and have three weeks to write a marketing strategy for a fictional business. It actually kept me awake at night.

But the most powerful message I took from the whole course was one of the first things he said:

The first rule of marketing is that we are not the customer.

What Mark meant by this is that great marketers don’t rely on their assumptions or intuitions into the customer mind-set; they take the time to understand their customer, orienting all their thinking around that customer understanding.

I started this post by saying that understanding the customer is where we as strategists begin, but it’s not something we often consciously state or honour in the same way that Mark’s statement does. I found the deliberate acknowledgement of the need to assume no knowledge refreshingly liberating, reinforcing the importance of hearing what’s being said with clarity, and seeing what’s being done with a desire to truly understand.

Walking in the shoes of marketers gave me a brilliant way to view and approach the marketing process, as well as the chance to feel the buzz and experience some sleepless nights when pulling a plan together. But ultimately it reminded me that if you really want to understand someone, you need to assume that you know nothing about them.

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Written by Ben Stewart, Head of Strategy at Now.