How To Understand Your Customers Better than your Competitors

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Chris Radford author of the book Attractive Marketing is a former marketing director of Pepsi and managing director at Head Sports

Show Notes

. His business, Differentiate ( supports business leaders to create better marketing and sales strategies.

  • His methodology, called The Attractive Thinking Approach is based on these five steps:
    • Pinpoint - Understanding customer problems
    •  Position - Solving them better than your competitors
    • Perfect - Creating Products customers love
    • Promote - Making sure customers can buy them
    • Pitch - Making it happen
  •  He believes that people only buy emotionally from people they like but that they also want a product that leaves them feeling in control of a situation
  • Two simple tools he recommends to understand your customers better than your competitors is a customer interview and to survey the market using a research company that provide customer panels of representative groups.
  •  Chris particularly admires Riverford the organic veg box company and their way of communicating with their customers.
  • The best way to contact Chris is at or by email at [email protected] 
  • His book Attractive Thinking 

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Shireen: Hello, and welcome to Brand Tuned, successful brands successful business, the show for entrepreneurs and brand creators, where we discuss personal and business Brands to give you ideas and inspiration for your own brand. I'm Shireen Smith, lawyer, entrepreneur, author, and advocate for developing purpose based brands to change.

Chris Radford is a former Marketing Director of Pepsi and managing director at head sports, his business differentiate, supports business leaders to create better marketing and sales strategies. He's the author of the book, attractive thinking. And I'm delighted to have him with us today to discuss among other things, how to identify your ideal client. So Hello, Chris, welcome to the podcast.

Chris: Hi Shireen, great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Shireen: So Chris, how did you get into marketing tell us a bit more about how you got to where you are today and how you help businesses now.

Chris: I started my my career in marketing when I left university and and I got a marketing trainee job with United biscuits, which involve me starting in sales. And so I spent my first day putting price tickets on packets of biscuits in a shop in Harlow. So and, and learning about the fundamentals of, of display, and of talking to customers and pricing and, and sales communications, right, right from the off. And, and then I went in, I moved up through the ranks they're working on on Terry's chocolates and movies biscuits as a marketing manager and when to be head of marketing of Pepsi after that, where we spent launched the Pepsi Challenge brought a very successful advertising campaign all about Pepsi, Pepsi being the choice of the generation and then we went and then I went to spent a couple of years in head head sports as a as a managing director of their sports equipment distribution, which was very powerful and learning about dealing with a trade and talking to customers. And and then launch differentiate as a as a consultancy, which initially was quite focused on analyzing markets and numbers for clients and later developed into a the business that is now to help clients create brand strategy that everyone is convinced to work.

Shireen: Okay, so how long have you been doing that now? Chris?

Chris: About 30 years.

Shireen: Well, in differentiate.

 Chris: As as, yes, it was 28 years as an as an independent business.

Shireen: Oh, yeah. Okay, so the majority then is helping smaller businesses, I guess, or do you also do still work with large businesses.

Chris: The, the bulk of my work was in has been actually with medium to larger businesses. My initial clients were people like Mars, creating celebrations, and taking Galaxy into the Middle East and turning it into a three quarter million dollar brand. And working with Scotts gardening company, Mira Fran, Miracle Grow, and then grow business to business clients, and most recently, working with a pharmaceutical startup called most Velia.

Shireen: Great, so not just in the biscuit, they're all drinks categories. 

Chris: And I've done a lot of work in in food and drinking consumer products. And that's probably been the bulk of my work. But I have found the principles of attractive thinking have applied very well in in business business marketing as well.

Shireen: Yeah, because I've been doing some work on identifying the ideal client and there's so much written about products. And, you know, it's quite difficult for people to apply that to a service business and yet it's Critical to identify your ideal client. So do you have some tips for people on how to do this? What? How to go about it?

Chris: Yeah, I always think that you start by identifying the problem that you're solving for the people that you have actually worked for, or that you want to work for. Because as I say, as I say, it kind of the first question, the attractive thinking approach is five questions. And the first one is, who's your customer, and what's their problem. And because the raison d'etre of the purpose of the business, is really to solve a problem to address a need for customers. Because if you're not doing that, then you're not going to thrive. If you're just doing something you want to do, and no interest to customers then, and what interests people, people don't engage with brands and businesses, because they like them or because they want to do them a favor. They do it because it helps them, helps them feel better, helps them, helps them with food, helps them with entertainment, helps them with their business helps make their business more successful. There's all sorts of possible possible things, but your and, and your business will be doing something, when people buy things and they go, that's what I need. And, and when we provide the thing that people need, then then businesses will be attracted to us. So if with your original question to me was identifying the ideal clients, and I prefer to phrase it as crystallizing the problem that we solve for that client. And that will probably give us some definition as to who that person is. I would also caution, and this too much on the idea that there is one kind of model client, because what you'll find is that you'll endlessly attract people that don't fit that kind of I was I've been in meetings rarely said, we have all these off strategy consumers, you know, people that don't fit the profile, but actually buy the product. And, and that is true of every market. Because we get business buy through a lot of new customers, a lot of relatively light buyers. Most of our business comes from people who deal with us, not as much. The heavy buyers are often not as important as the like bias in terms of the actual amount of business, my business growth we get. And what I think we can crystallize, though, is the problem that we solve. So whether it's for a giant brand like Apple, solving quite a large range of problems, but fundamentally providing us with a very powerful piece of communications equipment that allows us to do all sorts of things. To Mars bars for the client I used to work for, which is all about energy, boost, and, and, and taste. And, but there's a brand which monitors the company with all their different brands, they have always very powerful on each brand has a specific purpose in the needs that it satisfies. So Snickers was for hunger. Mars was for energy. Galaxy was for indulgence. And Maltesers is for not feeling too guilty, and so forth.

Shireen: Yeah, there is this constant interaction between the product and the customer problem like I would never buy a Mac computer, but I do buy an iPhone. So I guess it's a kind of different, different customer that they've got for one category of, of their products. I guess we're all in that same boat that although we've got a business providing a number of different solutions, when you're looking at a particular product, you're looking at the problem that that solves for your customers.

Chris: And also you'll find that your customer has, that the customer that buys from you, you just gave a good example they're sharing them and customer buys to me also buys from somebody else. And they're addressing different things. So it's helpful to understand what else people are buying as well as what they're buying from us. I think that computer example is is relevant. It was certainly true of the legal services work that I did. It's definitely true with the pharmaceutical work By the way doing you, you tend to find that people have a kind of portfolio of brands that they use. And that portfolio shifts over time.

Shireen: Yeah, I think that's why it's also quite complicated because it's not just one customer profile, like, you've got to find different clumps of people who, who would respond to what you've got, like, so it's not going to be baby boomers or millennials, it's going to be people with a certain worldview, that and how to identify that is, I think, really tricky.

Chris: Yeah, those generational definitions of market groups are, I think, quite unhelpful? Yeah. Because, essentially, it's an age band. Yeah. And it's, and there's all sorts of different people within that age band. Millennials come with a wide range of people, baby boomers equally, and different wealth levels, different attitudes, different orientation, to their sense of self worth, and all sorts of things. So I mean, you know, when I look at differentiating as an example. So I look, what I did to identify the client was just to look back at exactly who it was. So as like the CEO of max value, Rana Maxwell is independent, ambitious founder, raising money to get a new, a new company that's going to create new pharma brands, by switching medicines from ones that are available only on prescription to ones that will be available over the counter. To another recent client, Martin bready, who used to work as the General Manager at Scots in the UK, and more recently has been the managing director of Squires. And he got us in because he was taken on the new job as managing director Squires. And he wanted to set some direction, and practical strategies and tasks. And he wanted to get the company to create them and to prioritize them. And we ran some workshops for them and help them work through that. And he called me the other day, actually, just to say, while it was while he was closed, and all staff are on furlough, and what have you, but to say how well it had worked and how they were, and how they're optimistic about their ability to pick up as they've never been allowed to open their stores again.

Shireen: And so how do you help someone like that narrow their focus on, you know, the customer that they should advertise to, and, you know.

Chris: In that case, we were, the priority there was, was specific initiatives out of each of their product areas, how we did it was to we did the exercise of got a group of the management together, from not just the senior management, but from people from the stores, and people from the head office. And we got them to work through descriptions of all the different types of customers, they help. And in a workshop, and we also got them to them work through all the problems that those people have that, that cause them to want to go to a garden center, everything from a like a nice day out, or something to do specific problems in the garden, to seeking advice to simple quite functional things like I need a barbecue. And, and add to and, of course, a lot of their businesses cafes. So we also have quite a big look at the whole time out. And the kind of people that were using the cafe environments, what occasions it's often another valuable thing, what occasion time the day, that and and we then did some analysis and ranking and using some of our systems to determine which were the activities where squires would be able to be most successful and compete against other retail outlets or other opportunities that are out. And which were likely to be big markets or small markets, which were likely to be more profitable markets or less profitable markets. And so we help kind of create a framework and then lead them into a much more creative phase of what can we do then. And then a system of assessment of about two or 300 ideas, they had to get down to 12 major initiatives that the company was going to get behind and invest in from improving the cafes, to building up the pets business to and so forth and bear As things that they they elected to do.

Shireen: So how did you choose who to question about, did you?

Chris: In that case, we did this out of the existing knowledge of the management team. So I just, I want people from within the business covering the functions, from finance to personnel, to marketing, to operations, store managers. And so we got a rep, the qualification from participating was to have some insight into how the company works, and to have some insight into how customers think and behave. But from that from day to day experience, and it's almost always where we start, before we go into any market research, is we start with what the management team understand as the answer to the question, Who am I customers? And what are the problems that we help themselves? And then we go on to the question, how do we solve those problems better than also other people?

Shireen: So then you're doing market research in terms of finding out what the competitors are doing out there?

Chris: And that the market research we then go on to do is that is usually with Well, yeah, that we would certainly look at competitors. But that's, that's like desk research. And then and then we will go into the customer research we will do is about the the problems is the how important are the problems they have? And then how, how important to them other different problems, so which are the biggest ones that that really burn? And then also what kind of features of the business are most attractive and most appealing? So I'm, when we do market research, it's, it's about insight into the customer needs behaviors, and once rather than into what customers tell us, then I buy in the future.

Shireen: Right, and this idea of having an finding an emotional reason why the customer would buy from you. How does that sit with the idea that they're not sort of necessarily going to be fans who are going to buy from you more than more than once?

Chris: It's because people only only buy from people they like. So, and there are different kinds of emotion, I mean, in Maxwellian, we talk about leaving people in control of their health, improved feeling in control of their health companies creating brands that will be known for, for switching medicines from prescription to for making medicines that were previously only available prescription to make an easy to buy, like Nurofen was switched some years ago and more recently, Viagra was switched by Pfizer, and to and this leads people feeling control. So understanding the kind of the brand experience. A mentor of mine, Mike Harris created the bank first direct, and he always talks about the fact that the whole goal of that brand was to leave people feeling totally taken care of. And when you understand that brand experience, and in the miracle grind the gardening that was leaving people feeling relaxed, that was easy. We always used to say there that some of our best customers were what we call the pots, patios and the glass of wine group, to people who didn't really want to do gardening, but they like sitting out in the garden and enjoying it. So the job of our products was to make it as easy as possible for them to have a weed free, green attractive garden with abundant plant growth and so forth.

Shireen: So if you've got all these different people, how do you choose who is the ideal, or are they all part of your ideal client? Sort of different clumps of we look at?

Chris: Having got a list of different types of people? Yeah, from from one of the from a, from an internal from a brainstorm, which you could do on your own if it's your own business, but it's a bit hard, you know, it's really a lot easier to bounce ideas off somebody else. A group of three people or five or six people that ideal, but then how do you rank them? What I do is, is look at which are the biggest groups, which are the groups that are increasing in numbers of people automate the spending. So it's growing, which are the highest value. And, and also, which of them have unmet needs, who are struggling to get the solution to the problem that we solve? And in which, where we think that we actually do it better than other people. So we kind of apply an analytical matrix to all of those five variables and, and from that pops out a, some clarity about which are, which are the most attractive clients, for us as a business? I call it pinpointing the answer to the question, who are your customers? And what's their problem? And it all starts with this thing about, but it always comes back to the problems that crystallizing what problems you solve for a business. In the case of differentiated, it's about getting a strategy that everybody's convinced to work, I found that the biggest problem people have is, is getting is convincing themselves that the strategy is worth investing in, because they're not sure it'll work or not. And then even bigger if there's a team of people involved, and the finance director involved, and getting everybody behind the plan.

Shireen: And so you're dealing with their marketing strategy, how does that sit with the business strategy as a whole?

Chris: Well, the business strategy, the brand strategy that, that we develop, actually kind of defines just about everything in the business. And the business strategy as a whole. So then, if you've once you know what products you're trying to sell, and how you're trying to attract people, what services you're trying to offer, and how you're trying to attract people to that defines all of the production, the operations, the financial structure, the people, all of the sales teams, all of these functions that you need to perform, to deliver that customer experience.

Shireen: We'll take a short break at this point, as I'd like to mention the Brand Tuned series of webinars, which support founders to think through their brand, taking IP into account at the right time, which is good for you make firm decisions about what to create, just visit brand And the webinars are reference right there on the homepage. Okay, back to the podcast. I guess, the number one problem, is this understanding your customer? And how can we really do it better than anyone else than our competitors? You know, what would what would you suggest somebody can do to make sure they really understand their customers problems, better than their competitors?

Chris: The first thing to do is to get us to do the thing I was talking about in a kind of brainstorming out yourselves is to list them out, then, because you're everybody involved in the business has some experience of customers. So everybody's got very valuable insights into that already, then there are really two simple tools that that you can apply. One is a customer and it's a series of customer interviews. To, to get 10 or 20 minutes with your customer. And, and, and, and, and explore with them and get them talking about how they operate in the market. And, and, and also assess your list with them are these things are these problems, which are the biggest which are the smallest. And you can do those customer interviews, what the easiest way to be honest, is one at a time. And you can also organize kind of group discussions but they take a lot more effort, it's quite difficult to get everybody in the room at the same place at the same time or online. Because today's world that will be online. All online, courtesy of zoom and various other services and then yeah, and I and that's what we call qualitative research to get under the skin and understand and more quantitative research, which is to look at the prevalence and scale is to survey the market. You can use to two primary tools to get it that one is you've got a customer list. Recognize that's not the market and that's your customer list. It It's a biased sample from the market. But it's often easy to access. And they're often quite responsive, especially if you've been nice to them in the past. Or you can go to the market by approaching companies like really research now and so forth. Sorry, the agenda and enter dynata, who and companies that provide consumer customer panel panels that represent groups of customers. And then you get a more properly structured sample of the market. But there's quite there's a fairly significant cost in and their use. The simplest thing is online surveys, which you can create yourself on, survey, monkey survey gizmo, or you can get agencies to code them up in a more sophisticated way for you. But even if you do it yourself, I would always do is get some advice on how to organize the questionnaire and structure the questions you can there is some expertise in in writing questions that don't lead people into giving them the answer that you want to hear. The answer you want to hear is what they actually think. Not not lead them to chill, lead in every market research can supply you with all the answers that you want. We can all I can do this as well, we can all design questions. I know exactly where the answers will come out. But that's not what we want. We want to find out what people really think. So you've got to there's a skill in writing those.

Shireen: Yeah, probably longhand answers rather than just picking a range of open ended.

Chris: Yes, that's right. Yeah. And, but. But if you were to get numbers on things, you tend to have to sort of close off lists and things. So to get the prevalence of what's most important to a group, or at least important to a group, when most common questions I asked people are what are the problems you have when you're, I mean, we did some work with some providing conveyancing conveyancing services for people buying and selling houses. And one of the problems you have when you're when you're looking for conveyancing services, or one of the problems you have in the in the house transaction, and then, and then give them a list and say which of these are the biggest, which are the smallest? And, and that led us to understand the importance of things like speed, in that particular case, and the importance of proactively managing the transaction to a timetable, and keeping and communicating with and communicate and providing communications to people you bought a house recently didn't use your eight. So yes, it's vividly still in your memory is to strategize around that. And then so. But I think there's no real clever at that. The other thing I would recommend is, there is this thing called social listening, you know, looking at your Facebook's Facebook page or a Facebook group. And I mean, I certainly we'd look at those things, but be very careful about how representative that is. And what people actually are willing to put onto those things compared to a private conversation with a customer, or, or a properly structured survey.

Shireen: Yeah, and they may not actually be your ideal customers anyway, the people making comments are social.

Chris: But you certainly you can do these things yourself. If you get professionals to do them. It'll almost certainly be better, but but the tools are out there now to help help people do it themselves.

Shireen: Great. I think I know the answer you will give to this from your book, but let's hear you What do you think about business advisors telling people to narrow their focus and pick a niche?

Chris: I think do that with caution. It is attention. If you pick a niche, recognize that that is the limit of your market. However the advantage of doing that is that it may be a lot easier to stand out and seem relevant to customers. So if you're providing marketing services and use our variety of services to account Since then, that's probably all the business you're gonna get. But you may well be more competitive than everybody else. And if you're happy with that, that market size, then defining and expressing that niche, telling customers that you work for these types of people, or work for people with these kinds of problems, is a good thing to do. My hesitation with larger businesses is that it can be catastrophic, because you actually don't realize that how much business you're getting from people who aren't your ideal customers. And if you shut them out of your marketing communications, some spectacular misfires by but by Burger King versus McDonald's, in the past by them concentrating on their core market of what they thought their core market was of young adult males. And, and completely missing the fact that so much of their business was was families, older people, children and all sorts of other customers, and their communications, misfired massively as a result, and they're the meanwhile McDonald's. Gailey went along, advertising themselves as being suitable for everybody. And in particular, consistently innovating their product offer to attract new audiences, whether it be health various forays into into healthier food, cheaper food, or premiums. And in that they've, they've always got something new coming out. And, and they seem to understand that product innovation is a great way to build your brand and attract customers.

Shireen: Oh, interesting. So is that a brand? Do you particularly admire? Chris? And if so why?

Chris: You asked me that. I thought about it. And then. So what I've decided to do is talk about the one that first came to my mind when I read the question, and the answer to that is Riverford. Which is delivers vegetable boxes, to houses all over the country, set up by a farmer called guy Watson. And who he set the business up following some very unsatisfactory conversations with supermarkets, who kind of treated him very poorly as a supplier. He tells some horrendous tales. And then eventually, he just walked out enough of this and decided to build a direct relationship with with local customers, which started off by delivering veg boxes around Devon and now doesn't seem to do all over the country. And as farms in, in different places in the UK, and in France, and every week, you get the option of some stunningly fresh, beautiful vegetables, he tells stories, he sends out stories every week about what's going on. But what's bothering him about what's happening in the farms, whether it's the weather, the government, Brexit or whatever, you know, he talks about all of these issues in a very frank and refreshing way. So you kind of get a relationship with the brand. And, and they and they now develop their website. So it's really it's pretty easy to to manage the supply. And and they had a bit of a hiccup with as demand went through the roof following lockdown. And struggling to manage that. But, but they sort of got on top of that. So I like the way they tell stories. I like the phenomenal reliability and quality of the product. And and the passion to bringing organic food sourced with a minimum of environmental impact and brought an end it's dropped out and they stopped at our doorstep every way.

Shireen: So how long have they been going? Because I've heard of them.

Chris: We've been using? I'm not sure 20 years? I've we've been a customer with them for nearly all those 20 years.

Shireen: 20 years. Okay, so they've had time to Yeah.

Chris: But they started as a as a family in Devon with a farm. Then we'll start somewhere. Yeah. So I like you know, what did I like about the Mr. Storytelling, I think and the quality of the product. The two things that stand out for me.

Shireen: Great. So Thank you very much for appearing on the podcast. Chris, how can people contact you? Where's the best way? What's, how can I find out?

Chris: Chris rocks or Chris at Chris is my email and then and the website, Chris has a contact page. And my preferred and my best recommendation is to be honest, just to get the book. Attractive thinking on Amazon Kindle is any 99 P at the moment? Well, I'm not quite sure what the, we reduced it for as a celebration of lock down. And and it and the the paperback is, it's I can't remember what that's priced out there. It kind of Amazon changes the price all the time. And so, yeah, explain it's a walk through the five questions that drive brand strategy and, and it it talks you through the whole thing of what's the point of your business? What's the purpose of your business and how you how you make that work. And it gives you a very clear idea of how I think and if I would say to somebody, if they're interested in finding out more, it's the best way to do it. I do blog sometimes from the website as well. That will increase shortly. And but the books really sets out. You know, whether you wanted to work with me or not as a result of reading that.

Shireen: Yeah, it's a brilliant book, I've found out about Byron sharp as it how brands grow and set me on a journey of discovery about brands. So yeah, excellent.

Chris: There are some fairly striking rules of the way that customers behave that I think are poorly understood in the in the, in the SME world that I tried to explain. Bring them alive in the book and, and explain as possible.

Shireen: Yeah, it was excellent. So thank you very much, Chris. And that's it.

Chris: Thank you very much, Shireen. Thank you.

Shireen: Thank you for listening to this episode of Brand Tuned, where we aim to answer the question. What does it take to create a successful business and brand? I'd love it. If you would take a moment to give me a review. If you have any questions, send me a message. You can find me on LinkedIn, or most other social media platforms, or on my personal website,