In the 1980s a defense company had fielded a new piece of high tech equipment to the military. Manuals had been meticulously written and scrutinized to give the troops step-by-step direction on how to properly operate and maintain the equipment. Shortly after the deployment, reports of equipment failure began coming in. Hydraulic valves and lines were blowing and the equipment would not function as expected. Company experts were sent into the field to detect/identify the flaw and to repair and replace if possible. Arriving at the site the inspectors discovered the problem. The operating manuals, though properly written were speaking in terms foreign to the operators. It was discovered that the writers in the company office and the operators in the field had experienced a paradigm shift.
A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. In the directions, the young soldiers were instructed to turn the valve either clockwise or counter clockwise during the process, but it was discovered that every one of the young troops was wearing a digital watch. The operators did not know what clockwise and counter clockwise meant – they had grown up reading the time off the face of a digital watch without any clock hands. A technology change for the end user had made time tested vocabulary outdated and unknown to that same user. The company had not accounted for the changed perspective of the end user.
As business owners it is imperative that we keep aware of changes in society, technology, products and demographics that might impact how we communicate with our customers. Fundamental marketing philosophies indicate that the more we know about our intended customer/user the better we can convey the message of our product.
Here are five specific areas that a business may need to know:
- Is the product or service age specific? If the product is best suited to a specific age group, the business needs to know the best means to catch their attention. Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millenniums and Gen Z customers when generalized have different views and have grown up with different products influencing their lives.
- Is the product or service technology specific? Several years ago a big selling item was a VCR/ DVD player that could take VCR tapes and transfer the content to the current DVD medium. Currently video rental companies are becoming a thing of the past as live streaming and the Cloud replace both the VCR and the DVD.
- Is your product or service adaptable to marketing and sales by something other than storefront? Once the question was do you know how to effectively market via Internet? Now the question has become do you need a Website or a mobile Website or an app?
- Is the product or service cultural or ethnicity specific? There are those products that are more prominently purchased by one culture or another. Is yours one of them?
- Has the culture of your community diversified? In many areas of the US smaller towns as well as major urban areas have seen the cultural and ethnic ratio become more diversified. Many areas seek out multilingual employees to meet the changing demographic and better assist in the sales of their products.
Knowing the customer helps us to learn their language. The better we understand their driver and vocabulary the better we can be at selling our goods to them. In the earlier story the hydraulics were repaired, new training illustrations were written, and the equipment and personnel performed flawlessly. But the cost of not knowing the end user was high. Can you afford not knowing the language of your customer?
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