Why understanding your audience is more important than understanding technology

Let me first clarify exactly what I mean. I believe that the ability to understand your audience (who they are, where they are, what device they’re using and most importantly of all, what they care about) is more important than understanding the mechanics of the digital channels through which you communicate (WordPress, Magento, Facebook, Google+, Mandril, Adwords, etc).

I raised this a few months ago at a management meeting and it was met with a mixed response; “How on earth can you effectively communicate with these people at all if you don’t have a strong grasp of the technology”.

Fine, but my point is this; it’s only by understanding the market that you can understand what technology really matters and therefore what technology you need to master. Whereas most companies, and we ourselves have been guilty of this, master those technologies with which they feel most comfortable and then attempt to shoe horn every last client into that one solution. So if your primary area of expertise is SEO you make every client prioritise SEO, if it’s Adwords you make them prioritise Adwords and if it’s Facebook you make them prioritise Facebook. It is the approach that most marketing companies take and it is nonsense.

My realisation of this came as a result of the work that James does in the maternity sector. He has now developed a team of designers, developers and copy writers around his market. The writers know next to nothing about SEO or social media or really any form of marketing, but they know exactly what matters to parents and with James’ guidance they have developed the sites into one of the largest maternity brands in the UK with nearly a million unique visits a month, a bestselling book and countless TV appearances by James and his senior editor (and mum of three young children), Siobhan. All this was achieved so quickly because of their passion and understanding for the maternity sector. Yes James had the advantage of having an entire company set up around that market, but was there any reason we couldn’t adopt a similar set up at Inbound with a collection of small teams each focusing on a specific market that they truly cared about? None whatsoever.

Following the change (and it has been a huge change internally) not only has our delivery improved considerably, but it’s a hell of a selling point. When I can sit down with a prospective client, explain (in their language) that we specialise in their market and understand precisely how best to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead of them, the only question that remains is when can we start.

There is one down side; to do this properly it can mean turning away projects that fall outside of your target areas. But believe me, that will be more than compensated for by a reduced attrition rate and much higher average client value.

Since making the change I’ve now noticed how many businesses (not just those within marketing) are guilty of getting this so wrong. They neglect the world of the client and instead make it all about their own skills and technology. The skills and technology should be a given. The competitive edge comes from how you can make them work for my world.

Dan