How to Understand Customers’ Needs and Fulfill Them

shutterstock_186070790-2In the September 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, Eric Almquist, John Senior and Nicolas Bloch describe 30 elements of value that meet four kinds of needs: functional (saves time, simplifies, reduces cost and risk), emotional (reduces anxiety, is nostalgic, provides fun and entertainment), life-changing (provides hope, motivation and affiliation or belonging) and social impact (self-transcendence).

How do communications professionals incorporate these values and needs into strategic PR, social media and content development plans?

One theory is to “start with why,” says Simon Sinek, author, speaker, professor, consultant, ethnographer and thought leader. After studying successful companies and leaders, Sinek codified a formula called The Golden Circle. His TEDx Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”  is the third-most-viewed video on

In his talk, Sinek says of how people across every industry make decisions, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” His theory spurs us to examine the underlying causes of buyer behavior.

Customer-centricity is the goal. Yet, as of the end of 2016, only 29% of B2B customers are fully engaged, 60% are indifferent and 11% are actively disengaged, says a Gallup report. B2C customer satisfaction is higher, at 65% to 85%.

Many organizations employ data and analytics technologies to build competitive advantage and improve customer experience. Yet 86% of executives say their organizations have been at best only somewhat effective at meeting the primary objective of their data analytics programs, according to a McKinsey survey. What is the issue? "The results suggest that the biggest hurdles to an effective analytics program are a lack of leadership support and communication, ill-fitting organizational structures and troubles finding (and retaining) the right people for the job," McKinsey says.

With big data, people who create algorithms have inherent biases, and systems can judge only correlations, not causations. “More and more money flows into PR and social analytics tools, APIs and services, but users don’t know how to filter, transform or digest and apply the data effectively,” says Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research. “Only human expertise adds the benefits of content relevancy, data accuracy, interpretive analysis, actionable insights and strategic guidance that decision-makers need.”

In the book Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, a growth and innovation expert, explains that most companies are organized by categories of customers, competitors or products so that nobody is responsible for experiences.

The marketer’s task is to understand the job the customer wants done and illustrate how products and brands fill that need.

Once the marketer identifies the why, it's appropriate to develop a documented content marketing strategy to outline key business and customer needs, and a detailed plan for targeted positioning to educate, inspire or offer newsworthy content.

The Content Marketing Institute says there are no definitive templates for building a content marketing strategy—each is unique to the business that creates it. Below are five components commonly included:

  1. Your business case for innovating with content marketing: Communicating your reasons for creating content, the risks involved, and your vision of what success will look like, to gain executive support for your strategy.
  2. Your business plan for content marketing: These are the goals you have for your content program, the unique value you will provide through content and details of your business model, with potential obstacles and opportunities that may occur as you execute your plan.
  3. Your audience persona and customer mapping: Describe the specific audiences for whom you will create content, what their needs are and what their content engagement cycle looks like. Create a content map that illustrates the buyer’s journey throughout the life cycle.
  4. Your brand story: Explain the ideas and messages you want to communicate, how they differ from the competition and how you perceive the audience landscape evolving with your new story.
  5. Your channel plan: Include all the platforms, criteria, processes and objectives for choosing them and how they will connect to create a cohesive brand conversation.

Wendy Glavin is founder and CEO of Wendy Glavin Agency. Wendy is a 20-year veteran of corporate, agency, consulting and small business ownership. From General Electric to Burson-Marsteller, and other B2B2C firms, Wendy’s experience spans a variety of industry sectors. Wendy is a published writer and guest speaker. Please contact Wendy at [email protected] or through