Marketers watch the Jetsons, but your customers are probably keeping up with the Joneses

It’s good to know your product inside out, but it’s better to know your product from the outside in

We were huddled around a conference table in a marketing war room one day around the time that smart-home technology products went from being the stuff of science fiction movies to being real things you could have in your real home.

The Internet of Things, as it was being called, was here. As I worked on behalf of a consumer technology company that had its sight set on being a household name in this space, I found myself on the receiving end of a jargon-infused presentation from the product lead for the newly formed Smart Home division. He was extolling the features that this new tech could bring to the average American household.

“Welcome to the fourth Industrial Revolution, where the complete digital transformation of your everyday life is possible.”

“Imagine a seamlessly integrated cloud-based-but-fully-encrypted network managing your home automation functionality from the palm of your hand.”

“We’ve got shiny new objects. Look at these bells, look at these whistles!” (Ok, I made this last one up for effect) 

I could go on (the product lead did, mercilessly), but you get the idea. The strategy, he said, would be simple: Show people that the future is here and that they can be part of it by embracing this set of products. “The future you’ve always imagined,” he concluded, “is here.”

I’ll admit, everyone in the room was excited —  myself included. The only problem was that the consumers we were trying to reach hadn’t actually imagined a future like this, not in a real sense anyway. They were more occupied with planning dinner and vacations and the logistics of their hectic everyday lives. This was a fact we were soon going to be forced to acknowledge.

The fueled-by-the-future campaign launched like a doomed mission to Mars, and the performance metrics fell back to earth. People weren’t buying, sure, and they weren’t even sticking around for the sales pitch.  Something had to change, but what?

It turns out, while “the internet” was abuzz with the latest and greatest “of things,” our actual target audience was more concerned with the things they were doing in their normal lives. In all the hype and hubbub, the product marketing team forgot one universal truth of marketing: You must learn to see your product and service through the lens of your customer, with the language of your customer, built around the use cases of your customer.

While we were paying attention to the Jetsons, our audience was paying more attention to the Joneses.

Sure, to us in the marketing and tech echo chamber, the Internet of Things was a childhood dream of the future made real. While we’d still have to wait for flying cars, we’d have toasters that texted and refrigerators that would let us know when we were low on milk. But to the everyday consumer (or more pointedly, the 30-to-45-year-olds with 1-2 kids in select suburban markets), the jargon sounded like, well, something a robot would say. And this is why they tuned out most of the marketing coming from the product team.

The lesson? It’s not about the benefit. It’s about the benefit of the benefit.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole,” Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt famously said … and the same applies to smart home technology (and likely, the product you are currently in charge of marketing). We may know what makes the product special when comparing it to the competition, but if we didn’t put those benefits in terms that our end user would understand, we’d run the risk of losing them. So, what did we do? We spent time studying real people who were really trying to use these smart home products in their real lives. 

  • Was it about the resolution specs of the in-home camera, or was it about the fact that a dad could check in on his kids from his home office without having to leave the room?
  • Was it about security encryption details, or was it about the fact that when you feared you left the oven on while on vacation, you could check on it from your phone?
  • Was it about smart sensors that could automatically adjust based on physical parameters, or was it about adjusting the thermostat in your infant daughter’s room from your smartphone once you finally got her to sleep?

Instead of talking up what the products could do, we focused on what customers could do with the products. That’s what resonated with them. It wasn’t about keeping up with the Jetsons; it was more about keeping up with the Joneses. And so we pivoted our marketing strategy. And in turn, we grew our market share and subscription sales.

Instead of focusing on promoting product features, we featured real-world use cases through content marketing that presented the products in a reality our customers could relate to. Instead of shouting benefits through banner ads, we wrote articles and created videos that could be used to rank in search, be shared on social, and fueled some of the best-performing email campaigns the company had ever seen. All by focusing on the real world versus an imagined futuristic one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my toaster has been texting me this whole time, and apparently I’ve gone over my word count in this post. R

If you’re looking for a better understanding of how your audience thinks, connect with us soon to find out how. It’s one of the things Revmade has been helping brands with for five years.


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