We’re all consumers of something, whether it’s your daily morning cereal, Netflix subscription or a fitness app. Somewhere out there, there’s a marketing team thinking about you, the questions you need answered and problems that need solving. How do they gain so much insight about you?

Jodi Petrie, March’s Executive Vice President, has been working with consumer brands for over 15 years, with big name brands such as Sony, eHarmony, and New Balance. Jodi now leads March’s Consumer Innovation Group, partnering with consumer tech brands. This week Jodi gave me a quick lesson on crafting insightful strategies for consumer marketing.

Q: How is consumer marketing different from B2B marketing?

I actually don’t think it’s different at all. Either way, you’re selling to people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s B2B or B2C, we’re helping people understand our client’s business, product or services. You just have to understand the people you’re selling to.

Q: How do companies identify and get to know their potential customers?

Research, research, research! It’s critically important, regardless of whether you’re doing content, PR or brand marketing. You always start with:

  • Who are you selling to?
  • What are their problems and needs?
  • What are they worried or happy about?

Once you understand the audience, you have to analyze how your product, service or offering matches their needs. Actually talking to them gets to the core of understanding them. Then, you can create smart strategies that incorporate your research and insights.

Q: How do you gather data for brand work?

I start with internal research. I get every executive at a company in the same room and ask them a very simple question: How would you describe your company in two words? I have never had everyone there answer the same way. My job is to get everyone on the same page. If they don’t have a cohesive understanding of who they are and what they do, there’s no way the audience can understand it.

Then I look at who they are selling to, and ask: What do you need?

There’s always a commonality in marketing (called the red thread) connecting the business to their audience—you just have to uncover the universal theme to find it.

Q: Which stories closely connect to the target audience?

At least 80 percent of the time, companies make the mistake of talking about themselves. Nobody cares what your product does and why you think it’s the best. They care about what problem you’re going to solve, which is why we spend a lot of time finding the emotional connection businesses can make. Emotions will always connect a buyer to a product or service stronger, longer and with more value than bits, bytes and benefits will.

We start with the buyer before anyone else. If you look at brands like Patagonia, REI, Nike or even Sephora, they know their audience inside and out. What’s fascinating is companies like this don’t just sell to me, they want me to become such a brand fan that I’ll get my friends to use it, and their friends will use it, and they’ll tell two friends—creating a buyer universe. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do: create real evangelists, not just customers who swipe their credit cards, then later buy from a competing brand.

Q: Is creating a buyer universe different for consumer tech companies?

I don’t think so. For example, we’re working with Laudio, a healthcare staff relationships management platform, on their brand strategy. We initially spent a ton of time with the company demonstrating the product. Finally we figured out that HR people—the target audience—feel like they’re not really part of the hospital system. The HR people are trying to get closer to care. They want to feel like patients are healthier because of their work. That’s a real human insight that shapes how we talk about the product and how we think about the business.

At the end of the day, we’re really trying to help consumer tech companies tell a story about why the audience matters.

Q: Once you know who your audience is, how do you figure out which channels will best reach them?

We’re dropping preconceived notions about what we should be doing. In the consumer realm, we often see companies solely focused on media relations and awareness. Inevitably, they come back and say the awareness did not sell products. This is because their buyers are looking for answers to their problems on more niche sites, or through how-to videos on YouTube. They’re not necessarily reading the Boston Globe or Women’s Health anymore. Just because it doesn’t sell doesn’t mean it’s not valuable however, exciting national media still creates a special content moment for a brand to repurpose, celebrate, and use as soft endorsement.

Niche media drives sales, but we have to follow the cookie crumbs that buyers leave to define the appropriates publications. It used to be that buyers would come to you, but now you have to go find them. The only way you find them? It’s like hide and seek, you have to know them and to know where their favorite spots are.

Want to create a buyer universe for your consumer tech brand? Reach out to March’s Consumer Innovation Group to get started.