When was the last time you asked your customer why they buy from you instead of your competitor? 

Do you think you know what your top customers would tell you?

People working in successful businesses  tend to have little time for reflection. They are too busy either landing a new account or serving a growing load of existing customers. 

With so much to think about, the human brain takes shortcuts. There’s no time to ask for reasons behind a customer’s buying behavior. We’re too busy answering who, what, when, and how. The answer to “why?” is assumed to be the substance in the company’s elevator pitch and whether or not the bottom line is the right color.

Complacency about the “why” in your customer relationships likely neglects the growth opportunities those relationships represent and has the potential to keep you in an incremental state of growth instead of at a scaling rate.

Control the narrative

Big bucks are spent every year to identify a customer’s why. Companies use surveys, focus groups, high-dollar consultants, and even dedicated customer outreach employees to probe for actionable insights. 

The largest and most successful businesses don’t ask customers why they stay just to learn how to serve their customers better. They also want to know if their customers are buying for the right reasons—namely, the reasons the businesses have promoted through their marketing channels.

Your company may lack the necessary resources dedicated to designing, deploying, and analyzing customer surveys. But every company can afford to invest in establishing the why in its customers’ minds—and keeping it there.

Defining the customer’s why is one of content marketing’s superpowers. 

Constancy in the face of change

To understand how marketing fits into the bigger picture, it’s helpful to separate the odd couple that often shows up groped together on corporate org charts: sales and marketing.

B2B sales often requires understanding the customer’s immediate needs. The salesperson’s job is to shape the company’s offering so it fits the prospect’s current circumstances like a glove. 

Marketing can be an important component of the sales conversation. It can create new opportunities using tools like cold emails, websites, and tradeshow collateral. It also can give salespeople prepackaged narratives designed around typical prospects.

But marketing doesn’t stop there.

The B2B sales cycle doesn’t end with the first deal. It carries on throughout the relationship. Over the course of years, the people involved in the relationship often change. So do the businesses on both sides, not to mention the world around them. 

In the midst of so much change, the seller needs to control the customer’s rationale for sticking around. 

Content marketing establishes and reinforces the customer’s understanding of your business: 

  • Who you are, 
  • What you do, and 
  • What values drive you forward. 

The goal is to firmly implant these ideas in the audience’s minds. Once the foundation is in place, the customer no longer needs to think about why they work with you. They know—and you have provided the language they use to articulate it to themselves and others.

All farmers know one cardinal rule: What you water grows. 

Pickup trucks hatch from chlorinated chickens 

Establishing the customer’s why is nothing new in marketing. 

Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, might be the most influential person no one has heard of. He was behind some of the twentieth century’s biggest social trends, for good or ill. His ideas shaped the campaigns that inspired women to take up smoking in the 1920s (for his client, the American Tobacco Company) and formed the political energy behind the 1954 US intervention in Guatemala (for his client, the United Fruit Company).

He also taught America to think pickup trucks are sexy.

In 1964 Europe imposed a tariff on American chicken in response to concerns about the health effects of U.S. poultry processors’ use of chlorine in their meat cleaning processes. In retaliation, the Johnson administration imposed a tariff on European light trucks.

At the time, pickup trucks were a tiny fraction of the U.S. auto market. They were mostly found on farms and ranches, where they were valued for their utility.

The new tariff regime gave Detroit automakers a competitive edge over their European competitors. But the traditional market for pickup trucks was small. 

They reached out to Bernays, who used his techniques of neuromarketing to transform the American psyche’s relationship with light trucks. His work convinced American auto buyers that pickups aren’t just tools. They’re symbols of the driver’s sexual prowess.

I told this story to my young nephew when he was about to buy an expensive, high-maintenance diesel pickup. “But trucks are sexy,” he said. And in a sense, he’s right. Even if objectively a gas-guzzling behemoth has no relationship with human reproduction, in the minds of many, it’s the hottest thing around.

Detroit’s automakers supplied their customers with all the why they needed.

Your business may not have the advertising budget to transform an entire country’s relationship with what you sell. But on a smaller scale, you can influence your customers to think differently about your company. 

What is your business doing to establish and reinforce its why in the minds of its customers?

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