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The power of outcomes

Originally posted on medium.com.

Over the last several months, I’ve written about the idea of intentionally earning customer trust and its benefits. One of the central elements behind that approach is the act of your brand clearly focusing on doing things in the customer's best interest.

Let’s explore that a bit more.

When customers buy whatever it is you sell, they are trying to accomplish something. Clayton Christensen calls this “jobs to be done”, where the customer is hiring your product or service to fulfill a job. I call them outcomes.

They are the desired outcome or state the customer is seeking. That outcome is achieved, in part or whole, through the use of your products or services. I’ve heard people also call this the customer’s purpose with the brand, but I think that gets too confusing with brand purpose, so I call them outcomes.

The idea of aligning around your customers' outcomes is a powerful one. It lets you, as a brand, transcend merely pitching your products into a place where you can help your customer achieve more value through the use of your products.

You are, in essence, climbing the value chain by doing this. If this sounds a lot like what content marketing experts have been saying for years, you're right. The heart of content marketing is about creating great material that address the customer’s needs in the adjacent subject areas in which your products operates.

In many ways, these are the outcomes. A simple example I read today in this article about what brands get wrong with content is instead of selling horse saddles, you create amazing content that sells the idea of horseback riding through amazing vistas.

This concept was further reinforced when I read Robert Rose and Joe Puluzzi’s book Killing Marketing. To boil the book down to a couple of sentences, the authors’ thesis is that marketing doesn’t need to be a cost center; it can actually become a profit center.

Brands are shifting to become media companies, and when they make this shift, some realize the power of creating an audience as an asset to the business, not just a means to and end for a transaction.

Examples they used were companies like Redbull, Terminus’ Flip My Funnel, the venerable Hubspot Inbound.org (which sadly just closed), and Arrow Electronics. All of these brands are creating or assembling media properties, and using great content to recruit deeply engaged audiences that will see so much value, they’ll eventually buy whatever it is that brand can sell to them.

What struck me though was why this works. By shifting to a media model, these brands have had to adopt a publisher’s mindset. It took me back to my days when I read David Meerman Scott’s book New rules of PR and Marketing where he said to “think like a publisher,” when social media was shiny and new.

This publisher mindset forces the brand to think about the customer’s outcomes. The subjects and topics their readership care about and want to read about. It forces the brand to NOT talk about their products, but rather recruit their audience through talking about the customer’s desired areas of interests, growth, and outcomes.

Beyond the obvious benefits, this approach gets you the attention of these people in a way advertising never can. The added bonus is you gain an incredible amount of market insight and learning by cultivating this audience that is nothing short of wondrous.

While I love the ambition that Joe and Rob paint in their book, you can achieve a lot of these benefits without reforming your marketing org into a media machine. I think it can start with some easy, low-hanging fruit steps.

The first thing to do is understand why your customers use your products or services.

Go beyond the typical persona exercise. Interview customers, partners and salespeople to understand their scenarios and use cases and what was the why behind those. Keep asking why five times after each layer of the onion you peel back. Get to the heart of why these people are using your products. Each and every scenario of use.

If you are a B2B company, sit behind your customers and watch them use your products, and where it meshes with other products up- and down-stream. Understand the business processes and why they do it the way they do it.

In the consumer world, find ways to watch customers using your products. Find ways to get them to share that with you. Create communities that allow consumers to share the most innovative uses of your products, like the folks at Duck Tape did. Keep asking why until you bottom out on all of your customers' outcomes.

Once you find the patterns of how customers use your products and the jobs they are doing, you can start to create content that helps your customers achieve those desired outcomes faster, easier, and more predictably.

Find ways to connect users to each other in ways they can help each other too. You’ll still get credit in the goodwill piggybank for making the connections. If your products are complicated or multi-stage, help guide your customers through their journey of discovery and realization of value from the outcome. Again, it’s not about your product, but of the value of the outcome derived from your products that matter here.

It’s fine to explain how your product is an ingredient in that outcome and how to use to achieve the most value towards the desired outcome, but it’s just a piece in the greater puzzle.

Another great example of this is what Nestle Purina is doing with their Petfinder.com site.

I was onstage with them at the Gartner for Marketing Leaders event explaining how they were using our solution to directly connect better with pet owners. You see, Purina wants to help its customers be the most successful, happiest pet owners they can be.

They achieve this by first helping you learn what's important to you, identify the right type of pet for you, and find your next fur-baby, working in partnership with local adoption agencies. Once you adopt, they shift, using their knowledge of you to make the most successful transition for your pet into their new forever home. That includes not just nutrition advice but behavioral support and environmental guidance. Purina is helping foster happy pets and confident pet owners, which leads to the best outcomes for both.

When you align yourself with your customers’ outcomes and help them achieve value, your relationship changes from vendor to partner. In a world where there is little loyalty and trust, this is a game changer. That’s why it’s important to think of your customers and even pre-customers as an audience, which is a valuable asset.

Even if you never sell these people your product, they are very likely recommending you to their friends and family. Outcomes are the future of marketing, and it is indeed a powerful tool for those with the foresight to harness it.

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