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'What women want': Inside the mind of your customer

March 7, 2016
One of my favorite movies of all time is What Women Want.

One of my favorite movies of all time is What Women Want. It's the story of an advertising executive, Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson), who has an accident and ends up with the "gift" of being able to hear what women are thinking.

My favorite scene is when Nick pitches a television spot to Nike, who wants to increase sales to female customers. Nick shows the Nike team footage of a 20-something woman on an open road. Narrating her story, he says, "The road doesn't notice if you are not wearing lipstick," and "you can call on the road whenever you feel like it." He sold them.

Nick nails the contract by adhering to two fundamental components of a successful advertising campaign: (1) set a clear goal, and (2) create a strategy to achieve this goal based on an understanding of what matters most to the customer.

I love the challenge of crafting the perfect message-the language that resonates best with consumers. Not only does it appeal to my competitive nature, but it's also an opportunity to creatively apply insights from data.

Early on in my dental career, I worked with a marketing consultant who came to one of our ideation meetings. We had a hundred ideas about how to best market our software platform to dentists. This consultant (who is one of my dearest friends today) listened to us throw out idea after idea, and then she stopped us with one simple question: "What is your goal?"

It was simple, yet often overlooked in the day-to-day rush. Starting with this question has since defined every marketing campaign I've driven. If you want your ads to be successful, you have to first set a clear goal.

At Vennli, we help some of the fastest-growing companies in the world-companies such as LinkedIn, BMW, and Zimmer-discover what consumers want and how they deliver versus their competition. This data allows these organizations to craft the perfect message.

But, before that happens, we start by setting a clear goal. We define the growth challenge and create a clear goal statement that focuses the entire team on the desired outcome.

Then we determine how we plan to measure the success of our advertising strategy: the specific amount of increased sales, market share, top-line revenue, bottom-line profits, volume, referrals, attendees, and so on.

Next, we define the time frame in which we expect to achieve that growth goal. This helps align expectations and create a sense of urgency.

Then, perhaps most importantly, we define the type of customer we are targeting. For Nick in What Women Want, the target market was female customers. Your target market may be a certain segment of prospective customers or a type of current customer.

Finally, we define the key competition to our growth. Who is your competition in the mind of your customer? It may be companies like you with similar offerings, or it may be another option available to customers . . . like just doing nothing.

This is key, because your growth is dependent on customers choosing you. And when you ask customers what impacts their choice (i.e., what they want), you have to recognize that customers make choices from the competing options available to them.

OK, so with all of these components, your final goal statement might look something like this: "Our goal is to grow sales for ABC Dental Company by 12% in six months by creating more value for pediatric dentists than does XYZ Dental Company." That's pretty clear, right?

Some of the greatest advertisements of all time were successful because they established a goal and then set out to understand exactly what the consumer wanted to hear. In other words, they gathered insight into how the customer's mind worked and then used that to create a winning strategy.

I'm an Apple fan. One of my favorite commercials is Apple's "Get-A-Mac" campaign. It shows two male actors who represent a Mac and a PC. The Mac guy is a youthful, confident hunk, while the PC is an awkward nerd in uncomfortable clothing. Over the years, Apple created dozens of these commercials.

In one example, the message depicted the PC guy coughing, sneezing, and wiping his nose, then saying, "I think I'm going to crash." If you were a PC user when these commercials came out, you related immediately—this was familiar language in familiar context.

Prior to the launch of these ads in 2006, Apple's sales were down. Apple set a growth goal and starting digging into the minds of their consumers. The result was extremely successful. Only one month from the release of the campaigns, Apple sold 200,000 Macs and grew 39% that fiscal year. (1) Apple won by leveraging their understanding of what customers wanted and how they viewed the key competition.

Unfortunately most of us can't read people's minds. Most companies also don't have the budget to hire expensive ad agencies, like Apple or like Nike in the movie What Women Want. But it doesn't take magic and millions of dollars to launch an effective campaign. Success starts with setting a goal. And once you have that, then you can ask your customers and prospective customers what they want.

With both of those in place, you can successfully craft that perfect message.

Editor's note: This article originally apppeared in the January-February issue of Apex360.

1. Rhoads K. Get-A-Mac Campaign Analysis. Published January 10, 2007. Accessed December 2, 2015.

Rachel Mele is a dental executive, author, and international speaker. She runs the dental division at Vennli, a cloud platform for creating and executing growth strategy by understanding customer choice. She can be reached at [email protected] or at