By Katrina Olson
This article originally appeared on tedmag.com on April 22, 2016.
At last year’s NAED AdVenture marketing conference, a whopping 60 percent of attendees were female, and approximately 43 percent were under age 36.
Contrast that with the demographics of electrical contractors.
The average age of the electrical contractor is 56.2, according to Electrical Contractor magazine’s 2014 Profile of the Electrical Contractor. And you probably won’t be surprised to learn that women hold only one percent of all electrician jobs, according to 2009 Census data.
“How do I market to people who are very different from me?”
A good marketer gets to know their customers, inside and out—who they are, what keeps them up at night, and how they make decisions. By understanding customers’ concerns, buying habits, attitudes, preferences and behaviors, you’ll get a feel for what kinds of media and messages they’ll respond to. Along the way, you’ll also learn about trends in their businesses and industry.
“How do I learn more about my customers?”
Following are seven ways you can find out what makes your customers tick. Some are pretty easy; others are more involved. But all should yield valuable insights..
1. Read your customers’ trade publications.
Most industries have trade association and publications. Health Facilities Management, Facilities Manger, Facility Management Decisions, Electrical Contractor, and Buildings and Electrical Contractor are just a few.
2. Join online groups.
Is there a LinkedIn group or social media platform where your customers and prospects hang out? Observe without participating or commenting to learn what’s important to them.
3. Ask your salespeople.
If you can’t talk directly to customers, talk to those who do. Counter staff, inside sales, outside sales, and customer service representatives can give you insight into what your customers care about.
4. Attend company events.
Get out from behind your desk or computer and attend counter days, workshops, training sessions, and other opportunities to get to know your customers. Try to uncover your customers’ hot buttons and pain points.
5. Contact customers directly.
Call or email some of your key customers and ask specific questions—like how they want to learn about new products and services. Or take them out to lunch. Explain that you want to better understand their business so you can better serve them.
6. Conduct a short survey.
Curious about what media your customers are consuming? Want to know what social media platforms they’re using? Wondering how much they use their smartphones? Ask them!
7. Host a focus group or customer advisory council.
To get honest feedback about what your customers think, conduct a focus group or establish a customer advisory council that meets every year. Rotate members out every few years to get fresh perspectives. (To make sure you get candid comments, hire an outside facilitator and leave the room.)
How can I apply this knowledge to be a better marketer?
Here’s an example. The electrical contractor’s role is evolving as they become more heavily involved in design and specification. Also, building systems are becoming more integrated and interdependent, using data hubs that communicate with each other. All systems are tied together; so all the products must be compatible with each other.
As a result, electrical contractors may look to you for comprehensive solutions, not just individual products. Electrical contractors will also rely more heavily on the electrical distributor’s expertise to help them choose the right products for both new and existing systems.
This knowledge should change the way you position and brand your company, and the way your salespeople are trained, too. Instead of just selling and marketing products, you’re marketing your staff’s expertise and product knowledge.
The trick is putting yourself in your customer’s and prospect’s shoes. That means not just understanding their wants and needs—but speaking their language. That takes a little more practice. But the more research you do, the easier it gets.
Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. She can be reached at Katrina@katrinaolson.com or via her website at katrinaolson.com
One of my (many) favorite Saturday Night Live characters was the late Chris Farley as Commentator Bennett Brauer or “air quotes guy.” I recently shared a clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXK68c3ColY) with a new friend—and also my brother-in-law who incorrectly used air quotes during dinner to describe the movie, School of Rock. He said Jack Black was, “pretending to be a substitute teacher.”
My daughters and I cracked up because Black really was pretending to be a substitute teacher (no air quotes required). Or you could say that Black was a “substitute teacher” because he really wasn’t a teacher but was pretending to be.
Arguing and hilarity ensued.
It reminded me that we can all use a refresher on the proper use of punctuation.
In my brother-in-law’s case, putting quotation marks (or in this case, air quotes) around words indicated that the words were being used with a meaning other than the obvious one.
Following are a few more little known punctuation guidelines and rules.
American English dictates that periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks. That holds true even if the sentence contains a phrase in quotes at the end of the sentence. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Old timey typesetters using metal plates made this rule to protect the small metal pieces of type from breaking off the end of the sentence. Here’s an example:
I can never remember how to spell “hors d’oeuvres.”
On the other hand, semicolons, colons and dashes always go outside quotation marks:
Her favorite song is “What’s Up?”; she always sings it at karaoke.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Whether or not the question mark goes inside of outside of the quotation marks depends on how it’s used:
Do you like the song, “Death of a Bachelor”?
He asked her, “Do you like this song?”
I can’t believe you spoiled the season finale of “The Walking Dead”!
Next, we’ll talk about a much-debated guideline that some writers still refuse to adopt.
Spacing after the Period
Your middle school or high school typing teacher may have taught you to include two spaces after the period. But that’s no longer the rule. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period.
The two-space rule goes back to when we used typewriters that used monospace type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. As typesetting and word processing became more widespread, best practices and convention dictated one space after the period.
If you’re having trouble getting into the habit, use your search and replace function to fix it. Type two spaces in search, and a single space in replace.
Did you know there are three commonly used types of dashes—each with their own specific purpose? Here they are, from smallest to largest.
The hyphen (-) is the key just to the right of the zero on your keyboard; it is typed without any other key combinations. The hyphen is used to create compound words. By the way, hyphens are never used after adverbs that end in -ly. (See the subhead of this article in the graphic.)
The en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen and is created by using control+hyphen on your keyboard. The en dash is used in place of the words “to” or “through.” If you are age 45-55, you probably remember the band REO Speedwagon.
The em dash (—) is longer than the en dash and is created by using control+shift+hyphen on your keyboard. You can also use two hyphens if for some godforsaken reason you’re using a typewriter. (Microsoft Word will convert your two dashes to an em-dash for you.) Em dashes are used to set of phrases or asides—or as a hard pause—and they give your writing a sense of immediacy or urgency. Do not put spaces on either side of the em dash.
I hope you enjoyed this little punctuation break from the more complicated world of marketing. If you ever have a grammar or punctuation question, look it up first in your style manual or online. But if you just can’t figure it out, email me at Katrina@katrinaolson.com. (I may live to regret that offer.)
Katrina Olson is an award-winning advertising copywriter and creative director, marketing and public relations consultant, freelance writer, content developer, trainer/coach, former college professor, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at katrinaolson.com.