Did you know I wasn’t always a photographer?

In fact, I’ve worked in a range of industries, but they’ve all had one thing in common—I have always been serving customers. Even when I was studying graphic design I was in a pharmacy, then a designer for a studio, then a nutritionist, then a pharmacy dispense tech in a hospital, then a claims manager, then a customer experience designer, and now finally where I am today—telling stories through photography.

Through all these roles, I’ve always kept one question at the forefront: what does my customer want? This was especially important working in customer experience design, where I was quite literally creating customer-centric processes for one of the country’s biggest businesses. I want to share with you some of my learnings from that role, which have been instrumental in the development of my brand today.  

Me and Highfield Gourmet Meats’, Chris at Growers on the Green

But first, I want to as you a question: Who do you think you are?

Think about it in terms of your business. Who do your clients think you are? How do you present to potential clients?

Have a think about that, and we’ll come back to it. Meanwhile, let’s look at some of the most important things I’ve learnt from working in customer experience design.

Your Brand in Ten Words or Less

How hard was it to build your elevator pitch? It took time to master right?! Why? Because you had to master the art of explaining who you are and what you did in just a few lines…and also why the person your pitching to should care.

But your brand’s elevator pitch should be something that runs through every part of your business. The name should be synonymous with everything your brand is, so that just the sight of you or your branding becomes the pitch. Your brand, as you know, is not just your logo or colours. It is the very essence of what makes your business unique. What makes it yours. 

It is the consolidation of everything from your values and mission, to the language you use in your business. It is the people you engage with and, even more importantly, who you don’t engage with. It’s how you sign off your emails. The words you choose to use—cheers, warmly, etc—and the words you don’t use…and the why behind these choices.

A great example in my own business is the use of a simple ‘hi’ as a greeting on any communication. I use ‘hi’ because it is warm and friendly and walks the line between casual and corporate. This is the same with my signoff—cheers. I see my clients as more than just customers, they’re also colleagues and friends, often people I work with again and again. I’d never sign off a message to a friend with ‘sincerely yours’, so using this in my business would seem odd given the culture of community I want to represent.

Talking about how I represent my brand is a great segue into my next little tip.  

Who Do Others Think You Are?

Have you ever been so close to something that you can’t see the forest for the trees? Maybe that something was your business…?

We all believe we understand our business so well. We created it, nurtured it, made it what it is today—of course we know it better than anyone.  And we love what we do, and we’re good at it. 

But what we see isn’t necessarily what we’re presenting to others—sometimes things get lost in translation.  All is not lost though! What is important is to hear what the public perception is, and be willing to adjust your message when perception doesn’t align with what you had hoped to communicate. As an article from Qualtrics, one of the leading data driven decision tools states,

“Customers, not companies, own brand perception. Brand perception is what customers believe a product or service represents, not what the company owning the brand says it does. Brand perception comes from customer use, experience, functionality, reputation and word of mouth recommendation—on social media channels as well as face to face. ”   

QuAltrics article: What Is Brand perception and how to measure it

Sometimes what we think people think of our business is polarising…positively and/or negatively. And it’s something we’ll all come across from time to time, no matter how customer-focused we are.

I had a chat recently with someone who didn’t know that I took corporate photos, even though we’ve met numerous times. I wondered how many opportunities I’d missed because they weren’t aware of that aspect of my business. I took it for granted they’d know and, in the process, possibly cost myself a customer.

I’ve also had some really great positive moments. Someone once referred to me as a pocket rocket with a camera, while others have stated I’m a servant leader. Servant leadership is how I’d like to run my business, so it’s amazing that public perception is the same.amazing about public perception—it’s not about how I see myself.

Here’s an interesting exercise I do from time to time. I challenge you to give it a go, too.

Ask the three questions below of as many people as you can. Fifty is a great number to aim for as it creates a good-sized data sample. Ask everyone and anyone—people who don’t know you personally, team members, suppliers, and existing and past clients. The more the better. Then use the responses to create a word cloud so you can see a visual representation of the results.

  • What three words come to mind when thinking about business x?
  • How would you describe business x to someone new? 
  • If you have worked with Business X how did they make you feel?
Here’s what a word cloud looks like with basic info

What you do with this information is up to you, but it can be a great tool for either confirming your branding is on track or, perhaps, discovering a skewed view. If there is a clear misalignment with how you see the business versus how others see it, you may need to adjust the branding, culture, and/or messaging of your business.

Don’t forget to look it at from all dimensions. How are you showing up across all your social media and digital platforms? How are you showing up in person? How are your staff or contractors presenting your brand? Do they differ? How? 

Try this exercise again in twelve months’ time and see if there’s been any change.

Who Do You Want To Be? 

It’s so important to understand who you are serving and, more importantly, if they are who you want to serve. I don’t care what business you’re in, you are serving your customers. To do that properly, you need to really get in the head of your ideal client.

The easiest and most effective way to do this is by documenting your ideal client. Doing this will help you to write all your content in a language that speaks to your client, create branding and advertising that appeals directly to them, and possibly even develop new or improved products and services to grow your brand. Most importantly, it allows you to connect with your customers rather than just selling to them.

Your customer doesn’t really want to hear about you and what you do. But they do want to know how you can make them feel, how you can solve their problems and how you can change their lives. They want to know ‘what’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM). I know some of you are rolling your eyes at that ever-repeated acronym, but there’s a reason WIIFM has stuck around so long and is used (sometimes tediously) often in business—it’s true! In fact, it’s the very first question I ask whenever I review my customer avatars.

Here’s an example of one:

Each of my avatars, or customer personas, are formatted to ensure I have the most important information available and easily readable. Let’s look at the middle column first. This whole column is dedicated to the WIIFM for each persona. By detailing their goals, challenges, and unique thought processes you are able to nail down what the customer needs and wants, allowing you to target your products or services directly to achieving their objectives. Before they’ve even asked the question, you will have answered their WIIFM and quite possibly have them on the path to achieving one of their goals.

The information on either side of the middle column directly informs each personas’ WIIFMs. Knowing a customer’s background, activities, favoured brands, lifestyle, etc. gives you an insight into their key frustrations and goals. Looking at Penny’s background and behaviours, you can immediately tell she’s a no-nonsense business-owner who is ready to give over more control of her business to others but only if they can provide the same quality and value that she has always provided her customers. You also know that, having started the business from her own need, she will want someone who understands and is passionate about sharing her brand with the world.

Knowing all this information about Penny, helps me better channel my branding towards her. I know she’s more likely to find me at a networking event or through word of mouth than on social media and if she’s reached out then she is very likely ready to book a session because she doesn’t have time to waste on activities that aren’t going to move her business forward.

Not only do these avatars help me better represent my brand, they can also influence the way I create my products and what I offer to a customer. For example, my subscription service was created for my clients who need a small collection of fresh content each month, but may not have the time or inclination to take their own photos. Alternatively, my product photography workshops offer a chance to learn how to take better images on your smartphone, for those small and micro-businesses who don’t yet have the budget for a full session but want to take their visuals to the next level. Two products created by knowing my clients needs and wants better!

How Do Your Customers Experience Your Business? 

Another important opportunity to help you understand if you’re delivering the services and/or products you believe you are, is to map out your customer journey.

Now, I’m not just talking about how to hit that Call to Action button and then the steps that follow. I’m talking about a detailed view of the various layers that deliver every step of any interaction with your customer and their experience in each step. I admit, this is one aspect of my business I am still yet to fully document, as I’ve been in a state of continuous test-and-learn and prototyping of ideas until recently. But, for businesses who have a solid product offering, this activity is a valuable tool to develop, and one that offers endless insight into your customer engagement…and, sometimes, even the lack of engagement.

To build out the maps you can develop questions and conduct interviews which will provide valuable data. There is a skill in interviewing, which is why big companies pay consultancy agencies or create an in-house team. You want to ask open, unbiased questions so that, without leading the participant, you’re inviting information to be shared. This can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While interviews will provide you with sentiment and qualitative data, the quantitative data comes from reports, metrics, KPIs, and other quantitative tools. If you get the chance to observe a customer using your product or the process of buying your product, take note of every touch point. Look at questions like:

  • how easy were you to find
  • how do they come into your store
  • is it clear where they have to go
  • is the payment system easy to use
  • how do you follow up with your client after the sale or service
  • how do you get their feedback
  • what is their experience like with the website
  • do they open your after-service emails

Depending on the business will depend on the layers involved.  

Whenever I am engaging a client I use the above tools to not only help build my brand, but pass on this knowledge so, hopefully, they too can develop a stronger brand that better represents them and their business.

Keep an eye out for our future post exploring the design process further. And, if you’re ready to build your customer journey, but not sure where t begin, why don’t we have a chat. I’d love to share my expertise and help take your business to that next level.

Now, time to ask you again… 

Who do you think who you are?