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How to use Voice of the Customer (VOC) for marketing

It’s essential to understand what your customer wants, needs and expects. There are a number of different ways we do this in marketing, most of them involve market research processes that produce an outcome which aligns products, services and marketing materials to the customer.

Voce of the customer (VOC) is one such market research technique. VOC is generally more at home in the IT, services or product development department than it is in as a marketing research technique however I believe it’s an incredibly valuable process for marketers to go through in getting a deeper understanding of their customers.

Traditionally, VOC is used at the start of the new product design (NPD) process but I’d advocate you can use this process when first coming up with new marketing campaigns as well.

Voice of the Customer creates an in-depth list of the customers’ wants and needs, which are then placed into hierarchical categories which can then be prioritised based on their relative importance and customer satisfaction with other alternatives out there.

VOC work always relies on both qualitative and quantitative data analysis – so we’re talking about things like focus groups, interviews, ethnographic techniques, contextual enquiry etc but central is the use of interviews with potential customers to determine their experiences with existing products or services or alternatives within a category/sector. This can easily be applied to marketing materials, by asking customers about the types of marketing they’re received from competitors and going through how this impacted them and their understanding of the products and services available from competitors whilst detailing their reaction to it.

From this process Needs Statements are then produced, placed into a hierarchical structure which is generally then prioritised by the potential customer. This method can produce valuable insights for businesses when thinking about how to focus their marketing on the areas which will really push a potential customer’s buttons.

When used in product development terms VOC is part of the Quality function deployment (QFD) process which helps to take the needs and requirements of a customer, and transform them into actionable outcomes and stages in the product development process, defining the product characteristics. Essentially it creates quantitative outcomes from more qualitative inputs.

When used in a marketing environment, VOC could be a valuable tool to validate or transform elements of the marketing messaging and positioning frameworks. It backs up Audience Specific Messaging which addresses pain points whilst providing validation that the brand messaging ties into what the customer really values, requires from marketing material and what they believe they will interact with.

The real benefit lies in further removing the marketer (and our biases) from the process however a word of caution: the customer doesn’t always know what they want and if you ask them they will often tell you they want and need what they already know if out there. As with NPD, marketing must push this further, surprising the customer to ask the question – “How did I ever do without this in the first place?”

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