Ask most communications professionals to name the biggest mistakes businesses make in formulating their marketing strategies and the failure to think of the customer's own perspective will come somewhere near the top.
At a superficial level, it should be easy to first get internal agreement on what message your business wants to send out into the world. But you'd be surprised about how often this stage of the process is either overlooked or tackled without any precision.
This mistake is usually made for a very simple reason. Principals of firms spend so much time speaking to each other about their aims that when they switch to external mode, they fail to adjust for an audience who knows nothing of the firm.
Look at it this way. Have you ever been invited out to a social occasion where a group of people, all talking about a common interest that is unfamiliar to you, leave you feeling excluded and unable to join in? Perhaps it's about a sporting code you know nothing about or a popular TV series you've never heard of. The group is not deliberately trying to exclude you, but without a frame of reference the chat means nothing to you.
Or think of being invited out on a date and your partner spends the entire evening talking about themselves.
That's what many firms do when they unthinkingly position their marketing and communications strategy as merely an extension of their internal business planning.
They leave out key information. They use language and jargon that alienates their potential customer base. They talk about nothing but themselves. They assume their values are shared by their market. In short, they expect that the people to whom they hope to sell their goods and services will willingly enter their world.
And because of this failure to switch perspectives from inward to outward-looking, these firms inevitably end up pitching the wrong message to the wrong audience. No-one at any point in the process has insisted they frame their value proposition in terms of the clients' values, context, and language.
A classic case of where this went wrong was in the 2017 Pepsi advertisement which showed TV star Kendall Jenner joining a street protest and apparently defusing tensions between demonstrators and law enforcers by handing a cop of a can of cola.
It had all the hallmarks of a concept that had been workshopped to within an inch of its life, but the tone was all wrong. It patronised its audience. It trivialised protest. And, worst, it alienated a market for whom authenticity and integrity were prime values.
Of course, the message firm meant to send was that its product was an integral symbol of an up-and-coming generation that cared about something more than "the economy". The message the market received was that this was a cynical, tone-deaf attempt to insert a crass consumerist message into something bigger and more serious.
In essence, the inside voice of the marketing agency had inadvertently become the outside voice. And it rang very hollow indeed.
What goes wrong in this and in many other cases is that no-one in the room represented the customer. Companies do this all the time. Everyone internally probably thought this was a good idea. Consensus and groupthink took precedence and there was no-one to play the devil's advocate.
The answer is to work backwards from what the market thinks and what the market wants from your product or service. It means putting aside your internal voice for a moment and adopting an outside one.