Every marketing agency knows the importance of distinguishing themselves from their competitors. The best agencies know how to not only satisfy their clients, but their clients’ customers, as well.

How do they do it? By identifying the gaps between a client’s perception of itself and the perception of that client’s customers. That knowledge arms an agency with the potential to deliver on what’s truly important to each client and sets them apart when it comes to new business opportunities.

So how can your agency find these gaps and deliver the results needed to win and retain new business?

Identifying the perception gap

There are two sides to the perception gap between your clients’ brands and their customers. It’s all about prioritization: there’s typically a gap in what matters to brands and what matters to their customers.

First, customers value various factors, depending on the product or service: price, ease of use, consistency, durability, etc. The list of attributes is endless, and customers attach significance to different factors based on personal taste and preference. Brands often know which attributes are important to their company, but they don’t always align with customers’ needs.

Second, there can be a perception gap on factors such as quality and price in terms of how the brand views their competition and how customers perceive the competition. This leads to a misperception of the product attributes that differentiate a brand from its competition.

One of the most common gaps brands face is that they don’t always recognize the real reasons customers are engaging with their brand. What’s really motivating customer purchases? What drives a customer to choose their product over a competitor? Understanding the answers to these questions enables brands to close the perception gap and zero in on the needs of the market.

The perception gap can cut in different directions

Either a brand pushes a non-factor harder than necessary and wastes resources, or they fail to capitalize on factors where they have a built-in advantage. They make decisions that end up hurting their business because they haven’t identified what the market really wants.

This happens all the time. In the medical field, a brand had been marketing and selling a product with a unique color to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The brand spent a great deal of time and resources on messaging in an effort to stand out.

The problem? Their customers—surgeons—didn’t care about the product’s color. The brand highlighted the fact that the unusual coloring was easier to see during operations—which was true—but there weren’t many surgeons who were struggling to see the standard variation of the product.

While the unique coloring helped to boost awareness of the brand, the marketing effort surrounding the product was meaningless to their target market.

Another example: among professionals in the computer science industry, a particular coding bootcamp was known for its outstanding faculty. Unfortunately, the bootcamp did not recognize that this was a point of differentiation, nor that it was important to the market, and thus was not promoting their faculty as part of their value proposition.

How to close the gap

A perception gap in your brand ultimately creates waste: wasted resources on ineffective messaging, or wasted opportunity when they fail to capitalize on differentiating factors. By closing the gap, businesses become more efficient and more effective with their marketing.

Businesses ultimately know when something isn’t right or could be better. However, not all companies know how to tackle branding issues when improvement is needed. They may recognize the perception gap; they just might not know how to solve it.

Understanding why different groups of customers are interested in the product or category means brands can begin to meet the customers where they are. If a brand can identify what matters to their customer targets, they can tailor their products and messaging to meet the needs of the market.

In order to understand what matters to the market, companies must talk to their customers. They have to be curious, engaged, and unafraid to ask questions that may lead to some hard truths—particularly when it comes to competitors. Too often, companies are missing the bigger picture about how they fit into their customers’ lives.

To find answers to these questions and understand their place within the market, companies need to turn to voice of the marketplace solutions. They need to know the customer journey and tailor their marketing efforts to align with it.

For marketing agencies, the key is to really try to understand the “why.” There’s enough data around consumer behavior—which purchases are being made, and with what frequency. Most businesses can gather and analyze that data on their own. But if the agency can take things a step further and understand the “why”—what drives customers to make their choices—they’ll enable businesses to resonate more strongly with their target market.

There are three key steps agencies companies need to take in order to close the perception gap:

  1. Build relationships with their client’s customers and prospects
  2. Understand how customers perceive their client’s brand and its competition
  3. Differentiate the brand by positioning products and messages to emphasize important attributes for customers where the brand has the best chance of being recognized as better than the competition.

In order to complete these steps, many agencies turn to a voice of the marketplace solution. They want to know how to build brands to be different—and how to create value from those differences. The market is competitive, and agencies must be smarter about the way they present themselves to potential clients in order to separate themselves from the pack.

About the Author: Mary Claire Mandeville is the business development manager at Vennli. She has a BA and MBA from Notre Dame with previous experience in social enterprise and business development.