How to Identify Your Target Market Customer

How to Identify Your Target Market Customer

I’d completed the refresher on firearms safety, and now I was on the firing line with a pistol in my hand. I’ve served in the Territorial Army (New Zealand’s equivalent of the USA’s National Guard) and on the NZ police force, so I’ve done my share of rifle and pistol shooting. But it’s not a hobby or even a significant interest, so it had been almost 20 years since I last used a firearm.

We were there because my wife, Bianca, wanted to know what it actually felt like to fire a pistol. That may sound odd to an American, but, in New Zealand, where we both come from, guns are strictly controlled, and they are only available to the police, armed forces, and members of pistol shooting clubs. It is rare for a member of the public to have even seen a gun, let alone fired one.

I booked a half-day introductory training session with a tutor at the LAX firing range in Los Angeles. We’d completed our lesson, and now the range master was giving final instructions before we were allowed to fire the Glock pistols. “Remember,” he said, “you have to aim for the bull’s-eye if you want to hit the target. If you just aim for the target, you will be more likely to miss it.”

That’s as true for marketing as it is for pistol shooting. You need to aim for the center of the target if you want to hit the target consistently. That sounds logical, but it’s not an insight that comes naturally to business leaders.

I’ve encountered several companies that seemed to think that it was best not to aim at all. A plumbing company might describe its customers as “anyone who needs plumbing services.” A toy store could say its customers are “people who buy toys,” while a toy manufacturer would describe its clients as “companies that sell toys.”

It sounds reasonable, but actually, it is a huge mistake. It’s like aiming in the general direction of the target: You’re not likely to hit something that matters to you, and you waste a lot of ammunition.

When I ask companies who’ve gone through this strategic planning process what was most helpful to them, the most common answer is “getting very clear on who our target customer is.” It’s a huge “Aha!” moment for them. You can take their word for it, or you can take the advice of experts like Dr. Philip Kotler, Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and the author of the most widely used marketing textbook. He has this to say:

“There is only one winning strategy. You need to carefully define the target market and then direct a superior offering to that target market.”

That’s good advice. If you pick a target and shoot at it, you’re more likely to hit something important, something profitable for you. But that’s when the advice from my shooting instructor kicks in: If you really want to be successful, you need to shoot at the bull’s-eye in the center of that target.

Right now you may be thinking, “But if I aim at one type of customer, won’t I miss some of the people who would make really good customers?” The answer to that is, “Yes, but.”

It’s almost a paradox, but if you do a good job of target marketing – aiming at the center of the target – you’re likely to attract more good customers, not less. That’s the research-supported advice of Doug Hall.

You may know Doug as one of the panelists on the American Inventor television series. Or you may have read one of his books, like Jump Start Your Business Brain. Doug is the CEO of Eureka! Ranch, a company that helps clients deliver “meaningfully unique” products and services to their target markets.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Doug. He says many wise things, but here’s the important one to guide your marketing:

“Delight the few to attract the many.”

Let me clear up a few points. Your target market is the center of your marketing bull’s-eye. They’re the people or companies you have in mind when you create and develop your product or service and when you create your marketing communications.

They may not even be the customers that you sell the most to. But by tailoring your offerings and your marketing to that bull’s-eye group, you will also attract many other customers who sit in the outer rings of the target. “Delight the few to attract the many.”

If someone who’s not in your target market begs to buy your product and offers you money, of course you’ll sell to them. You just won’t spend precious time, money, and effort trying to attract them.

Here’s an example of how this works. I learned about this one from Marcus Buckingham. The company is called Tesco.

Tesco is a UK-based retailer, and it happens to be the third largest retailer in the world. An important component of its business is Tesco supermarkets. When I’m working with a client group I often ask them, “Who are Tesco’s target customers?” The answer I usually get is, “Anyone who buys groceries.” That’s the wrong answer.

If you walk into a Tesco and want to buy food, Tesco will certainly sell it to you. They’d be fools not to. But you’re not their target customer. You’re not at the center of the bull’s-eye. The center of Tesco’s bull’s-eye is “the harried housewife.”

Because they know that the center of their bull’s-eye is that harried housewife, Tesco can arrange everything so that they become her favorite place to shop. It starts with location.

Tesco locates stores in places that are easy to get to and in areas where there are a lot of housewives. They design their stores for the harried housewife’s convenience. That means wide aisles, since the housewife will probably be shopping with children. They stock the items she wants to buy and sometimes stock related items together so shopping is more convenient for her. When the harried housewife gets to the checkout, she wants a speedy, child-friendly checkout.

What Tesco has defined is the person who is at the center of their bull’s-eye. They know that if they delight the harried housewife they will create a solid, sizeable, and loyal customer base. But they know something else, too. They know that other people will be attracted by the wide aisles, convenient shelving, and fast checkout.

Let’s take a look at this from the other side. Seth Godin says that “a product for everybody is a product for nobody.” He says that your offering should stand out like “a Purple Cow.” If you delight your customer, he or she will come back and give you the most powerful marketing force in the world: great word of mouth.

You can probably understand this from your own life. Let’s say you go to a restaurant and you get a decent meal. You have no complaints – the food was tasty, the atmosphere was pleasant, the portions were good-sized, and the price was fair. You’re satisfied. But you won’t go out and tell your friends about it. You won’t say, “Hey, I just had a satisfactory dining experience.” It wasn’t remarkable.

But what if you and your spouse went to that same restaurant and you had an absolutely delicious Italian meal? The restaurant looked like an old-time Italian restaurant, with red wine already on the table and a menu on the wall. While you’re eating, an accordion player named Gordy stops by and asks for requests. You ask for “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra, because it reminds you of when you got married, and Gordy plays a spirited rendition.

Would you tell your friends about that restaurant? I bet you would, like I just did. That restaurant is in Las Vegas, and it’s called Battista’s Hole in the Wall. Here’s an important point: You may not like Battista’s. You may not like Italian food, or you may not think the food at Battista’s is good. You might hate having a musician disturb your dining. That’s all OK; it proves that you’re not at the center of the target for Battista’s. They may not please you, but Battista’s delights people who return whenever they’re in town and, because it’s distinctive, they tell others. Battista’s delights the few and attracts many more.

Now, keep that in mind, and let’s get back to the disciplined and rigorous process of finding out who’s at the center of your bull’s-eye.

We’ll start by examining your best customers today.

  • Begin by listing your most profitable customers. Describe them. What do they have in common?
  • Who are your most influential customers? They’re the ones who are most likely to convince or persuade other customers to buy from you. Describe them and identify the commonalities.
  • What type of customer has the most potential for growth in the future? Why?

There are some customers who are on all three lists. They’re probably the ones who sit at the center of your bull’s-eye. Others are on two lists. Think of them as the next ring out from the center. And then there are the customers who are on only one list. They’re in the second ring out from the center.

Now we’re going to dig a little deeper and come up with some more specifics. The next set of questions is for you if you sell to other businesses. If that’s not you, then skip down to the section for a business that sells directly to consumers.

  • What industry are your ideal company customers in?
  • Where are they located?
  • How big are they, in terms of annual revenue or the number of employees?

Be very precise here. You want to tailor your marketing and sales processes to your ideal customer, and different-sized companies handle purchasing very differently.

Now let’s look at people as customers. If you’re a B2B company, you must do this part, too, because in every company there’s a person – a buyer – who makes the decisions. If you sell to consumers, answer the questions for your customers. If you sell to businesses, answer the questions for the buyers you deal with at your client companies.

  • Are your ideal customers male or female? How old are they? This is important because men and women think differently and respond to different marketing approaches. People think differently at different ages, and they have different historical reference points, too.
  • Now try to describe their lives in as much detail as you can. Where do they live and with whom? Where do they work? At what sort of job? What’s their income? What do they do for fun? What’s a typical workday like? A weekend? A vacation?
  • Now for some psychographics: What do they value? What do they believe in? What brands do they own or aspire to own? Who are their heroes and role models?
  • Now go a little further: What media do they consume? What media do they participate in, such as social media or games?

What about the technology adoption lifecycle?

Some customers like to buy things at the bleeding edge of new technology innovations, soon after they’ve been introduced. Others prefer to wait until the product goes mainstream. Still others don’t buy until everyone else is already moving on to the next big thing. Where do your target customers sit?

  • Are they Innovators?
  • Are they Early Adopters?
  • Are they Early Majority?
  • Are they Late Majority?
  • Or are they Laggards?

There’s no “right” answer. What you’re after is the best description of your customers, because each section of the technology adoption lifecycle corresponds to a different marketing approach. You’ll get the most from this exercise if you narrow your selection down to only one choice.

At this point, you should be clear about who you think your center-of-the-bull’s-eye target customer is. Now describe the buying process for this customer:

  • How do they become aware of your product or service?
  • What process do they go through to make a purchase decision? Describe what happens at each of the stages they go through.
  • And what do they buy? What do your ideal customers usually purchase from you? What’s the typical value of that purchase, and how often do they buy from you?

If we know those things, we can calculate the average lifetime value of an ideal customer. How much is it? Based on the average lifetime value of each customer to you, how much are you willing to spend to acquire one?

Now it’s time to look in the mirror.

  • What do those customers think of your industry? What do they like? What do they dislike?

Don’t stop there. Now comes a really uncomfortable part:

  • What do your customers like and dislike about you? How do they think of you? What is their biggest frustration with your company?

I want you to stay inside your customer’s head for the next set of questions.

  • What is it that they are trying to achieve when they buy from you?
  • What is the job that they want to get done?
  • What is the biggest problem they want solved?

This is a big one:

  • What is their greatest desire at the end of the day, and how does your offering make them feel?

Now I’d like you to describe your ideal target customer as a person. There are two ways that this works: Both ways include giving the ideal customer a name and then describing the customer as if he or she were a real, flesh-and-blood person.

The first way is to list the characteristics of the person. The following example is from a company I worked with called The Tile Warehouse in New Zealand. They named their ideal client “Rachel Browne” and describe her this way:

  •  She is 35-45 years old.
  • She is a very hard-working woman.
  • She is married to a hard-working man, and they own their own business.
  • They have school-age children, and the hubby is on the school board of trustees.
  • She attends her children’s school camps.
  • She drives an SUV, so there’s room for everything, including the dog.
  • She enjoys a nice bottle of wine with friends, and her friends are just like her.
  • She plays tennis, and her husband is into water sports.
  • When they are building or renovating, they use the services of interior designers to make sure it is all done properly and it looks good when friends come around!”

The Tile Warehouse also did something that might work for you. They created a collage on the wall of their office that represents their target market customer. In this case, they adorned one of their walls with a large composite picture of a person who represented “Rachel” and surrounded her with pictures of brands and images that tell the story of her lifestyle: the car she drives, the house she lives in, the clothing she wears, the jewelry she owns, the brands she prefers, etc.

The benefit of this is that they can look at this collage every day and ask themselves, “What would Rachel think of this?” whenever they are designing a new product or service offering, or crafting their marketing communications.

The more you can turn your analysis into an ideal client who’s a real person, the easier it becomes to tailor your offerings and communications and make them as effective as possible. Take the time to develop the most specific and realistic profile that you can.

Now sit back and think about what you’ve clarified about your target customer. Go back over your notes. When you think you’ve got a clear idea of who your target customer is, you’re ready for the next exercise.

We are going to use my Twitter Rule again: Describe your ideal target market customer in 140 characters or less.

Describe him or her in as much detail as you can, but, because space is limited, you have to choose the most important things to highlight. It doesn’t need to be a grammatically correct English sentence; you can string together some key words and phrases, if you like.

Got that? Now, here’s another tweet I want you to create: I would like you to describe what it is that your target customer really wants, in 140 characters or less.

Check that your two tweets line up with your detailed descriptions. You have now clearly and concisely stated who your ideal target customer is and what your target customer really wants….”

Excerpted from the book: Business Execution for RESULTS, by Stephen Lynch


Until next time…