How To Better Understand Your Customers.


The evolution of marketing shows us that the successful brands today are ones that understand the importance of a customer focused approach. The advantages of focusing on the unserved customer rather than the product are too numerous to quickly mention now. However, I do want to talk about the need to understand your customer deeply, in order to be able to truly provide value and be positioned to build a tribe of fans around your brand.

Why don’t we put more emphasis on the product?

The two main approaches are to either put focus on either the product first and the customer last or the customer first and then product last. Conflicting approaches, the former creates a great product, but there is no guarantee that it actually brings value to any customer. When you prioritise a specific customer, or tribe, and think about what will be most valuable to them, these products often find market fit quicker. 

To put it simply, if you don’t understand the customer you will find it difficult to sell your product, and if it isn’t selling then the quality is largely irrelevant.

Having a clear understanding of your customer, or tribe, is not a new idea and it is not restricted to those offering traditional products and services. Stephen King, the famous author, uses this approach when writing. If Stephen wanted to write a story that appealed to each and every one of his millions of fans he would fail, it would not be possible. Instead Stephen understands the concept of a focused product. Stephen instead writes a story with one reader in mind, his wife Tabitha. Writing a story that he knows she will love is an approach that allows Stephen to remain focused on bringing value to a specific customer. The result is that all the other Tabitha types out there also love the story, I think the results here speak for themselves. 

How do we bring the Stephen King approach of understanding our customers with this level of  specificity into our marketing? Through the creation of a customer persona. A customer persona is one of the principles of effective branding, marketing and advertising and for that reason I love them. They are a proven method of customer led decision making that ensures we are focused on bringing value not to everyone, but someone specific. 

A customer persona is more than just an age, gender, income, marital status or ethnic background, also what is referred to as the demographics. Demographics are useful and effective as one of the components of a customer persona, but only a part. A persona should also include an understanding of the psychographics, geographics, and behaviour. Including all four of these components into a persona provides a holistic view of the customer and allows real actionable insights.

Psychographics is the understanding of an individual’s attitudes, interested activities, personality and values. Understanding this information allows us to understand, better connect with, influence actions and polarise emotions. Attitudes and values present an opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional level. Personality provides insight into the different ways we should communicate with a customer and how we should build the user experience, for example is your customer impulsive or thoughtful? The answer should change a lot when it comes to developing a brand and marketing strategy.

Geographics are straightforward, yet underutilised. It is understanding whether our customer is local, regional, national, or international. This is very important to understand as it directly impacts the approach you take in your Branding, Marketing, and Advertising. If the customers are local then the naming, design, customer experience, and brand personality can reflect that, you are able to use colloquialisms. Those same colloquialisms would only cause confusion if your customer was International or perhaps even national. Where are the majority of your customers? 

Behaviour is the fourth component of a good customer persona and perhaps the most useful when using modern marketing techniques. Behaviour is about understanding usage rates, patterns, and customer perception of benefits. This can take time to collect enough data to have true clarity on how your customer behaves, but in the most simplistic form this information allows us to say “our customer is a very early riser and checks their Instagram as soon as they wake up, let’s make sure we have our ads running then.”

Undertaking the necessary steps to develop a clear understanding of our customers demographics, psychographics, geographics, and behaviour allows for Stephen King like focused thinking for the Branding, Marketing and Advertising of our products and services. The next step is simple, and yet not done nearly enough, it is to actually implement into your business. 

Once you have gathered and summarised the demographics, psychographics, geographics and behavioural information onto an A4 page. Find a picture online of someone that represents your customer visually, give them a name and add that to another A4 page. Print this off and stick it on your wall so you can refer to it each and every time you need to make a decision. This is just like the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets, except we ask these questions of our customer persona.

Ideally I like to take it a step further and print off a full size cutout with all this information printed on them, this way everyone you work with can see and remember that you are not there for your needs and wants but to serve and bring value to, this very specific person, your customer. 

As Albert Einstein famously said “Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.

An interesting concept, to be a person of value, that also happens to align with prioritising the customer first in order to understand what value means to them, not to you. As Marty Neumeier says “The product is not the innovation, the customer is”. We can see now that the company wins in today’s market when they innovate for the customer. Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT, says “Truly successful innovations generate wealth for their users, not just their creators.” I don’t believe that when Michael talks about generating wealth for users he is only talking about financial wealth. 

Great positioning of your products is not enough, we must instead take a customer first approach. This approach, which comes from the understanding we developed of our customers through developing personas, better positions our customers to help multiply our success. Customers that can proudly identify themselves as part of your tribe are more likely to be loyal for a longer period and fight for the success of the company. 

Now it is clear that by understanding the individual customer we can be targeted and create value. A customer who feels empowered and valued is loyal and proudly showcases to others that they are a part of our tribe. Organising these customers into a vocal tribe increases our strength against competing brands and builds the size of the market simultaneously. Win, Win.

Too often we start by trying to target large groups of people that are a part of already large and competitive markets. We are broad and uncourageous with our targeting which keeps us fighting against other brands relying on advertising that showcases features and benefits of products and services. An approach which can be followed today if you enjoy fighting a never ending uphill battle. A courageous company is one that prioritises a specific customer and is focused on providing genuine value. As Seth Godin writes in his book TRIBES “Too many organisations care about numbers, not fans…what they’re missing is the depth of commitment and interconnection that true fans deliver.”

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