By Brandon M. Gallagher Watson
When we talk about “defining your customer,” we don’t just mean pulling up your database and seeing a list of names. We are interested in who these people are. What are their buying habits? Do they shop discount stores to save money, or are they the type to buy the best no matter the price? Assuming the customer had a number of companies from which to choose, why did they choose you? Some may have just called you by default, like the type of buyer who just calls the first name on a list. Remember the days of printed Yellow Pages directories? Many companies would call themselves things like “A-1 Landscaping” just to be listed first, hoping to grab that type of “call the top of the list first” shopper. In the day and age of Google, having a name with an alphabetical advantage doesn’t help you. “How to get your page to pop up first on Google” is an article for another time, so for now, let’s focus on what a customer sees when they first happen upon your business: How are they perceiving your brand?
There are as many definitions of branding as there are branding agencies these days, but most contain some version of “a brand is any mark, symbol or feature that differentiates one seller’s products from those of others.” As this definition is alluding, we often think of branding in terms of something we can see, the creative design like logos, colors, and graphic design. Partly this is because, well, it is the easiest to see and also because, if done correctly, the creative design should tell you much of what the company wants to convey to you.
But branding has evolved far past being simply a visual communication. In fact, if you were to hire a branding agency to revamp your company’s brand, they would spend most of the time trying to understand your values and what characteristics define your “ideal customer.” The last step would be designing a brand identity to convey those values to your ideal customer. A corporate logo is a part of that brand identity, but it also includes every other consumer touch point you can think of. Business cards, letterheads, proposals, invoices, envelopes, vehicles, vehicle graphics, fact sheets, employee uniforms, ads, website, fonts, and images all make up your visual identity. Your brand is also defined by those non-visual touches such as how your employees speak to customers about your products and services.
One definition of branding is that it “is the big idea about your company that exists in your customer’s mind.” This definition reminds us that what you think about your brand is irrelevant; it is what your customers think about your brand that matters. Brands often develop by default. If you do nothing to create a brand message and do not employ any of the techniques to get your brand message out there then the brand that develops in the consumer’s minds may not be the one you want. Good branding should serve as a sort of visual shorthand, a quick way to determine if this product or service fits with their current needs. Branding not only informs customers who you are and what you do, it also helps define what type of customer seeks you out and reassures them that they found the right company for them.
The “ideal customer”
So let’s assume for now that you have defined your brand, now how do you define your ideal customer? The questions that make up the three-legged stool of marketing are “Who are you trying to reach? What data are you capturing? How are you following up?” The first question of “Who?” can be assessed by defining your target market. Define your target market in terms of geographic (where are they located), demographic/socioeconomic (gender, age, wage, career, education level), psychographic (attitudes, values, religion, and lifestyles), behavioral segmentation (degree of loyalty to a product), and product-related segmentation (what other types of products do your customers buy?). Answering these questions can be a daunting undertaking if you do not have a full-time marketing department in your company, and can be daunting even for companies with a full marketing department. If you can afford it, bringing in a consultant group to help you understand your market is the best way to go. They can provide insights and data that is mostly out of reach for of us regular people, but expect to pay around $8,000 to $10,000 for a complete analysis. Less expensive, but still valuable, ways to gain insights on your clients is to conduct a survey either online or by phone, and by taking a look at the data of who follows you on Facebook and Google. Who follows you can give you information on the ages and genders of your fans.
Free resources that you can find online are also valuable in understanding your market. There are many websites that aggregate U.S. Census data into searchable information. The basic would be to go right the source itself by visiting the Census Bureau’s official search page at [ital>factfinder.census.gov<ital]. Enter the location, and instantly get the population, age, income, education levels, etc., about that area. Another site that can provide great baseline demographic information for a given area is [ital>www.city-data.com<ital]. Here you can get info (with graphs) about the market with additional data divided up by race or age. The web is chock full of resources that can help you define a customer, but the real value is what you do with that information.
Our tree care service company, based in Minneapolis, Minn., decided a few years ago to invest in an outside consultant to help define our ideal customer. Much of what they came up reinforced what we already suspected. Our company has always held itself to a high professional standard, thus we are often not the least expensive option. We have long seen our best customers as wealthier people with higher levels of education. The demographic market data helped cement that assertion by defining our ideal customer as the “Lexus Group.” This is the type of consumer that will choose a Lexus over a Toyota, spends money on good wine, and has surplus income for vacations. Just by knowing a few key purchasing habits of our clients changes the way we allocate our marketing efforts. Our company now has some good data to explain why we, for example, will forego low-cost advertising in the local penny-saver mailer but will spend more to advertise in the program at the art museum opening. Advertising in the penny-saver will get calls, but not from the customers that we are seeking. We are now looking at the return on investment from advertising in terms of the quality of leads our marketing is providing, not just the quantity.
So, do you have a picture of who your ideal customer is? If not, hopefully this has provided some ideas on how to go about defining them. If you do think you have a grasp on the ideal customer, is your branding and marketing consistent with what is important to them? Remember, there is absolutely nothing inherently “better” by being perceived as the most expensive option, nor is there anything inherently “wrong” by being the lowest-cost option. It is all about knowing your market and intentionally crafting your message to reach it. No consumer takes the time to read every potential company’s biography and check references. Whether consciously or not, the potential customer is evaluating these companies brands. In just a few quick glances they learn everything they need to know about the company’s values, skill level, and hiring potential. In those quick few seconds, would they hire you?
Brandon M. Gallagher Watson is creative director at Rainbow Treecare Scientific Advancements.