When it’s OK to be creatively judgemental

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I was back in The Mother Country recently for a wedding and, despite the shock of it being 30 plus degrees, settled back into some old habits.

In an airless Northern Line tube carriage, I played the little game in my head that I often used play to 20 years ago to pass the time between Tottenham Court Road and Edgware.

The ‘game’ involves creating a persona for the unsuspecting victim opposite me. Where does she work? What will she be doing in five years’ time? What does she watch on TV? What’s her favourite shop? That kind of thing.

I should have written a soap opera with the curious characters I invented over the years. Oh, don’t worry, I was kind in my completely uninformed judgments and gave them perfectly acceptable lives. I’d have to have a pretty strong signal from their behaviour to force their fantastical existence into a world of darkness!

Understanding people, their motivations and barriers has always been one of the challenges businesses face. No-one would build their marketing activity around wild assumptions without a little more thought, of course. As valuable as it is, however, commissioning proper research into our target audiences is a luxury for many of us.

Digital tools now offer up some really smart analysis of those who follow your business on social media or interact with you online, but mining the real gold out of that data is daunting for some, and time-consuming for the hour-strapped small business owner.

However, those analytics are worth investment, as even the smallest nugget of insight into your customer demographics can be a game changer. What if you were pitching the creative approach in your marketing to women in their 30s but you find that the majority of your sales are to students who, as we know, talk a slightly different language? Sometimes, the nuances might be subtle, but data gives you knowledge to make better decisions about your approach.

So what can we do easily to understand our customers? Ideally, we do have to put time and/or money into as deep a dig into the analytics as we can. But sometimes maybe it’s just as simple as asking the right questions, face-to-face or online, finding different ways to engage. By creating conversations, you learn about each other.

Having a clear picture of your target audience and ensuring that the whole company understands your customers helps too. Marketers use an old trick of creating a fictitious persona for their ideal customer, or several for a diverse product portfolio. An ‘ideal’ is important – the person who will be a regular, a big spender, an advocate for your brand.

Give her (assuming again!) a name – let’s call this one Annie. Name her husband and kids, if she has some. How much does she earn, and how much does she think she’s worth? Which suburb does she live in? List where she shops, what TV programmes she can’t miss.

Consider the key influencers on the decisions she makes – family, colleagues, friends. Note down her pet hates and the things that make her happiest. Decide on her mantra for life, her dreams for her future.

Relate all this to what media she consumes, when and where – the radio during the school run, ads on On Demand while she’s catching up with MasterChef, reading Waikato Business News in a client’s reception before a meeting…

When you’ve created her, stick with her. With every decision you make about your product or your marketing, ask yourself if Annie would approve. Every few years, reassess Annie, to update her in terms of how your business may have changed or the media channels we have at our disposal to reach her have changed. Neither Annie nor the marketing world around her will have stood still.

Not all your customers will fit Annie’s mould. And sometimes we just can’t get all the information we need to be perfectly well-informed. We’re not being judgemental by creating a mythology for our ideal customer, we’re being focused. Hopefully Annie would approve.

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Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz

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