No one is a demographic range: How to actually talk to people

Blur Are you a 25-54 year old male who wants a motorcycle? 

I'm pretty sure that there's never been anyone who is 25-54.  Maybe 27 or 39.  But not the whole range.

And yet…most marketing plans talk demographics.  We describe our target audience is such broad terms that at best, they are a blur.  No wonder most marketing copy (brochures, radio scripts, web sites) is vague and uninspired.  If I asked you to say three things about a motorcycle that would appeal to a 25-54 year old, how in the world would you know what to say?

But, what if I said: you are talking to a 52 year old man.  He's a white collar professional that just dropped his youngest off at college.  His 50th birthday hit him pretty hard.  He's been at the same company for 8 years and he and his wife get away for 2-3 long weekends a year and they take one family vacation a year, to the family condo time share in Boca.

This past year, he and his wife celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and he surprised her with a diamond eternity band.  They like to entertain at home or go out for dinner with friends. 

He likes to read thrillers and spy stories.  He putters a little in the garden and plays poker twice a month with some old college buddies.  He enjoys a good cigar and scotch at the poker game and is often heard saying "life is not about the destination, it is about the journey."

Now…could you come up with three things about a motorcycle that would appeal to this man?  I bet your copy isn't vague any more.

Rather than trying to talk to shadows…and demographics, try creating the perfect customer.  Every business has one.  That doesn't mean every customer will match all the criteria, but the closer you can come, the better.

So it stands to reason, the more specifically you can talk to that target audience, the more likely you are to attract the right customers.

How do you begin to create the perfect customer?  Grab a piece of paper and a pencil/pen and let's get you started.

Ready?  Quickly write down the names of 3-5 of your company's best current customers.

Now, again without mental editing, list characteristics of this customer.  These might include things like:

If your customers are companies:

  • Size of company (employees, locations, etc.)
  • Industry
  • Gross annual billings
  • Structure (partnership, corporation, non-profit, association, etc)
  • Type of work
  • Frequency of work
  • Amount of annual revenue for your company from this one
  • Type of day to day communication (do they need hand holding, have you ever met in person, are they a golfing buddy)
  • Market position (leader, #2, newcomer)
  • Personality of key customer contact

If your customers are individuals:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Daily Habits
  • Kind of work they do
  • Where they shop
  • What causes they are passionate about
  • Where in the life cycle are they
  • How do they dress
  • What kind of car do they drive
  • What's their leisure time look like
  • Attitude about work, family, life etc

Now look for trends.  What do your best customers have in common?  Begin to build a profile.  Fill in the blanks as you can.  If possible, make this multi-media.  Are there colors, visuals, songs, smells etc. that you associate with this perfect customer?

Let this profile evolve over time.  Tweak it as you begin to use it.  If it helps, give your perfect customer a name.  Aim your marketing right at that person.  Write/design as though you are talking directly to them.  And watch your results rise.

What do you think?  If you've already done something like this, tell us about it.  If you haven't yet…how might this be helpful to you?

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10 comments on “No one is a demographic range: How to actually talk to people

  1. Great post. Demographics only can’t be clasified as target group description. this is just the very beginning in the journey of finding out whom our (desired) consumers are. If we want to build the relationship with our consumers, it is no different than building relationsships in real life – we need to know them as a people. Who they are, how they feel, what they think. We need ti understand our consumers as people, not demographic clusters.

  2. CK says:

    “I’m pretty sure that there’s never been anyone who is 25-54. Maybe 27 or 39. But not the whole range.”

    Drew, will you remind me not to forget you my experience as an entire demo? It debunks the above statement of yours…if only for a small time period (and is a funny story).

  3. Sean Howard says:

    Great advice!!

    Now if only to put it into practice… ugh.. 😉

  4. Good stuff indeed, Drew. So why don’t most companies do this? Because it’s hard. It takes time. It requires patience, devotion and focus. And even worse–it requires you to care. (Heaven forbid!)

    So many of these “best practices” are the best because they’re hard to achieve. They work, but they require a lot more effort than we often like to put forth.

    I think it goes back to where your dedication lies. In your company or in your customers? If it’s the former (which it often is), than it’s no wonder we have such a hard time actually doing this.

  5. Drew,
    I think this also touches on the good old 80/20 rule where 80% of sales comes from 20% of your customers. Those are your best customers. Who are those people? Find them, learn about them, and write copy that speaks to them.

    As always, a great post!

  6. Daria,

    If you sell a mass produced product line — how do you recommend getting to know your customers as people?

    I don’t disagree, btw. Just curious about the methodology you’d recommend.


  7. CK — Consider yourself reminded.

    Sean — Do you find that clients are reluctant to budget for this kind of information/activity?


  8. Ryan,

    I think that companies do care about their customers. But they care more about meeting goals, increasing sales and satisfying either the shareholders or their own agenda.

    The trick, I think, is getting them to understand that the companies they emulate like Apple, Disney and Starbucks all made the investment.

    We’re at Disneyland right now and have seen at least 10 people throughout the park, asking guests to take short surveys.

    Smart marketing.


  9. Cam,

    I’m curious — where do you get the raw data from which you build your persona? How do you test/know its accuracy?


  10. Susan,

    Hmm, you could be right. I wonder if that means that for most businesses, 80% of their customers are the wrong fit.

    What do you think?


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