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What Does Your Customer Look Like?

by Lewis Green  |  
December 10, 2008

When I left the military and enrolled at the University of Florida Journalism School, I did so because the college had a reputation for teaching students how to write. Here was the school's mantra: Don't tell, show. Draw a picture for your readers. Thirty-plus years later, I believe that mantra applies double to marketing and communications. Surprisingly, it begins internally, not externally. Here's what I mean.

To draw a picture to frame our marketing and/or communications strategies, verbal or written, we begin by asking and answering a series of questions around who, what, when, where and how.

  • Who are we and what do we do best?
  • Who wants and needs what we offer?
  • What does our market look like?
  • What does our ideal customer or client look like?
  • When do they want and need what we offer?
  • When is the best time to communicate with them?
  • Where do they work and live?
  • When do they want to receive communications from us?
  • How will we reach our ideal customers and clients?
  • How to they want to be reached?

Once we have the answers to create the story, we can then create a Marketing and Communications Plan around the answers. I create an annual plan for my business with one objective (e.g., To grow my business by 25 percent); three measurable goals (e.g., 1) To reach 500 ideal customers, 2) To meet 100 ideal customers, 3) To add 10 new customers); and strategies to achieve the goals, with a variety of tactics (tools) to achieve the strategies. I measure quarterly.
Success hinges on one important question, and as I repeat over and over again, it isn't about us, it is about them. That said, I believe this is the most important question: What does our ideal customer or client look like? I create a story around that answer. It looks something like this.
Today, a business owner, President, CEO, CFO or CMO sits at their desk in an office somewhere in the United States or Canada wanting help growing their business. They don't know exactly what they need doing, but they do know that their current strategies are doing no more than keeping their growth even. They reached a plateau and don't seem to be able to move beyond it. Their product is needed within the B2B business world, but their message and their means to get the word out is just like everybody else's. They are out of ideas to get noticed, and doing the same thing over and over again isn't delivering the ROI they want or need.
However, they are reluctant to hire a marketing consultant because in the past consultants seemed to recommend the same things and relied heavily on advertising, direct mail and public relations and now something called social media. They talked about tools instead of goals and strategies. And although the consultants were able to create better ads and knew more about obtaining reach in the right publications and buying lists, the consultancy's results were only slightly better than theirs. If only they could find a marketing consultant who guaranteed results that were measurable and stretched their current goals.
It shouldn't be that hard. After all, they develop and sell software that their customers love. Why can't they find a marketing firm that guarantees measurable results? They aren't that small and their businesses are located in and around mid- to large-sized cities. Their revenues have been between $1 million and $10 million for several years but they need to get over that hump or they will have to layoff some of their 10 to 75 employees. They read all the trade journals in their industry and the local business journal; they open and look at their own mail; and they use Google and Yahoo to learn what's going on in their industry and their customers' industries. Where are the consultants who can help us meet our objective next year and will back us their talk with a guaranty?
And there you have it--a short version of the story. One story that answers one question. Every year we add details to that story and to each story that describes each of the answers to our questions above. When we do that annually, our business marketing and communications plan has teeth and we use only those tools that reach our ideal customers or clients.

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Lewis Green, Founder and Managing Principal of L&G Business Solutions, LLC, ( brings three decades of business management experience. L&G Business Solutions, LLC, represents his third company. Additionally, he held management positions with GTE Discovery Publications, Puget Sound Energy and Starbucks Coffee Company.

In addition to his business experiences, Lewis is a published author and a former journalist, sports writer and travel writer. His feature articles have appeared in books, magazines and newspapers throughout North America. He has taught in public schools; lobbied for organizations both in state capitols and in Washington, D.C.; delivered workshops, seminars, and training programs; and made presentations to audiences in colleges, businesses and professional organizations. Lewis also has served as a book editor with a large publisher, the Executive Editor overseeing four magazines, and a newspaper department editor. Lewis served eight years in the U.S. Air Force, where he received the Air Force Commendation Medal.

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  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    Great post, Lewis. Your post in general and your list above in particular are key exercises for every business.

  • by Blog Expert Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    This can work for anything. I love the idea of not telling but actually showing. In advanced composition this was told to me many times.

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    Lewis, you take the time to do the analysis, and then measure quarterly. I believe therein, lies the rub in that there are still too many products/services in search of a customer. What is needed is a deep level of analysis and rigor assigned to product/service mix, and or new product introduction. Easier said than done however. Many companies are forced to release the latest "whatever" because they think customers want it, or to justify their pricing model. Another challenge is there is an extreme amount of overcapacity in many companies(I'm thinking autos for example) that need to continue to produce a certain amount because their fixed cost structures are too high. So ultimately, every company should be thinking about and answering the questions you have listed. But sometimes constraints dictate a different strategy.

  • by Michael Goodman Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    I accept the premise that we need to answer the questions you pose with the kind of clear description of our customer, but I bristle a little bit by your assertion that "[t]o draw a picture to frame our marketing and/or communications strategies, verbal or written, we begin by asking and answering a series of questions around who, what, when, where and how." What gets me about that is the implied notion that WE answer those questions (from our own understanding) rather than letting our target audience provide the "real" answers in their own words and from their own perspectives. I think it's really important to get our answers directly from the target audience ... whether it's through quantitative or qualitative research, or just through a series of semi-structured one-on-one interviews. I'm always amazed at how many of my clients are operating based on assumptions about what their customers want and need, without having actually done the research to find out what emotional benefits they seek, how they really make purchase decisions or which suppliers respond best to their [perceived] needs. Net: I agree with where you're going, but would urge that serious marketers NOT try to conjure up answers on their own, but insist on a rigorous process for answering the questions based on direct input from their primary target audience.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    Michael, not to split hairs, but I do not think Lewis was suggesting that we arrive at these answers via "a priori" reasoning.

  • by Lewis Green Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    I've been in meetings all day so am just now getting back to this post. Michael, Neil is exactly right, the answers to the questions come from the data gathered by a business based on touchpoints. I don't know any marketers who assumes they can guess what their ideal customers looks like. And in 35 years I've never met one. However, the kind of market research you suggest isn't the best way to gather that data if it is the only way. And it isn't necessary to spend the money to run a customer audit annually. The best way, as I said, is directly through our touchpoints and then combined with surveys and quantitative research, much of which we can gather through our sales and Inbound Marketing data. Market Research alone skews the data. Why? Because when customers are asked questions directly they all too often try to provide the answers they think we want. Most of us who have been marketing executives and now consultants gather that data on an ongoing basis and we would last in this business long if we guessed. I'm sorry for any confusion.

  • by Lewis Green Wed Dec 10, 2008 via blog

    Neil, Paul and Blog Expert: I so much appreciate your comments. Thank you.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Dec 15, 2008 via blog

    Good discussion here, Lewis. It all begins with strategy, something that many clients are reluctant to do for whatever reasons. So many want marketing consultants to do the tactics, and that's fine, IF there's a bona fide strategy. How else can clients get value for their money if they don't know where they want to go?

  • by Rethink SEO Mon Dec 15, 2008 via blog

    Any information about customers is useful in some manor. What about if the information about your site visitors automatically generated a specific marketing campaign for each visitor?

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