How well do you know your target consumers? I mean really know them? Are they men, women, young, old, Fortune 100 companies, or local businesses? If you can at least answer that, then you have the basics, but there’s a lot more that you should know about them?

I was recently working with a local service provider who was looking for help with their online presence. They were keen to get more active on social media and had asked for advice about the best platforms for them, the optimal frequency of publishing and possible content ideas.

However, they were surprised when, rather than getting straight onto the “sexy” topic of social media, I started by taking them through the basics of target consumer identification. When we had finished the exercise, we had found five (!!!) different targets for them to target, rather than the mere two they had been addressing until now. This clearly would have a huge impact on the where, what and how they communicated online. How much business are you missing by not knowing your consumer well enough? See if you can answer all twelve questions below.The 4 Ws of customer understanding

The diagram on the right is the one we used to brainstorm, identify and then complete a better and more detailed description of their target consumers. Their use also resulted in clear differentiated segments for their services – three more than they had originally thought! Wouldn’t you like to do the same?

  1. WHO – THE DEMOGRAPHICS: OK this is usually a “no-brainer” and is how most organisations describe their consumers. Not really original and definitely not competitive, but still the essential foundation. It is also the easiest information to collect, as it can be identified through simply watching and listening to your current consumers if you can’t afford to run a market research project.
  2. WHAT THEY USE: Whether you are offering a product or service, you need to know what your customers are using today. And not only for your category but in adjacent categories too. What do they use – if anything – if your brand, product or category is not available? Do they have a portfolio of brands from which they choose or only one to which they are loyal?
  3. WHAT THEY CONSUME: Here we need to understand what types of information and media they are consuming. What do they read, watch, listen to in their spare time? Which social media do they use, what websites do they consult on a regular basis? What types of information are they looking for?
  4. WHAT THEY DO: How do your customers spend their time? What type of lifestyle do they have? What are their hobbies? What do they do all day, and in the evening and at weekends? Understanding their interests will enable you to resonate with them by speaking about things that please or entertain them.
  5. WHAT THEY BUY: This is where you describe their current category and brand purchasing habits. How frequently and what quantity do they buy? Do they buy only on promotion or regularly; does price influence them? Do they have regular buying habits? Do they do research before buying or repurchasing? Do they compare and if so how, where, why?
  6. WHERE THEY USE: Is the category consumed in the home, in work, on vacation? Is it used on the go, inside or outside? With friends, with their partner, their children, or with colleagues? Are there certain surroundings more conducive to consumption than others? What makes it so?
  7. WHERE THEY BUY: Do your target consumers have certain places and times they buy? Are there certain outlet types they use more regularly, or only very rarely? Is it an habitual or impulse purchase? Is it seasonal or impacted by other purchases or occasions?
  8. WHERE THEY CONSUME: Today “consume” covers not just traditional media but new media as well. From where do they get information about products and brands? From manufacturers, friends, family, colleagues? Do they access it online, in print, on radio or TV, at home or on the road? What websites and people do they follow, listen to and value the opinion of? What interests do they have in general and concerning the category and brands? Are they comparing information from multiple sources?
  9. WHERE THEY SEE: One reason to target a specific group of consumers is so that you can better communicate with them.If you don’t know how to connect with them, what media to use, then they might not see your communications. Where are they most likely to be open to your messages; what media, what times, which days or on which occasions?
  10. WHY THEIR VALUES: What values do your customers have that you are meeting with your product or service? These go a long way to explaining why they are using it. Do they have other values that are not currently addressed, either by you or your competitors? Do these values offer the possibility of a differentiated communications platform or product / service concept? The more you know about your consumers values the more likely your communications will resonate with them.
  11. WHY – THEIR EMOTIONS: What is the emotional state of your consumers when they are considering a purchase or use, or making their choice, of both the category and the brand? Clearly identified emotions enable you to more easily empathise with their current situation. You are more likely to propose a solution that will satisfy their need or desire when their emotional state is precisely identified.
  12. WHY – THEIR MOTIVATIONS: What motivates the consumer to consider, buy and use their category and brand choice? Emotions and motivations are closely linked both to each other and to the customer’s need state. By identifying the need-state you want to address, you will be better able to understand your consumers and increase the appropriateness of your communication’s messages.

If you can answer all twelve of these questions in detail, then you certainly know your consumers deeply. But before you sit back and relax on your laurels, remember that people are constantly changing and what satisfies them today, is unlikely to satisfy them tomorrow. Therefore, you need to keep a track on all four layers of your consumer description to stay ahead of the competition, as well as to satisfy and hopefully delight them both today and tomorrow.

Coming back to my client and the work we did together, by answering and completing a detailed description of his target audience, we were able to identify a couple of new segments that his services could address. Although their demographics were similar to the groups he was already working with, their emotional and need states were quite different. This gave us the opportunity to respond with slightly different service offers for each group and increase his market size.

C³Centricity used images from Denyse’s recently published book “Winning Customer Centricity”.

This post has been adapted from one which first appeared on C³Centricity.

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