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how to identify your core customer target — “scale-up your brand” series

Here’s the next post in my blog series on how to scale up your brand.  You’ll learn an exercise to identify your core customer target.Core Customer Target

I’m writing this series because I recognize there are lots of start-ups, but much fewer scale-ups — and companies often don’t make the leap between the two because of their brand.  It’s either vague and unfocused, disconnected from the business, or practically non-existent.   The series has already covered How To Conduct A Brand Diagnostic, which helps you evaluate the current strength of your brand through three lenses and identify opportunities to build it and grow.  Assess Your Brand Power outlined five critical dimensions of brand power so you can determine which direction you need to take your brand.  And Set Your Brand Purpose, Values, and Attributes introduced two Brand Tools to help you develop the first building blocks of your strategic brand platform.

Today I introduce you an exercise that will help you identify your core customer target.  Your target is part of your brand positioning.  According to Jack Trout and Al Ries, the fathers of positioning, a brand should own a “position” in a prospective customer’s mind — one that reflects a company’s own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors.  Essential to creating a brand positioning is specifying who those prospective customers are.

I recommend more established, resourced organizations identify their core customer target by undertaking a needs-based segmentation research which involves using quantitative survey data and multivariate analysis to cluster customers into needs-based segments of different value by combining their attitudes and usage occasions.  (Learn more about needs-based segmentation here and in my book, What Great Brands Do.)

Start-ups and scale-ups can usually use a less data-based, more creative and simpler approach. You probably already have a sense of your core customers’ demographics (e.g., adults aged18-54) and category behaviors (what they currently buy, where they shop, what products/brands they use).  You might even know you want to target customers of a certain economic value (e.g., customers who spend $500+ in our category, companies that have more than 100 employees, etc.)

Your brand platform should describe your core customers with more distinguishing, meaningful characteristics — values, attitudes, needs, goals.  Sometimes it is difficult to get at these descriptors without some stimuli; other times, you might be struggling to achieve consensus about your target among different stakeholders.  One exercise to help you arrive at a clear, common understanding of your target is to create a Customer Collage.

Core Customer Target Exercise

In the Customer Collage exercise, your brand team members (see the previous post in this series to learn how to assemble your team) use a collection of magazines and each person is asked to:

  • cut out at least 6 images that portray your core customer target
  • be sure the images don’t just represent the target’s demographics — they should relate to their attitudes, lifestyles, values, drivers
  • use glue or tape to assemble their images into a collage
  • give their collage a “title” that captures the essence of the target

Then ask each person to present their collage to the team, explaining why they chose the images and title.  Once everyone in the group has shared, you should have a rich list of words and ideas.  Analyze, synthesize, and prioritize them to create a succinct description or short set of bullet points that describe your target.

example of customer collage
example of customer collage

A few tips for a successful exercise:

  • Select the magazines carefully — try to get titles relevant but not necessarily in your category (e.g., if you’re working on a healthy food brand, select fitness/exercise magazines or titles having to do with gardening or homemaking.)
  • Get multiple copies of the same magazines if you have a large group, so that multiple people can use the same images if they desire.
  • Ask people to talk about what images they deliberately did not include in their collage or images they were looking for but couldn’t find, and why — their explanations of these can be as illuminating as their descriptions of their collages

I have a couple more tools/exercises to help you Scale-Up Your Brand.  Look for the next installment in this blog series soon.

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