In Market Research, back in the day!, we used to refer a lot to the NRS (National Readership Survey) and ACORN (A Classification of Residential Neighbourhoods) identifiers - where specific residential areas and inhabitants were split into the following grading / classification system:
||Upper Middle Class
||Higher mangerial, administraive and professional
||Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional
||Lower Middle Class
||Supervisory or clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional
||Skilled Working Class
||Skilled manual workers
||Semi and unskilled manual workers
||Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners and other who depend on the welfare state for their income
The thinking was that if you lived in a certain area, you would ’Keep up with the Joneses’ and largely be influenced by or share your neighbour’s patterns of consumption - this is parodied to great effect in the recent film - ’The Joneses’ - aka ’The Trickle Effect’.
I however contend that although there is some slight degree of influence from your place of residence / your neighbours, what you do and what you are interested in is far more likely to influence your purchasing decisions.
In my neighborhood there are a number of flashy cars - Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Ferraris, yet I have no interest in these. I believe the two key definers of purchasing trend are ’purchasing power’ (liquid wealth) and interests and activities.
Two people living next door to each other in a luxury apartment block may have quite different patterns of consumption. One may have groceries delivered from an Organic Deli, or Harrods, the other from Waitrose or Tesco. They could both be on the same pay scale, and even do very similar jobs - yet one goes to the gym, the other to poetry readings, one holidays in France, the other in the Cotswolds or Lake District - etc. etc.
Much as most crime squads now have Psyhcological / Criminal / Offender Profilers, you need to employ a similar methodology to your own customer definitions.
Ideal Customer Profiling
Everything today is targeted in some way - the design, packaging and overt and intangible cues - are all aimed at a speficic type of consumer. ’One-size-fits-all’ never really works, otherwise there would be a highstreet brand specialising in this.
Instead, you ’Profile’ and classify your perfect customer by their character, personality and interests.
The starting point must always be Gender; ’Unisex’ and ’Gender-Neutral’ never really works on a detail level. You can break everything down into whether it appeals more to a male or female audience, and which are the strongest possible cues and values you need to represent to target your principal customer.
When you do a Customer Profile, the more definite a point you get to - the better the results - ideally you should be able to visualise a fully fledged, clothed and accessorised individual of a speficic gender, age, education, how they are groomed etc. - these traits are what makes them more or less likely to buy into the image you have created for your own brand or product or service.
After the very detailed and tight definition of your Ideal Customer, we then move out to the realm of Venn Diagrams - or overlapping areas of interests.
No Man or Woman is an island - they are more like inter-connecting peninsulas! Once your customer is identified you need to enter their mindset and mine their perceptions and preferences. You need to keep reminding yourself that it is how the customer perceives you that is important, not really how you see yourself. You always need to be able to visualise the perception of what you are versus what you want to stand for.
Once you are considering perceptions, you need to consider all the different points of influence - Television, Media, Magazines, Websites, Bloggers, Columnists, Friends, Family, other experts - which all have some influence over your ideal customer.
Brand Preferences / Brand Relatives / Brand Families
How your customer/s identify with speficic brands are key to your brand definitions also. Customers have regular brands they always buy into, as well as aspirational brands which they might buy into on special occasions.
You simply need to align yourself with the relevant brand references - there’s lots of luxury fashion labels, but each one stands for something a little different - Jil Sander and Prada are minimalist and modern, while Gucci and Roberto Cavalli are maximalist and flamboyant - you need to consider your customer’s key brand affiliations and position yourself accordingly.
You need to consider brands as family groupings and how you fit in amongst that group. Using the right visual and lifestyle cues can ease the path of adoption for your product - if it is designed and developed very much within the context of your consumer’s desired brand family.
Common Staging Areas
Your ideal customers pass through a number of key influential ’Gateways’ every day - whether these are specific News Websites, Community Websites, Industry Body Websites, Newspapers, Petrol Stations, Tube Stations, Supermarkets etc. - these are all conveyors of influence - largely via advertising and promotion, but also via editorial,and increasingly personalised services - such as tailored iPhone Apps!
If your target audience customer goes to the Gym a lot, then this is a key ’Staging Area’ / Gateway - it could be the Hairdresser’s, Cinema, Pub, Club or more rarely now - Church or Village Hall. Key pages in magazines and periodicals are also major staging points.
It’s a matter of lifestyle and context - and having ’conversations’ with your customers (even one-sided ones) within an appropriate venue and context - which is able to frame and add sufficient gravitas to the message and messenger.
Customer targeting - as we have said, is all in the details - the more finely tuned you visual cues and messages, the more successful they will be at hooking in the right audience. Within this arena there are several different strategies - you can use ’loss leaders’ to draw in customers before you introduce them to better quality propositions; alternatively you can use ’Haute Couture’ mechanics to embody your product range with class, glamour, sophistication and aspiration - whilst your bestseller (a perfume) is at the fraction of the runway product price.
Diffusion and ’Customer Stratification’ has become the epitome of Marketing Science, starting largely in the 1980’s; and Armani is one of the leading proponents of this school of thinking:
Armani Junior, Armani Exchange, Armani Jeans, Emporio Armani, Armani Collezione and Armani Casa - all target different levels of inidividuals at different price points. In times of economic hardship / recession - the consumers simply shift down a price point, and the cash still comes rolling in - if ’Armani’ the brand was at a Casino, it would have a counter on nearly all the possible outcomes of the Roulette wheel.
For most companies though, funds are limited, so you start off by appealing to / marketing to what you believe is your stongest / most valuable customer. As your brand grows and matures, you can roll out more and more different campaigns - each targeting specific strata within your larger customer demographics.
Over time you will end up with several potentially rich seams of consumer activity - each targeted and mined, uniquely and specifically.
Successful brands are those who really know their target audience, and talk to them clearly and succinctly within the most appropriate and relevant context. All business’s customers can be identified and profiled; no one can say they are a special case - for they have to interact with their customers using familiar and common, comprehensible language, - visually, literary, texturally, culturally, semantically and within context!