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Focusing On Your Target Customer

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 23, 2008

New Ways to Define Your Best Prospects
By Jay Gronlund, vice president and managing director, Latin Pulse USA
Mario Quiñones, president, Latin Pulse

Mario Quiñones

Mario Quiñones, president, Latin Pulse


 Jay Gronlund, vice president and managing director, Latin Pulse USA

In today’s highly competitive world, there is a natural tendency to focus on the product or service, to somehow update it or improve it so you can stay one step ahead of your competition. This is a worthwhile endeavor, but often it can become a distraction to what should be the real focal point of marketing – your target customer.  And one of the most complex, dynamic segments of the U.S. population today is the Hispanic consumer.

The famous business writer, Peter Drucker, had a healthy perspective on what business success is all about.  He said “the purpose of a business is not to make money; it is to create a customer and to satisfy that customer.” Marketing is indeed all about creating and satisfying a customer. We like the definition of marketing that emphasizes behavior:  “marketing is the science and art of getting target customers to sustain or change their behavior in a way that favors your brand.”

Product enhancement is always a challenge, but so is defining your customer in a way that allows you to strengthen your brand positioning and create innovative marketing initiatives.  The attitudes and behavior of consumers change all the time, accelerated today by the internet.  For example, the new Generation Y (i.e. born after 1982) is so different from Generation X (born 1961-1981) and all other market ages/segments.  For the U.S. Hispanic segment, the level of acculturation has a huge impact on their expectations and usage habits.

Most marketers dwell on the obvious demographic and psychographic traits that immediately define their target customer for traditional advertising media.  But in this ever-changing world of intense competition and miraculous technological advances, today’s marketer must go beyond these basic criteria to more fully understand their target customer.

For a complete profile and actionable diagnosis of one’s target customer, we recommend six essential criteria:

1.    Demographics – a fundamental starting point, critical for segmenting the market to identify the highest potential target groups, usually defined by sex, age, household characteristics (e.g. ownership, years and value), occupation, origin, income, education, etc.

2.    Psychographics – those particular psychological and attitudinal traits that can be researched and characterized to better understand what will drive certain purchase decisions – e.g. lifestyle, interests, values, likes/dislikes, preferences, etc.

3.    Category/Brand Attitude Drivers – too often marketers define the attitudes of consumers of their brand by using descriptors that really reflect the basic category or “cost-of-entry” drivers.  The result is that there is no special attitude in the target customer profile that will be different from what all other consumers in a particular product category expect and perceive, at a minimum.

4.    Category/Brand Usage Habits – the current usage is critical to assess, because ultimately all marketing efforts should be designed to modify the attitudes and change the expected behavior of target consumers, so a good category benchmark is definitely needed.

5.    Indicative Behavior – limiting a profile definition to psychographics, attitudes and usage habits may not be actionable enough for new, innovative marketing initiatives unless the creative people really understand the exact type of mindset and behavior that characterizes the target consumer.   For example, assume that a psychographic “label” for a health care product consumer is “cautious medicators”.  It would really help make a profile more actionable if one could visualize evidence of this profile with a specific behavior.

6.    Functional & Emotional Needs – at a minimum the target customer will be interested in the basic functional benefits from a product.  However, the more compelling dimension of a target customer need is the emotional side, especially for consumers who have yet to establish a strong loyalty to brands, such as the less acculturated Hispanic consumer.  In particular, one must determine precisely how the target customer currently feels about a current product, and even more critical, coming up with an insight that identifies what she/he yearns for that is not so recognizable – e.g. a heart-felt feeling that would really satisfy the most demanding expectations and distinguish the product/service from competition.   Once properly defined, these functional and emotional needs become the basis for re-shaping the specific benefit for the brand positioning of the product/service

Sophisticated marketers are using innovative research techniques to dig deeper into these behavioral patterns and needs to identify new, relevant consumer insights.  Discovering and then articulating a meaningful attitude or behavior that was previously unknown or under-appreciated can be a major challenge, yet finding new insights is vital for developing powerful, distinctive ideas for new products and/or marketing initiatives.

The task of gaining a comprehensive understanding of the target customer, then monitoring changes in their attitudes and behavior, should be a high priority for a company that wants to maintain a competitive edge.   Qualitative research can be helpful for developing initial assessments and hypotheses, but quantitative research will be essential for screening out and validating which characteristics accurately reflect the highest potential consumer profile.

Jay Gronlund is a marketing professional with over 30 years of senior management experience in large multinationals and consulting, and has been teaching a branding course at NYU since 1999. Mario Quiñones, also an experienced marketing professional, founded Latin Pulse in 2000. Under his leadership Latin Pulse has experienced continued growth in México, Central and South America and the U.S Hispanic market.