Where are your customers?

  • 2001-07-19
  • Paul E. Adams
"A fisherman went to a sporting-goods store where the salesman offered him a lure for bass, painted eyes, hooks and imitation bugs. The fisherman asked: 'Do fish like this stuff?' The salesperson responded: 'I don't know. I don't sell to fish.'" – Joe Griffith

It is a mistake to think you intuitively know who your customers are, where they are, and how many there are. To succeed you must reach the right market. If you think you are too busy to find out about your market maybe you are courting failure.

Can you visualize what your average customer is like? Are they other business firms? Are they government agencies or institutions? Are they consumers?

If so, what are their ages? Are they married? What are their interests and or hobbies? What education level do they have? What profession or occupation is most common? What do they want from life? And while you may not have the answers to such questions, you should have some understanding of your customers and why they buy what they do.

You may find it helpful to create a profile (in your mind or on paper) of how you perceive your average customer. As you develop your product, your service, plan your location, or create the theme of your business, the image or profile of your average customer must influence your plans.

Even if you know who they are, you should know where they are. If you don't, how are you going to contact them?

The major fast-food chains spend substantial research dollars to determine the right locations for their outlets. They know they need to go to where their customers are.

Major retailers of all types understand the importance of location. Look at the depressing "downtown" shopping areas in many cities. Successful retailers followed the population to the suburbs. Now many of our neighbors are leaving the suburbs for rural areas – with new stores right behind them.

"Where are they" means understanding their media habits so you can reach them. What do they read? Which newspapers? What magazines? Are there any special interest publications they favor? When do they read? Do they bother with local papers and throwaways? Do they pay attention to circulars and posters? What is their opinion of 'occupant' mail?

Which radio and TV programs do they tune in to? When do they listen to the radio or watch TV?

How big is your market? Will it support your new business? Estimating the size of a market can be a difficult task. Unfortunately, the answers may be no more than educated guesses. If your product or service is new and unique, forecasting the demand with accuracy may be nearly impossible. Be cautious of too much reliance on feelings.

It is not enough to know who, where and how many. If you want them to buy your product or service you must know why they buy what they do. What motivates their buying decisions? Is it price, quality, status, fear, service, security, or some other reason that triggers a positive buying decision?

The motivating forces that cause customers to buy a product are not always visible. Some are complex, some are unconscious and some we prefer not to admit. Advertising professionals schooled in psychology and consumer behavior know how to tap our inner psyche to spur us to action.

They know how to appeal to our fear of disaster and loss. They know how to touch our greed with ads for commodity options. They tell us if we change our hair color, we will find love and romance; that if we use the right after-shave cologne, it will bring us life-long happiness; that if we eat the right breakfast cereal, it will bring us health and well-behaved children.

Any ad or sales message that ignores the reasons (conscious or unconscious) why customers buy a product or service is information not promotion.

J.P. Morgan once proved that you can motivate nearly anyone if you find his or her "hot button." His nephew, who was away at college, would never answer letters from his family. Mr. Morgan wrote a letter stating: "Enclosed is a 10 dollar bill." But he purposefully omitted the money. Within days, he received a letter back from his nephew, telling him that the 10 dollars were not in the envelope.