A store is a place you go to buy stuff, usually out of convenience or habit. In contrast, brands inspire irrational loyalty and yes, even love. How does a company build itself into a brand that people can fall deeply, madly in love with? The old model says segmentation is the key to business success. This involves strategically dividing your potential customers into groups based on who they are and why/how they’re buying. Segmentation is a fine marketing tactic, but it won’t help build a brand people can wholeheartedly rally behind. In fact, segmentation can even work against a brand by diluting the brand identity. In order to build the type of brand that customers can fall in love with, you must first create a detailed picture of your ideal "unicorn" customer.
Let me start with a real-world example of one brand that I personally worked with. This company is a parent-focused digital media company with the mission to make every parent feel like a rock-star by inspiring them to do fun things with their kids. When I asked them who they thought their ideal customer was, they initially described a harried, anxious, busy mom struggling to find activities for their kids that didn’t involve plugging them into a TV or an iPad to watch movies while they went about completing other household tasks. In fact, their ideal customer – the person likely to bring in the most revenue for this company over time – was an “everyday” parent who values spending quality time with the people who matter most. She’s primarily a mom who wants to get out and do something FUN TOGETHER. Unlike their initial ideal customer impression, this parent is practical, always prepared, and highly engaged. She’s not perfect, but she’s resourceful and into finding great ideas for connecting with her kids with a single click. She’s always out and about – but more importantly, engaged – with her family, going to festivals, exhibits, performances, and games. She spends a lot of money on engaging activities with the whole family. So, for a digital media company that makes money from parents researching and paying for family experiences online, you can see why she’s the ideal customer.
This example clearly demonstrates how to define this ideal customer. First, start by asking yourself these three questions:
1. Who is the customer who will be worth the most over the long haul?
2. Who will be the customer who is the most profitable and delightful to serve?
3. Who will not only keep buying from you again and again but will recommend you to others?
Then, create an in-depth profile of this customer – the person who is most highly predictive of your brand’s success. Imagine the ideal customer in excruciating detail: What kind of car do they drive? What clothing do they wear? What’s their perfume? Every minute detail must be worked out in your mind so this person becomes as real as possible. To help you fill in the details, consider doing the opposite of segmentation. Think about what unites your customers, and create a singular brand that is for a singular customer archetype.
What are the benefits of identifying the ideal “unicorn” customer?
* Build a stronger brand identity. If a brand can clearly define who its biggest brand champion is, then more doors will open than previously imaginable. The creative process will become easier, and everything the brand does will be more thoroughly informed by this one anchoring concept. The brand purpose becomes unified and less fragmented,
making it stronger and more appealing to customers.
* Create a brand that your team can rally behind and be truly passionate about. When you build a brand with a strong identity and purpose, you can then recruit people to be part of the team who also feel strongly about the brand purpose. It’s much easier to inspire the team to put in extra work when they feel like the brand is something worth working for. In fact, it starts to feel less like work and more like plain old fun.
* Make the brand more human. Thinking about the ideal customer as an actual person will help you think about the brand in more emotional terms. The result is a brand that people can relate to on an emotional level.
* Inspire irrational customer loyalty. A strong brand identity makes for a strong company that instills customers with confidence. This means that people come back even if they’re dissatisfied simply because they love the brand and they know the brand will redeem itself.
* Help to better inform segmentation. Without a clear brand identity, segment marketing is like driving around without a clear destination in mind. You might find some interesting things along the way, but you’ll waste time and gas, and you will probably find yourself getting a bit lost. Build a brand first, and then use segmentation to help spread your awesome brand identity far and wide.
Is Segmentation Dead?
Segment marketing has its place, and identifying the ideal customer archetype shouldn’t replace segmentation practices. But if your boss has asked you to go out and segment the market, you are probably putting the cart before the horse. First you have to identify the ideal customer, and then you can think about segmentation. Remember, you’re building a brand for ONE and segmenting the market to get your actual product or service in front of many.
If you want to make yourself more attractive to the man or woman of your dreams, you don’t start off by researching all the people in the world who might find you attractive. You focus in on that one person – your ideal mate – and learn everything you can about them – their favorite flowers, what TV shows they like, what they do on Friday nights. In order to build a brand, you have to approach your customers in a similar way. Learn more about the ideal customer and let those insights inform the brand identity. Segmentation can help in marketing, but it’s not going to help build a brand that customers can fall in love with. Finding your "unicorn" customer will.
About Deb Gabor
Deb Gabor is and author founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft, and NBC Universal, to digital winners like Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway and RetailMeNot, and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. For more information, please visit www.solmarketing.com and connect with Deb on Twitter, @deb_sol.