Sunday, January 17, 2010

Barking up the Wrong Tree? Defining your Best Target Customer

This article was written by Tom Patty, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor


If you have been in business for awhile, you probably think you know what market you are in.  And I’m sure you think you know who your customers are and why they buy your products or services.  But are you targeting the highest value customers for your business?

Do you know what your customers are really buying?  Are you targeting the right market for your product?  These are questions that can be answered by brainstorming, customer research, and inspiration.

One of my SCORE clients is a company called “Your Story Here” and they make personal and family history video documentaries.  In business for just a few years, this small OC based video production company has already won impressive awards (Best Short Documentary and Best Documentary Award at the Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Film Festivals) and, despite the economy, is having its best year. Sales have more than doubled.

So what business are they in?  Who is their best target customer?  Because they are video biography makers they’re in the personal history business.  Right?

They certainly think they are.  They spend a lot of time and trouble appealing to the genealogy and ancestry crowd through speaking engagements, articles and blogs, as well as paid search keyword placement.  Even their website ( has a dusty feel to it (black and white photos, etc.)

Actually, I think they have been barking up the wrong tree.  I don’t think they have properly defined their market and customer.  And I think they have been leaving a lot of money on the table.  Recently I posed these questions to them –and I suggest you apply them to your business.

First, who is your best target prospect?  (By “best” I mean most lucrative considering the total cost of acquisition. In other words, are you targeting a customer who will value what you sell and will pay for it, over and over again?)  Who are these people?  What do they do? What do they value?

Let’s ask and answer these questions for “Your Story Here.”

First, “what do your customers DO?  In other words, what specific behavior do they exhibit?  The answer is: They buy expensive gifts to celebrate and commemorate special occasions.

Second, “What do they VALUE? These people value uniqueness, bragging rights, making themselves look and feel good, and creativity.

There are several important words and ideas contained in these two answers.  First, I think “Your Story Here” is in the “gift business.”  People buy their services for someone else, someone they love and care about. Second, this gift says a lot about them (the giver).  “Personal history” may be the product that “Your Story Here” makes, but it is not what their customers are buying.  Their customers are buying a unique, special, one of a kind, “gift of love.”  Consequently, “Your Story Here” is competing with other expensive gift items: such as jewelry, fashion items, and even cruises.

Because “Your Story Here” is in “the gift business,” they need to market themselves around special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Veteran’s Day, etc. They, like many businesses, need to connect to a “trigger.”  This is critical.  They need to move their product/service from an abstraction (“This is an interesting idea”) to an immediate reality (“This would make a great gift for my wife’s 60th birthday.”)

In other words, they need to get the client to connect what “Your Story Here” does (capturing “time in a bottle”) with some specific, impending occasion in their life.

When I started to think about their business in this way, I could imagine an ad for “Your Story Here” in the Neiman Marcus catalog (or website). I can see an ad in the American Express Platinum magazine called “Departures.”  I can see them placing small ads on websites for other expensive gifts.  Here’s a conceptual approach to some ad copy, just to illustrate what I mean.

“Why not get your wife something this year that will make her feel how much you truly love her and impress all your friends at the same time.  Tired of the same old trip to Tiffany’s or Neiman Marcus?  Why not give her something that will amaze her and delight her and at the same time, make you look like the best husband in the world?”

On reflection, I may need to change my opening metaphor: You may be barking up an OK tree.  But spend some time asking yourself if that tree will yield the best crop of long-term customers who will value what you sell?