I will never cease to be amazed at the number of small businesses that instantly answer the “Who is your customer?” question with “everyone!” or “almost everyone*.”
*Women, entrepreneurs, 18-24 year olds, and all other insanely huge demographics fall into the “almost everyone” category.
And promptly proceed to craft their marketing messages to appeal to the widest audience possible, answering the questions designed to narrow it down in the most generic, incomprehensible way, turning down every single idea and suggestion that might set them apart even slightly, because, well, what if someone doesn’t get it? What if someone gets offended? What if – gasp! – by choosing to finish their product in a bright pink that they know many will love, they alienate that one potential customer who hates the color pink? (The customer that, mind you, has never bought from them before and probably never will anyway, as they already have a favorite store across the street that divides their products into pink and non-pink sections, letting them easily skip the offending pink ones. Go figure.)
“We like your ideas,” they say. “But we are worried some of our customers might misinterpret this. Can we make this one also appeal to those who don’t have children? Or maybe we can change the wording and imagery on the second concept so that it isn’t so specific?”
My brain goes blank.
There is nothing that can kill any kind of a creative approach quite as quickly as that request. I don’t give up yet, not without a fight, but sometimes I wonder if I should. More often that not, this is the point where we cross into the territory of average. I feel out of place. I don’t belong here. My concepts don’t belong here. And neither do my perfect clients.
I will never, ever stop feeling giddily, overwhelmingly excited when the very same question prompts a delightfully detailed, specific description of who exactly that customer is.
Down to what they had for breakfast today, or the exact situation they find themselves in.
“You know that guy next door? The one who just got his first real job, and is putting in extra hours in the office. Never sees his girlfriend anymore, even though they just moved in together. She isn’t too happy about it, they are trying to make it work. Only he has been so preoccupied with the job, he almost forgot their anniversary. Almost. He remembered this morning. There is no way he can get time off to go pick her out the perfect gift. This is where we come in. We ask him a few questions over the phone, and put together the package according to his budget, wrap it up in his favorite colors, add flowers, or even a catering service. All he has to do is sign the card. Or he can scan his signature and email it over, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
Yes, I do know that guy.
He totally needs this.
Light bulb. After light bulb after light bulb.
As much as I am enjoying this conversation, I cannot wait to get away into some corner with my notepad and start writing down and sketching out the ideas.
This. This is exactly how you want your advertising agency, or branding consultant, or designer to feel.
This is how clever and effective ideas are born.
I could say that maybe it’s just me, but I know for a fact that it isn’t. Any creative professional worth this salt is going to be bursting with ideas at a description that specific.
The best part?
You might think you are excluding other potential customers by targeting this specific guy, but you are not.
This guy’s friend will hear him boasting about your service and will call to see if you can help him impress his date. The girlfriend will find the brochure and call you when she has no idea what to give to a friend who seems to have everything. She will tell her sister, a public relations representative, who will call you to see if you offer corporate gift packages. And so on.
You will have given exactly the kind of information that people need to draw their own conclusions. They know that if it works for this guy, it can also work in a similar situation. They don’t need you to spell out every eventuality.
You are not excluding anyone. On the contrary, the story of one specific customer and how you have helped him gives everyone something they can relate to, and to apply it to their own lives, even when the situation isn’t quite the same. People are smart. They will figure it out.
This is also an excellent basis for a campaign. Starting with that story, many other stories can be developed. And yes, that is exactly the kind of stuff creative professionals love to work with.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Write a story about one of your perfect customers. Describe him in as much detail as you can. Describe the situation they are in, and how your product or service can help.
Use that story the next time you are asked “Who is your customer?”