You are Not in your Target Market

…nor is anyone in your office your target audience.  You and your colleagues may buy your company’s product or service, may have used it for decades before working at the company, fit the demographic and psychographic profile, fit the average usage–but you are still not in your target market.

Why not? 

You and I and all our friends have great bias toward the products and services we represent and market.  This clouds our judgement.  It leads us to believe that what we believe is what everyone in our target believes.  Ask any market researcher, and they’ll tell you that a focus group of one is not representative–particularly if you’ve drunk the corporate Kool-Aid.

I worked for a natural foods company that had a rocket-ship ride to unbelievable success.  The founder firmly believed that because he started the company, nurtured it for many years, surrounded himself with others who held the same values, eating and shopping habits, that he knew who the customer was for his products.

My second day on the job, this founder and CEO asked me who I thought the customer was.  I told him I really didn’t know yet, but that I’d do some research and get back to him.  He laughed and said that it was a trick question, because he knew exactly who our customer was–because it was him. 

It took me two years, but I convinced all the powers that be to let me do a small qualitative study to get more insight into our consumer than I could gather from just observing the CEO. 

The earth shook. 

It turned out that our heavy user didn’t shop at a natural foods store, as our CEO did, but at a club store.  It turned out that our consumer didn’t buy our product for its health benefits, but because they were intolerant of the category alternatives.  Our consumer didn’t always live in highly-developed natural foods enclaves, but in the rust belt of the Midwest. 

To his credit, our CEO mandated that we commission an extensive research study with one of the top researchers in the country to find out what else we didn’t know about our own consumer.

In this age of new media, it’s easier than ever to interact with our own customers and find ways to creatively and inexpensively validate our assumptions of who we believe our target market to be.  Just don’t fall into the trap of believing the target market is you…or the Founder.

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