Dig Deeper into your Target Audience’s Motivation

Whether you work in a B2B or a B2C company, it’s critical to understand who the target audience is and why they might purchase a product or service that your business offers.

I’ve had numerous sessions with CEOs and clients who want to sell to “everyone!”  Not only doesn’t “everyone” buy any product (even toothpaste, detergent  and shampoo have less than 100% penetration), but spreading marketing resources thinly with a “shotgun” approach misses the target buyer more often than it hits one.

Recently, I came across another problem with a target audience segment. My client wanted to target two segments of a specialized field because he felt that both audiences had the same motivation to purchase.

After I went back to brand basics, and started listing the two targets’ problems and company solutions to address those problems, I had an “a-ha” moment.  It turned out that industry goals and operating plans led everyone to believe that the two target audiences in this B2B field should be moving in lockstep toward financial prosperity.  In reality, one of the target segments had no motivation to follow management’s over-arching goals.  In fact, this segment had dis-incentives to build company prosperity.

One of the target segments was being rewarded for cost-costing, when management wanted them to cut costs and increase revenue.  But this target had no financial or career motivation to build revenue. Actually, if the segment increased revenue, they would be penalized by management who bench-marked this new revenue goal and expected the managers to beat it the following year.  With their jobs being structured so that they didn’t gain any benefit for meeting revenue goals, they chose not to.

A similar situation occurred at a company I used to work for.   It was a B2C retail company, with each outlet’s staff divided into two physical segments.  Management kept scratching their heads about why the staff in the front of the store wouldn’t refer customers to products in the back and visa versa.  One day I sat in a store to try and solve the mystery.

The front end of the store and the rear of the store were providing product alternatives to the same consumer problem.  I could see that staff on the retail floor resided in two invisible silos.  Each group provided service to customers on their own turf, but never crossed the line in the proverbial sand.  Why?

After asking some pointed questions of the employees, I discovered that each half of the store had different managers, different salaries, bonus and incentive structures and different goals.  Actually, the two employee org charts didn’t meet until the two branches reached the CEO. With competing agendas to raise sales in their own areas, the two groups had fallen into a pattern of never taking a customer to the other side of the store.  There was no motivation and no incentive to do so.  In this case again, there was dis-incentive to cross-sell all the store products if it didn’t count toward the sales goals on the individual staffer’s side of the store.

When you start to think about your target audience and how to reach them, dig a little deeper into the under-currents of motivation that are running beneath the surface.  Then look at your own employees and determine how their incentives are structured to connect with your target audience.  You may find that no amount of branding or marketing can overcome these crossed purposes, which have nothing to do with your product or marketing efforts, but have everything to do with WIIFM: what’s in it for me?



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Sage Marketing Quote

What makes content engaging is relevancy.  You need to connect the contact information with the content information.

–Gail Goodman

President & CEO, Constant Contact

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From Plato to…Play-Doh

After just having seen a story on TV news about college essays, and the “strikingly original” questions being asked of applicants, I opened my University of Chicago magazine and saw Laura Demanski’s article on the essay questions asked by the admissions office for the Class of 2016.

The most popular question of the six offered for applicants’ compositions was the question that asked the candidates to trace a path from Plato to Play-Doh.  Hmmm…

When I think back to my under-graduate and MBA essays, they were far more mundane: life resume, why I wanted to attend this program, what I thought I’d get out of the experience, and other boring drivel.  Today, college hopefuls are asked to be creative.  What a great idea!

As MBA candidates have asked me over the years what I got out of my business training at the U. of Chicago, I quickly tell them that the program, the professors, the other students and the environment taught me critical thinking.

Didn’t I get a toolbox of formulas to map The Random Walk of the stock market, approaches to modeling Conjoint Analysis and access to more university Nobel Prize winners than could be printed on the front of a maroon and gold t-shirt?  Yes, I received all this and more, but learning how to think critically and creatively, then develop business strategy, was by far the most valuable.

How does a university teach someone to be a critical thinker?  How does the admissions office identify those applicants most likely to benefit from that type of educational system?

I think these essays pose stretch questions–ones that require left and right-brained thinking.  Not only does the answer need to be original, but trace a path (in this particular question) from Plato (Point A) to Play-Doh (Point B).  The answer needs to stand out among competition and engage the audience.  Sounds just like marketing to me!

What could be better preparation for life than learning how to think about problems?  The break-neck speed of change going on in the world today, particularly in business, mandates that we all hone our thinking skills, rather than specific tools that seem to be quickly outmoded.

For Ms. Demanski’s article, she posed this question to a few alumni as well.  As part of his answer, James Read, a political science professor at St. John’s University had this to say:

“…Among the ingredients of Play-Doh is a small quantity of salt.  Plato, too, should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt…”

For the full article or to challenge your own creative juices on these questions, link to “Admit One,” published in The Core, January-February 2012 issue of the College Magazine of the The University of Chicago.

If you want more on the Plato-Play-Doh connection,  see the video application from what might be a budding filmmaker, titled: What Does Play-Doh Have to do with Plato?



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Sage Marketing Quote

The way you can understand all of the social media is as the creation of a new kind of public space.

–Danah Boyd

Social Media Researcher, Microsoft

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You’re Only as Good as Your Vendor

This article “You Are Only as Good as Your Vendor” appeared this weekend in Sarah E. Needleman’s “The Accidental Entrepreneur” column in the WSJ.  It’s a great read, not only for entrepreneurs, but for absolutely anyone in business.


The notion of “No Man is an Island,” is true for every business person–if you’re a solo entrepreneur or a staffer in a multi-national corporation. Ms. Needleman talks about small businesses being at the whim of their vendors, yet having some leverage.  Yet his is true for all of us in business.

No matter what we do, as business people we rely on others internally and mostly externally to provide inputs, give expert advice, sell our products, and generally do the things that either we can’t do or can’t do as well as someone else can do them.

Sometimes we call these people vendors or contractors.  When we know that we couldn’t do it without them, we call these people partners.

What’s the difference in nomenclature? R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Just like employees, the primary reason that people quit jobs or quit clients is that they don’t feel appreciated.  I’ve had colleagues tell me that they need to keep pushing vendors to the max.  They feel it should be enough just to get paid.  Constantly pushing shows “who’s the boss.”

But I’ve found that when times get tough, the vendors that I’ve treated as partners will go the extra mile and save my project or my delivery or my bacon.  These become my top-notch vendor/partners that I trust and want to continue doing business with over the long term.

While we all have to vet the people we work with, and each of us has to prove our worth in mutual relationships, we need to appreciate the part our vendors play in making each of us and our businesses look good. When a vendor delivers on expectations and the contract, maybe we should give them something that goes beyond our payment: respect for a job well done.




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Sage Marketing Quote

The biggest myth in marketing is the idea of meeting expectations.  There is no such thing as meeting expectations.  You either exceed them or you fall short. In a world where 60-80% of customers describe themselves as satisfied or very satisfied before going on to defect to other brands, merely “meeting expectations” is no longer an option.

–Stan Phelps

author of the new book “What’s Your Purple Goldfish?”

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Brand Charter: the Lego Blocks of Branding

Over the past couple years,  I’ve noticed more and more clients being very precise in asking for a narrow scope of work from me as a Marketing Consultant.  Perhaps it’s the economy that limits their requests for more comprehensive marketing, or perhaps companies find it easier to ask for tangibles that are missing from their Business Plan, like a Marketing Plan or a Competitive Review.

In many cases, companies assume since they’ve spent lots of time and money on developing a great product, that using a formulaic approach to marketing is all that needs to be done to launch a brand and have it be successful.  For marketing to work, however, the essentials have to be in place before the documents can be written or executed.

For many clients, I take them back to the beginning…the very beginning. I usually call this the Brand Charter.  This isn’t a Mission Statement, or a Brand Manifesto (which is usually an edgy version of a Mission Statement).  A Mission Statement serves a great purpose to rally the team and make sure everyone in the company is marching in the same direction.

A Brand Charter, instead of being company-centric, looks at the brand from the consumer/customer’s point-of-view.  It shifts the focus from “we do this” and “we do that” to “you need this brand because…”

The Brand Charter defines the target audience, identifies the target customer’s problem, explains why the brand’s solution is exactly what the customer needs, states the positioning of the brand in relation to competitors and fleshes out the brand’s personality.  Note that all these element focus on how the brand appears to the customer–not the company.

Marketers have different terms for each of these components like Brand Charter=Brand Statement; Positioning=Unique Value Proposition and Brand Personality=Tone & Manner.  Whatever terms you choose to call these elements, they’re are like building blocks, not a finished statement that gets hung on the wall or inserted into the plan for investors, then forgotten.

Elements of the Brand Charter are used over and over again to create consistent communication.  They’re like a set of Lego® blocks. The brand team decides what pieces and what colors go into the customized Lego set, then for every project, the team uses those same blocks in different configurations.

The Brand Charter forms the architecture of the brand.  The customer, as well as the brand team, will always know what this brand stands for, because the brand messages are clear, focused and consistent, even if the creative or the media channels change.

Do you have your own version of a Brand Charter or is your brand architecture based on the whim of a few or the marketing fashion du jour?









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Sage Advice Quote

Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.


Chinese Philosopher (604 BC–531 BC)

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Can’t Do Everything? Do Something.

Here we are in the New Year with lists of things to do in hand, a new business plan, new themes to follow or new lists of resolutions, new systems to start, new calendars to prepare.  And what happens?  Paralysis sets in. The overwhelming number of things to get started, or finish out from last year’s lists, is well…overwhelming.

Are you in the same position I am with everything ganging up on you at once and every one of those things being a top priority?

When I get in this situation, I take a deep breath and remind myself of the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu’s quote:  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  I take that step, and feel slightly productive. Then I take another and feel that maybe I can literally work my way out of my mountain of tasks.

Once when the world was crashing down on my head and I didn’t have enough resources or patience to move ahead, I wrote down a guideline for myself that was patterned after Lao-tzu’s great quote.  It was: “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”  That something was usually trivial, but it allowed me to overcome the inertia of a body at rest staying at rest.

As I was verifying the Lao-tzu quote of “a single step,” I ran across another of his quotes that mirrors the one that I wrote down of doing something.  This quote by the philosopher is: “Anticipate the difficulty by managing the easy.”  I realized that this was what I was doing.  By moving ahead with manageable steps, I was preparing myself for accomplishing the difficult imperatives ahead.

What about you?  Do you have a method to kick-start your obligations without dissipating all that New Year’s/new beginning’s energy?



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Sage Marketing Quote

Make the customer the hero of your story.

–Ann Handley

Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

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