Don’t know your customer? Look in the mirror

After several hours of questions and conversation earlier this week, my clients and I seemed only somewhat closer to nailing down their target customer. Then the business development manager shared a customer profile they drafted a couple months earlier. Funny thing, he could have just as easily been describing the people in his company.

Could it be that to know thyself is to know thy customer? At the very least, it’s a great place to start when your profiling a target audience.

Earlier this year, I helped a nonprofit build a case statement for gaining donor support. They struggled with defining who their target donor was. As I got deeper into interviews and research, I realized they were describing people who bore little resemblance to them as staff and board members. They feared prospective donors in the community wouldn’t be sympathetic to the troubled teens they were helping.

What I helped them see is that it was exactly people like them who would be most apt to support their mission and want to give. I built their case around appealing to kindred spirits. Just speak from the heart about what you believe and your donors would connect, I advised them. At their annual fundraising breakfast in May, donations were up 40 percent.

Business or customer?

Looking back on who I selected as my target client, I realize I too was drawing a picture of a client whose values are much the same as mine. When I say I want to help the organizations that are trying to make the world a better place, I could just as easily be talking about my work as a consultant.

There’s a chicken-and-egg thing going on with branding and marketing. Which comes first: your customer or your business? I don’t have a definitive answer. And I’m not sure it matters. If you’re struggling to define who you are as an organization, take a good look at who your customers are. Likewise, if you’re not able to describe your customer, then describe your organization instead. Chances are you and your customers have a lot in common.

July 22nd, 2011

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