You Are Not the Target Audience


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Take a good look in the mirror. What you see is not your customer base. Your customers don’t live where you live, eat what you eat or feel what you feel. They don’t know what you know. Now take a look at your marketing department. Nope, your customers are not there, either. The CEO’s office? That’s the very last place they’ll be found.

If you think you’re doing your customers and prospects a favor by building your web site to work the way you think best, think again. If your design decisions are made in passing by senior executives (“How about a Tell My Friends’ Friends button?”), then the problem goes much deeper than can be managed here.

Customers come in all shapes and sizes, and not one of them wants your product or service. Really. They don’t want it. What they want is what it will do for them, and each of them has a different opinion about what that is. Those different customers with their different reasons for buying will buy in different ways. So how do you make a unique, online experience that caters to them all?

Step 1: Listen. The Voice of Customer (VoC) is your best friend. You can learn more in a handful of five-minute phone calls with customers than you can with a stack of surveys.

Kristin Zhivago is a superlative marketing consultant who explained this point for me with crystal clarity. She was working with an online start-up (which has grown up quite nicely, thank you) and related how the whole company would talk to one customer each week. At the time, there were 23 people in the company and they all gathered around the speaker phone for a prescheduled, 15-minute conversation. The dialogue centered on one question: How can we do a better job serving you?

Sometimes the calls went for an hour. One customer faxed them 15 pages of web page printouts with circles and arrows.

As the company grew, they could no longer be on the same call, so they required all of their managers to spend 10 percent of their time speaking with actual customers. Ten percent equates to a half a day a week. You can tell they believe there is a lot of ROI in the VoC. How much time do you spend listening to customers?

Step 2: Segment. Everybody may be different, but they do fall into categories. Segmenting your customers into broad categories gives you the ability to anticipate different needs online. It doesn’t matter where you start. You can segment by such things as:

  • Geography—where they’re from

  • Time of day that they visit

  • Products or services that interest them

  • Source of their visit (banner ad versus search engine)

  • Recency and frequency

Once you start segmenting, you can become more adept at finding the common attributes that indicate interest and propensity to buy.

Step 3: Personify. Now that you have your customers properly bucketed, create a persona to represent each bucket. Give that persona a name. You’ll be amazed at the difference between “executive women between 34 and 50 with an income greater than $75,000” and “Jane.”

Executive women between 34 and 50 with an income greater than $75,000 can’t come to a meeting, but a cardboard cutout of Jane can stand right there and remind you for whom you are building this particular web site application. Personae become your in-head advisors. And they won’t quit in a huff if you forget to talk to them. Your real customers will do that.

Step 4: Integrate. Now that you’ve got information about how your various customer segments behave online, go find out how they feel. Ask them personally. Run a focus group. Round up a usability study. Do a survey. Even better: Listen to them when they get upset.

Avinash Kaushik, Intuit’s director of Web Research & Analytics, likes to highlight the tool in the analytical arsenal he most cherishes. He assiduously tracks behavior—every click. He keeps close watch on outcomes; software trials; purchases; and abandoned shopping carts. But the tool he would most want on a desert island if he could only have one? Customer feedback and satisfaction scores.

“I have all these gauges and dashboards to tell me how things are going,” he says. “But if I make a change to the site and I can move the needle on customer satisfaction, then I must be doing something right—by definition!”

Avinash stresses that he is wrong about what he thinks his customers want more often than he is right. “We have the means to test and measure—repeatedly. So there’s no reason to make changes based on assumptions. Better, is to make changes based on hypotheses, and see if they are right. If not, throw them out and try something else.”

Avinash integrates all the data he can get his hands on to paint a more holistic picture of his customers’ behavior. And, harking back to Step 1, above, he just loves the voice of the customer. “Whenever a customer complains about something on our site, I can almost hear the cash register ring. And the more vehement the complaint, the louder the ca-ching!”

He clearly sees the links from customers who care, to caring for customers, to increasing customer satisfaction, all the way to increased loyalty, improved products, and a better bottom line.

He loves listening to the voice of the angry customer so much that he often advises people to “listen for the F-U in the VoC.”

Step 5: One-to-One Marketing Revisited. In 1995, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers published The One-to-One Future (Currency, May 3, 1996). In it, they described a world where you could remember whether your hotel guests liked feather pillows or were allergic to them. You could treat a customer base of thousands as if they were all regulars at your 10-table restaurant.

Today, you can provide a better customer experience for each of your web site visitors by assigning a persona identification to each of them based on their online behavior and dynamically serve up content that will better help them accomplish their goals. They will thank you for it.

And if you listen closely to their hopes, fears and occasional expletives, you will be in a better position to make long-term plans and set long-term goals for your site and for your company.

Then, you will be able to look yourself in the mirror and feel good about what you see but never confuse your reflection with that of your customers.


  1. Jim, quoted Don Peppers and Martha Rogers’ One to One Future above and their ideas, given the fact that they were written originally in 1992-1993, pre-World Wide Web, are even more relevant today and are easily accomplished. I have had the privilege of introducing both Don and Martha at DMA events in the past. One of Martha’s great comments came in a Wired Magazine interview in 1996, where she stated, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the balance of power has shifted from company to customer, much like “handing the rifle to the deer.” Our job as customer managers is to understand that there has been an even greater power shift since 1996. We have to understand that the customer (deer) has the power (rifle) in the relationship, and the customer is willing to pull the trigger on the relationship if they are dissatisfied with the relationship.


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