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February 2016

Hard Lessons from a Brand Icon.

Feb 22, 2016 4:42 PM
Bruce Hunter

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned – the importance of getting your core customer right - came from a colossal mistake.  Here’s the story:

I was the marketing executive responsible for leading the charge on one of Canada’s Food icons – Kraft Dinner.  To say that Kraft Dinner has a following is an understatement.  Canadians have a very special relationship with KD.  It starts when you’re young and touches you throughout your life.  From child to grandparent. For years it was advertised and targeted to Mom’s with pre-teen kids.  It was time for a new television spot to be created, so we tasked J.W. Thompson to create a new piece to be aired that year.  The result was a commercial we all loved.  It showed photogenic little kids eating KD in various cute ways set to the tune of the song “It had to be you”.   We puffed up our chests, certain that we’d created a piece that would build substantive gains for the brand once aired.  But, after a number of weeks on air, the needle didn’t move.  Nothing.  Nada.  We’d missed something.

Perplexed, we went back to the drawing board to try to figure out where we’d gone astray.  We talked again to our consumer base.  We looked into how they used it at home and the relationship they had with the product.  And finally, a new learning emerged.  As it turned out, most people, regardless of age related KD to a rite of passage:  living away from home for the first time.  It brought back memories of dorm life, newfound freedom and college apartments.   No wonder we hadn’t hit the mark.  Cute kids playing with their food was the furthest away from college dorms and university memories!  We changed the copy, directed it to the right consumer and the business took off! 

There are two important lessons from this story.  The first is picking the right core customer upon which to focus.  Get it wrong and virtually all of your business activity will be misdirected, not just your communication.  Second is laser focus.   The tighter you can define your core, the more effective your execution.   Avoid the natural tendency to broaden your appeal and extend the core.  You’re just watering down your effectiveness and scarce resources. 

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of questions you can use to help identify your core customers and better focus your business.  The most important thing?  It starts with them and their needs…not yours.

How do your customers make their decisions about your products or services?
What’s the competitive landscape?  Who are they focused on?
What problems are your customers seeking to solve?
What are your customers’ customers problems?  Solving them is a home run!
How have you reduced the barriers to purchase for your customers?
How could you make the purchase decision easier?
Have you set up a system for recording customer transactions and experiences?
Have you sourced and read strategy and industry reports relative to your business?
Are you speaking regularly with your customers?  Directly?  Through others?
What insight and learning have you got relative to your customer base? 
Is your customer base different from others in your industry?  How?  Why?
Have you spoken with your front-line employees to learn what they know?
Do you understand how your offering fits within the context of their broader lives?
Have you a deep financial understanding of the profitability of each of your customer segments?

The strongest plans and execution starts with deep insight and laser-focus on the right core customer.  Get that correct and you’ve upped your probability of success immeasurably.  Get it wrong, well, you know what the end of that story is likely to be.

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