The Ideal Customer
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Great marketing programs are based on listening to how customers talk about what they need.

One of the basic rules of marketing is that before you do anything else, define and understand your target audience. This has been true since the dawn of marketing and never more so than today. You have to create a detailed picture of your company's ideal customer before you can proceed with any marketing initiatives. Doing otherwise would be like commencing to build a house with no plan of what the house should look like.

So how should you go about drawing a picture of your target audience?

"It really starts with looking at who your best clients are today," says Philadelphia-based marketing expert David Newman. "There are two ways to answer that question. A lot of CEOs say, 'Well, our best customer is the one that buys the most stuff.'"

But that's often not the right answer because your biggest customer might also be the most difficult, the slowest to pay or the one that always has the last-minute crisis that ties up all of your resources.

In other words, the amount of cash changing hands is only one small determinant in a range of factors that need to be weighed when defining your company's ideal customer.

"It's not necessarily about who gives you the most money," says Newman. This is really about who is the best fit for what you do, how you do it, how you like to do business and how you like to charge for your products and services. It's about who is a pleasure to work with."

Establishing a deep, intimate understanding of your best customers is the second critical part of building a marketing platform.

"It's an outside-in process," Newman says. "You have to listen to your customers and think about what they're saying. How do they articulate their needs, pains, problems and headaches? Not in marketing-speak, and not in sales bullets, but in plain English. You have to totally trash all the copywriting secrets, all the advertising taglines, all the clever phrasing and industry jargon. To resonate on a deep level with your best customers, you really need to speak their language about their problems."

Often it's in casual moments that the deepest truths emerge, and that's when you know you've found something that can resonate from a marketing perspective.

"My litmus test for this is what I call the six o'clock, head-in-the-hands-at-the-bar conversation," Newman says. "What does your customer or prospect say in that situation? How do they articulate their predicament? Maybe they'll say something like, 'If I have to cobble together one more of these sales reports out of my Excel spreadsheets, I am not going to be happy.'"

Now, take that direct language, think about it from a marketing perspective and apply it to your brochure or website. If you present your message just like your customers gave it to you, it will resonate with them.

"They'll go, 'This company gets it! That's totally my problem,'" Newman says. "You send that to a CFO, controller or a VP of finance, and they will get it. If you've done your targeting the right way, they will get it because you are speaking their language."

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