Where in the World Are Your Customers?

Every once in a while I find myself experiencing a "wow" moment. The scope of it is usually small, but I am amazed by something I see occurring in the world around me. I had one of those "wow" moments a few days ago. I opened my Facebook feed to see what was happening. As I read the first four posts it struck me that the topics and perspectives of the posters read like they were in four very different worlds. I don't want to quote the posters, but the tone of their posts went like this:
These events sound like activity occurring in four very different places, but we know too well that it is from the same world but at different moments in people's lives. We experience these emotions... just not all at the same time!

Where Are Your Customers?
As I reflected on this snapshot of my friends' lives, I could not help but see parallels with buyer-seller relationships in marketing. Marketers gravitate toward lumping customers together in a target market based on shared characteristics (e.g., age, gender, geographic location). There are benefits to analyzing customers to uncover similarities. However, these surface level characteristics are not complete pictures of customers. In addition to state-of-being characteristics, we must consider customers' state of mind- what are they feeling? What are they going through in their lives? Answers to these questions move us to group customers into segments by seeing them as individuals. As an educator, I find myself asking the state-of-mind questions about my students. Sure, they have similarities in terms of age, field of study, and geography, but each one has challenges, joys, and disappointments that often do not show up in their outward conduct. I know that I can serve them better if I understand what they are up against.

Aggregate and Differentiate
The takeaway of this post is not a call to abandon traditional target marketing tactics. Aggregation creates efficiency in communicating with and serving customers. Rather, complement aggregation with individualization by listening for cues about customers' state of mind. The most effective means of doing this is through the sales force's contact with customers and prospects. Similarly, service employees in a call center can gather such information through their interactions with customers. Social media is another channel for listening, both what people are saying about your company and products as well as what is on their mind in general.

Marketing is about meeting the needs of customers. We cannot lose sight of the fact that needs do not exist because of our personal characteristics like how much education we have or how much money we earn (aggregate characteristics); our needs arise from our unique life situations. The challenge for marketers is to be prepared to listen as customers reveal their state of mind.