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Improving Odds of Connecting w/ Your Target Market

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Kim Krause Berg had a interesting additional thought to my post about eye tracking. Her question, "What happens when your target market gets up on the wrong side of the bed?".

This got me to thinking about the validity of market research and understanding more about your target customer. Kim’s point, which she makes quite clearly, is that people are people and all the research in the world won’t be able to tell you if your target customers having a bad day, or for that matter, an extraordinarily good day, when they are interacting with your site. How much of a role does emotion play with predicted behavior?

In marketing and user centered design circles, we often talk about our targeted users and customers. Companies with money to blow will run studies on who their target consumers are, or run focus groups on what people love and hate about their products. The human factors industry studies human-computer behavior. Usability companies try to understand what ticks off end users. Conversions experts look for all the reasons behind failed sales. Search engine marketers dig deep for keywords used by the perfect end user who knows exactly what they’re looking for.

Once all this data is gathered, white papers are written, case studies are published and articles are run that inform us about what our site visitors and product users want, what they like, how they make choices and why. We may think we’re very cool and savvy to have found the holy grail of ROI.

What if your product, service, internet application or website is humming along, primed for the perfect targeted end user and that person is suddenly different?

Perhaps they are emotionally upset. PMS. Menopausal. Facing surgery. Sleepless parents. Overworked wage earners. Out of work. On medication. Depressed. Drunk. Suffers a sudden loss of eyesight or use of their hands. There are a zillion reasons why someone has an "off" day, is feeling emotionally or mentally out of whack or drastically changes in some way. This can last for a day, or longer.

Either way, what they are dealing with, at the moment they are accessing your website, service, product or application, may have an impact on how successful they are at completing a task.

Marketing is a game of percentages. It’s all about increasing your odds of hitting that perfect combination: putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Will you get it right 100% of the time? Of course not. But then again, if you can improve your odds of success from 50% to 60 or 70% you’ve just scored a huge marketing coup.

When you reduce marketing to one to one communication, you’re completely dependent on the receptiveness of your intended target. Unless you’re in front of the person when you communicate with them, there’s no way for you to pick up their mood or emotion. You can’t alter your message accordingly to the signals that you’re picking up. But the interesting thing is, as variable as people are on an individual basis, if you put enough of them together they start reacting in predictable patterns.

While it might be impossible to predict the success of your message on an individual basis, the greater the size of the group, the more confident you are in predicting what the aggregate patterns will look like. And that’s where understanding more about your target market can dramatically improve your odds. If Kim is in my target market, I might not know what her mood might be on any given day. If I have 10,000 Kim’s in my target market, I can be fairly sure that on any given day a certain percentage of them will be in a good mood, a certain percentage will be in a bad mood, and a certain percentage will be relatively ambivalent. I don’t have to be precise on a one-to-one level, because the law of averages works in my favor. I’ll get more right than wrong. What is important, however, is that you have a good understanding of what all those Kim’s generally like, what motivates them, and what their intent is when they interact with my brand.

There’s a lot of talk about personas as a tool to help you understand your target market better. One of the reasons people hesitate to use personas is that it feels odd, when your target market could be made up of thousands or millions of individuals, to build a conceptual framework represents just one individual. Again, it seems like you’re oversimplifying the collective needs and wants of your segment. But the power of a persona is the way it forces you to shift your paradigm, the way it forces you to look at things from a customer’s point of view and interact with your brand through their eyes, not yours. It’s this fundamental shift in thinking that has to happen to be able to effectively close communication.

Once you build your persona framework, you can start dropping in the individual pieces of research intelligence you might have on your target market. It helps to create a profile, complete with a much greater understanding of what motivates that target, relative to your offering. It’s very difficult start a conversation with someone when you have no idea who you’re talking to.

The whole point of communication is to effectively connect and transfer information back and forth. The greater the understanding, the greater the odds of making that connection. Ideally, we should all be able to sit in front of each individual we’re communicating with and be able to read their body language, be able to pick up their signals, be able to interpret their moods and emotions. This being impossible (my track record with my wife is pretty abysmal and I live with her every day) the next best thing is to understand more about the group as a whole and what motivates them, and then to be able to craft your messaging in a way that resonates with them.

Again, it’s all about improving your odds for success. If Kim gets up on the wrong side of the bed today, I might totally blow my chances of getting the right message to her, simply because she’s not in the mood to receive it. But for every one I get wrong, there will be several more that I get right.

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