Who are you selling to?

Most businesses begin their journey with a clear appreciation of their target market. Yet it’s surprising how often what they consider to be their typical customer is very different from reality. A great case in point on this involves a story told to me several years ago.

An attractive stainless steel cigarette lighter

Image courtesy of www.thebackyshop.co.uk

Ronson was a British company that made cigarette lighters. Ronson didn’t make any old ordinary plastic lighter. These were durable, high quality, stainless steel objects of beauty.

Who were Ronson selling to? Duh! It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to answer that one! They were selling to smokers stupid. And naturally their sales and marketing campaigns were geared towards this most valuable consumer.

After a number of years of underperformance with their lighters, Ronson reached a stage where they called in some professional support. The advice they received turned everything they had ever assumed to be true about their target market on its head.

The plain truth was that (most) smokers don’t buy a snazzy stainless steel lighter. They go to the local supermarket and buy a plastic disposable lighter for pennies. To them, the lighter is a means to an end. Plastic or metal. Red or white. It really made no odds to the average smoker. So that was it – the whole Ronson business model blown up in a puff of cigarette smoke…

Well not quite. It turns out there was indeed a market for their lighters. In fact, it was a very lucrative market. Sadly, nobody at Ronson had figured it out until that point. The people that wanted their lighters didn’t need them to satisfy an urge to smoke. Smoking couldn’t be further away from their needs. Instead, the people that wanted their lighters needed to resolve a gift purchase headache. You see the people that wanted their lighters were not the smokers themselves; they were the wives, children or parents of the smokers. Ronson lighters made an ideal gift. And once Ronson figured this out, their marketing campaigns changed dramatically and their revenues soared.

This story underlines a valuable but often misunderstood aspect of market segmentation. Sure you need to figure out exactly to whom you are selling. Yet that’s just part of the puzzle. The next stage is to truly understand their motivation for purchase. Only then can you truly provide them with the bait to be hooked and reeled in.

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