“Women over 45 are scared of trying new things” and other myths. The Apprentice shows us why it’s essential to know your customer.

Clusters : Louise Altman Louise Altman, October 20th 2015 B2B B2C Marketing
Why you need to know who your customer is

It’s always a mistake to make assumptions about your customer instead of using evidence, as perfectly illustrated last week when Alan Sugar returned to our screens for the new series of The Apprentice.

Week 1 saw a group of mostly young women develop a new shampoo aimed at the grey pound, based on the clearly misguided assumption that the 45+ female market are afraid of new brands and concepts. This led to a product that played it so safe it failed to appeal to anyone and was dubbed “something you’d find in a Pound Store”. But was the problem their lack of knowledge about the older female market? No, the real problem was that they didn’t see this as a barrier to creating a successful product for that market.

Given a chance to run some market research and gain some insights into women over 45, the outcome would have been different. Instead, the group ploughed on without any understanding of their target audience, creating a product that failed to impress.

Mistakes were not limited to the packaging nor the name, but also included the way the product was advertised to its target audience. All of which could have been avoided. Knowing your customer inside-out is essential when developing new brands, products and advertising campaigns. How can you expect them to be attracted to your offering if you don’t know what they are interested in, or what motivates them to buy products?

There is often a huge gap between assumptions about what your customer wants, and what they actually want. Many companies have fallen into the trap of lowering their prices, convinced their customers just want the best deal. However, when sales don’t increase they discover that actually their customers are after good service and are willing to pay a bit more. Understanding your target customers’ motivations and barriers provides crucial evidence to support any brand or proposition.

A famous example of this is Parker Pens who dramatically misread their customers when failing to realise how many people bought their products as gifts. Instead of competing against its real competitors, Parker challenged Bic with its own range of cheap ball point pens. The results were poor: not only did they not steal share from Bic, but by reducing the quality of their pens to compete on price, they lost their attraction as a gift.

Because Parker assumed rather than using evidence on why customers bought their products, their business suffered.

It is clear that these sort of mistakes are not restricted to The Apprentice but can be seen in everyday business. It is therefore critical that before you develop a new product, service or brand that you know, not only who to target, but also how to target them. You should know what you need to provide or say that will make your customers more likely to choose your proposition. This means that any decisions on branding, product development and market communications should all be based on evidence rather than pre-existing assumptions. At the very least, by using hard data to justify business decisions, you’ll have a water-tight defence if you ever encounter Alan Sugar in the board room.


Want to learn more about how knowing your customer can give you the competitive edge? Drop me an email at louise.altman@clusters.uk.com or call 020 7842 6830.