The Myth of the Average Customer

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Brand HarmonyHave your heard any of these generalizations about Millennials?  They feel entitled. They don’t want to work hard. They’d rather text than talk. 

If you’ve heard these comments, do you believe them?

If you’re a marketer or salesperson, have these generalizations affected your work?

In a recent New York Times article “Corporate America Chases the Mythical Millennial,” Farhad Manjoo describes the folly of generalizing about the 75 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000. Manjoo writes:

“Although millennials are now the largest demographic group in the country (sorry, boomers), and though they are more racially diverse than any other generation in American history, they are often depicted on TV, in movies and music, and in the news (including The New York Times) as a collectively homogeneous cliché.”.

I know lots of Millennials, and one thing I know is that they are all different, just like all the Gen-Xers, Boomers and octogenarians I know.

As marketers, it’s easy to lump people together into customer segments, because it makes our work easier. Think how much easier it is to create Millennial-focused marketing programs when you assume that they are all indulgent, tech-savvy, hipster narcissists.

The same can be said for marketing to any segment of the population. Averages can be very misleading.

I was once asked by a mid-level manager at an advertising agency to help her on a marketing plan for a client’s product. The target audience for the product was anyone who uses an ATM machine, which, at that time, was about 50% of the American public in any given month.

She insisted that her target customer was a household with an income of $50,000, headed by someone 18-34 years of age, because she had read that statistic described the average ATM customer.  She had already decided that she should use radio advertising targeted at people who fit this demographic description.

What she didn’t realize is that focusing on this fictitious average customer would ensure that she would not be marketing to most of her target customers.  The more variation a customer population has, the less any individual customer looks like the average customer. Marketing to the average ensures that the marketing message is irrelevant to most customers.

The average customer doesn’t exist. Don’t waste your time looking for her.  More importantly, don’t waste your budget marketing to her.

 

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Posted in Brand Harmony, Customer Encounters, Marketing, Newsletters

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