Stop targeting your customers

“We’re attacking the target market with a rifle shot approach.”

“We’re in a fierce battle with the competition to capture market share.”

“We’ve scheduled a volley of advertising for the fall.”

I’ve actually heard people say these things. What is this, marketing, or West Point?

Why are we targeting customers? Are we trying to shoot them?

I’ll bet many of these companies claim to have a focus on “relationship marketing.” (Which usually means their IT department manages CRM software and they use it to “target” offers to certain customers)

These are marketing words I avoid:

“go after”
“break through”

These are marketing words I love:


Throwing information at customers is a very ineffective method of communication. If I want to persuade you of something, would I have much luck if I tried to “capture” you or “target” you?

Relationships require dialogue. Monologue can cripple relationships in their tracks.

Marketing is not hypnosis. Is it not something you do to your customers. It is something you do with them.

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Posted in Marketing
11 comments on “Stop targeting your customers
  1. Hi Steve, interesting linguistic analysis! I was already aware of the fact that “marketing to” a customer would be better than “marketing (targeting) at” him. What I learn from your post is that “marketing with” your customer should be the term of the hour. Comprising all channels viral …

  2. Harald,

    See this post for a bit more on this:

    Even doing things “for” customers (i.e., customer service) is not enough!

  3. Judith Ellis says:

    There is a vast difference between monologue and dialogue. The former concentrates on one voice that latter considers the voice of another which undoubtedly influences outcome and the effectiveness of conversation. Monologues in marketing seem most important for internal brand-exploration which is necessary to begin internal conversation (as in who are we?). But this conversation, needless to say, should lead to external dialogue.

    There is no getting around dialogue. Marketing IS dialogue, a dialogue between the brand and the customer. The dialogue then needs the openness, quickness, and foresight of the marketing team; they develop the dialogue and anticipate the response. The marketing team also adjust based on the real dialogue that follows without compromising the brand. This requires skill.

    • Judith … aren’t there people beyond the marketing team who participate in the response. How about the sales person in a retail store is talking with a customer who brings in an ad generated by the marketing team? Or a technical support person on the phone?

  4. Marketing, is communication. Period. Anything that captures imagination works.

    Apple, for instance, is not known for their conversations. But their marketing works.

    But of course, a conversation stands a better chance any day.

    Jay, from Bangalore

    • Jay,

      Beyond a better computer experience, one of the main things that made me switch from Dell to Apple was that I could have a conversation with Apple when I had a problem. I can drive to the Genius Bar from my house and get help in less time than I wait on hold on the phone for a Dell technician. (Ok, lucky I live close to an Apple store! You have one in Bangalore, right?)

      I think your comment that “conversation stands a better chance any day” is true, of course, and it goes for communication in general, not just marketing. Communication isn’t just talking to your customers, it is being understodd by them, and people understand better in dialogue.

      Sounds like you are also noting that every communication can’t be a dialogue; some are inherently monologue. And, in the spirit of brand harmony, if enough dialogue moments are woven into the overall experience, the overall brand impression will be better.

  5. Judith Ellis says:

    Steve…let me preface any comment that I post here with full awareness that I am NOT the expert here. You are. That said….I most certainly agree that there are a symphony of people involved in the response. What I was referring to is the initial marketing strategies in which others participate, but not necessarily create. There is the actual creative process of marketing (of creating an ad, for example) that the average person has no awareness of, but the marketing team does. The good marketing team, then, is both internal and external beholding and acting upon the consciousness of the public wholly.

    The general public is indeed savvy and aware and their response is key to the success of further marketing. But I do not think that they are aware of the ins and outs of the process. I love movies and the process of movie making. So, when I go into the theater all aspects of the movie intrigues me. I am aware of the lighting, script, music, sound affects, and skill of the actor or lack thereof; I am aware of the process that involves the whole.

    I am sure that there are many moviegoers who have similar experiences. But I would venture to suspect that most go into the theater and let the movie wash over them, simply emoting or experiencing the film in the moment. A good marketing team sees the movie beforehand, experiences it in the now, and makes adjustments based upon responses. I see the marketing team as the moviegoer who is very much aware of all aspects of the movie as both the creator and spectator, as apposed to the general public who simply go to the theater for the experience alone. This is essentially what I was referencing when I spoke of the marketing team, the necessity of being both internal and external.

    Perhaps the analogy of a live 18th Century performance would be better in describing dialogue which is by nature interactive. Spectators actually had immediate input in the very performance; performers had to improvise on the spot in order to hold the audience’s attention and avoid rancid fruit and vegetables being hurled at them. (With technology, there may even become a time, if not already, that this immediate interactive approach to marketing will be a norm—though perhaps not as brutal.) Imagine as a performer bracing for such immediate response of displeasure? To silence an audience with pleasing music performers would improvise, even composing completely new pieces on the spot. This was a successful night at the theater in the 18 Century.

    The opening, quickness and foresight that I spoke of was the initial creation and re-creation of marketing strategies based on the response of many. Sales persons, customers and technical support teams will all have a response in the dialogue. But somebody has to synthesize all of the responses. Is this not the marketing team? The comment on monologues and internal brand-exploration is simply the initial ideas of individuals of the marketing team prior to synthesis. I do not think that it is good to try to synthesize before understanding the differences and similarities of thoughts and ideas; this is what dialogue addresses. Dialogue addresses the difference and similarities to bring about consensus of marketing.

    • I love the 18th century theater analogy. The first words I wrote when I started notes for We were, “from experience to engagement.” One of the thoughts I had was that Star Wars plays the same to a full theater as an empty one… it’s a great experience, but it is not engagement since it is not at all dependent on the audience. As a musician and speaker, I know my most rewarding times in front of an audience are not when I’m creating an experience for the audience, but engaged with them.

  6. Judith Ellis says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Steve’s distinction between experience and engagement. I am singer and speaker and understand rapport with audiences that wonderfully alters my delivery from performance to performance and speaking engagement to speaking engagement. I would also like to think that my audience too gets something different with each performance or speaking engagement. Creating an experience for the audience becomes self-indulgent real fast. This is ugly.

    Engaging the audience, allowing for dialogue and interaction, is inclusive. This is altogether lovely. The best marketing and branding is inclusive, not necessarily all encompassing but allowing for dialogue. Does dialogue in marketing and branding include words alone? The best dialogue is probably that which is created by the team, influenced by customers, and responded in kind through sales. (Of course, the product and service would have to be excellent in order to create repeat business.) This is probably what is meant by dialogue in marketing and branding. I have just ordered Brand Harmony.

  7. Thanks to Omer Rosen for starting a discussion in Israel on this post … hence, the Hebrew pingbacks.

5 Pings/Trackbacks for "Stop targeting your customers"
  1. […] the easy way of dealing with “market segments”, “psycho-graphic profiles”, targeting customers, and “cardboard cutouts” is of equivalent of engaging and connecting with customers . […]

  2. […] שכתב, “תפסיקו לכוון לצרכנים שלכם”, הוא משווה כיצד מדברים אל לקוחות “שמכוונים” לעבר הלקוח […]

  3. […] שכתב, "תפסיקו לכוון לצרכנים שלכם", הוא משווה כיצד מדברים אל לקוחות "שמכוונים" […]

  4. […] (For a quick description of a We relationship, check out the first audio link on this post.) […]

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