Snapshot : Customer targeting decisions are an important part of brand management. Customer segment profiles help you define and describe your target customers. We’ll share how to use them to create a shared understanding of the customer and to check your marketing activity against customer needs. Ideally, you want them to show the customer as the hero of your brand’s story.
In brand strategy development, you have many important decisions to make. One of the most important decisions is which customers your brand will target. This decision helps shape key decisions as you build your brand identity. It sets the direction for important decisions you make in your marketing plan and your brand activation.
The sharper your choice of specific target audience, the more focussed and relevant your activities will be.
If customers have a choice between brands that “appeal to most people” or “appeal to people like me”, guess which one they’ll choose?
Different customers have different needs. It’s important to pick the need you want to focus on.
Appealing to every customer isn’t practical and rarely works, unless you already have high awareness and a broad range. Most brands have limited awareness and a narrow range.
Segmentation, targeting and positioning - the short version
Segmentation, targeting and positioning is a well-established marketing process. It takes you from looking at “all customers” to identifying specific segments of customers, analysing which customer segments are the most attractive, and sets up your brand position to go after those segments.
In simple terms, you start with the total market of customers (the ‘universe’ as it’s sometimes known) and break it down into smaller segments. This is the segmentation part.
These segments share common buying characteristics like demographics, occasions (where and when they buy), and needs and wants.
Targeting then evaluates each of these segments against a set of attractiveness criteria. For example :-
- How many customers in the segment?
- How much do they spend?
- What’s their frequency of purchase?
- Are there many competitors who go after that segment?
- Is there a competitor who already dominates that segment?
You use these criteria to give each segment a score. The higher the score, the more attractive the segment.
Once you identify the most attractive targets, you map out how and where your brand will play relative to competitors in that segment. You do this through a positioning map and a positioning statement.
The statement defines your target audience, the category (also called the frame of reference), your key benefit, and your justification for that benefit (also called the reason why and reason to believe).
Breaking the process into these three big stages makes it simpler. But each stage has its own complexities too. Check out our expert guide to segmentation, targeting and positioning to read about this in more detail.
The aim of this article is to go into the detail of one specific outcome of the overall process – the customer segment profile.
Customer Segment Profile - what is it?
The Customer Segment Profile is a one page summary that collates the most relevant information about your target customer. It should collate demographic, occasion and needs-based facts you’ve uncovered about the target customers through market research.
It plays three key roles in our brand strategy.
Firstly, the customer segment profile forces you to spend time on customer understanding.
This is marketing time well spent.
To complete a profile, you need to carry out market research to collect facts about them.
This is a good thing.
You also have to show empathy for the customer. You need to imagine life from their point of view and get into their heads. The profile forces you to describe what the customer thinks, feels and does.
These are also all good things.
Secondly, the customer segment profile creates a single definitive view of the customer. This means everyone who works on the brand has a common understanding of customers, and what they need.
You should share the profile with marketing agencies and across your marketing, sales and customer service teams. This helps build consistency and sets up common goals for your marketing activities.
Finally, the customer segment profile also helps you evaluate your marketing activities. When you review marketing plans and marketing agency proposals, check the profile to see if the plan or proposal meets the needs of the target customer.
Plans and proposals that don’t fit the target customer won’t work. You either need new plans or proposals, or you need to find a new or additional target customer segment profile for those activities.
Customer Segment Profile - How do you pull one together?
Because the customer segment profile is usually a single page, you have to be concise, decisive but also inspiring. It’s a challenge to balance all three factors in how you describe the customer.
You normally start with a blank customer template, similar to the one from the customer experience process.
Consider this a starting point though. There’s many ways to build out the profile. What you include depends on your market research, and your brand and category context.
Start by gathering market research. Look at what you already know about customers. Decide if you need to carry out more research. Filling in a customer segment profile often generates research questions to plug into your market research process.
The main purpose of the profile is to bring the segment to life. Often, describing one representative person from that segment works better than trying to describe the broader group. It’s easier to visualise one person who represents the bigger segment, than a whole segment.
Include relevant facts about the whole group by all means – how many customers, and how much they spend for example. But help people recognise the type of person the customer is. Be concise and specific.
There’s a great advertising copywriting rule, that copy sounds better if it feels like it’s talking to one specific person (the customer). Even if it’s really talking to a broader group. You want the customer to feel like you’re talking directly to them, so make sure your profile describes the customer as if they were a real person.
Customer Segment Profile - Use images
Relevant images of customers (real or proxy) can also be a great way to bring the profile to life.
People find it easier to visualise customers when they can see their faces. This image doesn’t have to be an actual customer. You can look through online stock images or people images in magazines.
It’s more important you can point to the image, and say “that’s what the target customer looks like”.
If they’re happy, show them happy. If they’re angry, show them angry.
You can also include other images if relevant and you have space. For example, other brands or products the target customer might like or use. If you’ve done qualitative research, you might have images of actual customers from that research. Use them in the profile.
For example, we’ve seen food brands use images of people eating, cooking or even storing the product to bring the profile to life. What people keep in their fridges and pantries reveals a lot about them.
Look for the most relevant images that bring your profile to life.
Customer Segment Profile – Give them a name
It also helps to give the segment a name. Something creative beyond a basic Segment A, Segment B etc.
Naming the segment gives them more of an identity. It makes the segment feel more like a real person. Ideally, the name should also help articulate what they want or need, or how they do things.
Sometimes, a segment name jumps out from the market research. Other times you may need to fill in some or all of the the customer segment profile first, before you think of what to name them.
Try to be creative and have fun with it. The name needs to sum up the segment, but also be memorable and distinctive. It’s common to use alliteration in the name like Cheerful Charlie or Luxury Loving Louise. We’ll share some more examples like this later.
Customer Segment Profiles – Who are they; what do they think, feel and do
What goes into a customer segment profile differs between brands and categories. But, broadly, we’d expect to see a mixture of demographic, behavioural and attitudinal (needs and wants) information.
Demographic information includes factors like age, gender, household income, family status and, if relevant, information about their living and working arrangements.
Not all of these factors will be relevant to the buying decision. You don’t need to include all of them. But try to include enough of them to help the reader visualise the target customer.
For example, we’ve worked on alcohol market segmentations. In this category, age and gender have an impact on what people drink. Think about what, why and how women in their 20s drink for example, compared to say men over 50.
Occasion-based information includes when and how often customers buy, or where they make decisions. For example, the time of day or day of the week for regular purchases, (like food items) or time of year for more infrequent purchases (like insurance and holidays).
Location can be an important factor in many categories. In our alcohol segmentation for example, there was a big difference between what people drank at home, versus what they drank in a bar, or at a restaurant
Finally, your customer segment profile should also include some attitudinal information. What do they think of products in your category, and what motivates or inspires them at a broader level? What are the key needs and wants that are relevant to the purchase decision?
Beyond these three segmentation factors, you also want to include any information that brings the customer to life. Be specific and creative.
For example, if you have information on their media behaviour (say, which channels and shows they watch), this helps people visualise the customer. Or, if you know what customers do in their spare time, include these, as hobbies and pastimes can be very descriptive. People who play rugby for example will probably be different from people who play chess.
Customer Segment Profiles – What does it need to do?
As you fill in the customer segment profile, try to remember how it’ll be used, and who’s going to use it.
Remember, we said the profile has three key roles – it makes you think about the customer, it builds a single view of the customer, and you use it to to validate your marketing plan and activities.
The profile needs to be a clearly written summary to deliver against these three roles.
To write the customer segment profile, you need to have strong writing skills and know how to tell a good story. The profile is basically the story of the customer on a page.
Create the hero of your brand’s story
In our guide to brand storytelling, we share that every brand’s story has the customer as the hero (or heroine). In the best stories, the hero (customer) always face a problem or unexpected change. That’s where your brand can help.
Think about the story of the customer segment profile as if you were creating a hero character for a movie or book. Except the movie or book is actually your brand’s story.
In fact, it’s worth looking at how movies and books create great characters. These professional storytellers create characters for a living. You can imitate what they do to create great customer hero profiles.
These are fictional characters, but the creators make them feel real. Try to learn from how they do that.
Think about characters from movies and books who are particularly memorable and relatable. Which ones stand out for you? Can you use them for inspiration to tell the story of your customers?
What about some examples? Well, let’s share some of our own inspiration from fictional characters to create some customer segment profiles. These are a mash-up of some actual customer segments, with a little Hollywood inspired spin to bring them more to life.
Segment profile example 1 - Lonesome Lukas
Our first segment profile is for an adventure holiday business. You know the type of thing. Wild water rafting, bungee jumping and generally going places sensible people don’t.
But lots of businesses offer that.
So, let’s say we’ve developed a unique position where the the holiday is also linked to a higher purpose.
Each holiday also involves getting involved in some sort of charity work. Adopting aardvarks in Angola. Building beach houses in Bali. Constructing communes in Cuba.
You know the sort of thing.
We’re looking at a target audience that likes adventure, but also wants to serve a higher purpose. Let’s call this customer segment profile Lonesome Lukas.
He’s a young man, bored with his current life. Life’s passing him by. He feels the need for adventure and excitement.
He also has a strong sense of duty to do the right things by the people he cares about.
He’s skilled with machinery and equipment, and loves anything that goes fast. Though he has some family issues, the opportunity to form new alliances and reaching for the stars appeals to him.
There’s a lot a writer, or advertising creative could do with this character / customer description. For example, you’d really focus on key emotional elements like “seeking adventure”, “doing the right thing” and “reaching for the stars”.
Our combination of adventure holiday and charity work would be a great fit for Lonesome Lukas. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to force our communications on this target customer.
Segment profile example 2 - Defender Dionne
Different category and business now. Let’s imagine we run a new perfume brand, that’s positioned to bring out women’s inner strength.
(we know that might sound far fetched to some readers, but just go with it. It’s the sort of thing that many brands aim for.)
Defender Dionne is the epitome of the empowered and strong woman.
She has a strong sense of right and wrong. She steps in and protects those who can’t defend themselves.
Dionne’s a selfless defender of good causes, women’s rights and truthfulness.
Her interest in Greek mythology, antiquities and role as a museum curator give her a unique insight into the world around her.
Clearly, she’s a good target audience for our perfume brand.
(Alternatively, if we were being less tongue in cheek, she’s a good target for our feminist political movement. But perfume brands always seem to keen to jump on any female empowerment bandwagon going, so let’s stick with that).
From her lifestyle choices, it’s clear fashion and exercise are big parts of her life. There’s obvious ideas for creative messages, which our brand could use in its advertising, media and public relations activity.
There’s an opportunity to appeal to her need to make people feel safe and protected. Our marketing could aim to help with her obvious pain points of ahem, evil, criminal, sexist bullies.
Maybe we should turn our perfume bottle shape into some sort of jewellery that doubles up as a weapon, for example?
Like some bracelets. Or a tiara.
Of course, we’ve got to make this segment feel more approachable. Not everyone’s a super hero after all. That’s why our segment profile includes more fun stuff like running an Etsy store, and her like of cosplay.
With this profile, you now have a clearer picture of this woman, and no longer have to wonder what she’s like.
Segment profile example 3 - Jaded Julian
Final category and customer segment profile. For this one, let’s jump into the enthralling, hectic and all-action world of financial services.
Jaded Julian is at a crossroads in his life. His mid 40s are proving tough.
He’s a master at his job. But it just doesn’t fulfil him the way it used to. In fact, he’s the epitome of the guy going through a mid-life crisis.
He’s wondering what’s left for the rest of this life. He doesn’t want to end up like some cliched character out of a pulp fiction book.
Clearly, now’s the time to sell him on our financial services like life insurance, and retirement plans.
(Though dry cleaning and car valet services would also possibly be an another appropriate category.)
Julian knows how to tackle awkward situations. To some people, he seems intense and has anger management issues. But, really, underneath he’s a caring and philosophical kind of a guy.
Like most people, he has weird quirks. He likes eating burgers for breakfast, and drinking other people’s tasty beverages for example.
He has a low tolerance for people who don’t get what he says. The customer experience on our insurance forms for example would ideally have short questions. It wouldn’t ask him to repeat information. That would make Julian angry. You don’t want to see that.
Julian’s also hates people who take things that don’t belong to them. But he also realises life is tough. There’s plenty of unfortunate bumps in the road. Life can get messy.
Though his attitude, and his wallet might suggest that he’s a bad mother f*cker, he’s really a spiritual guy. He’d swear on the bible, his goal in life is to be a shepherd to help others along the path.
And he’ll strike down with great vengeance and furious anger anyone who gets in the way of that.
Customer segment profiles – Conclusion
Customer segment profiles are a key part of the segmentation, targeting and positioning process. They help you describe your ideal target customer.
These profiles force you to collate facts, ideas and thoughts about the target customer. With them, you have a clear summary so there’s a consistent collective view of target customer.
That reduces a lot of arguments and differences of opinion. You use the profile to check all your marketing activities for relevance to the customer.
Customer segment profiles are a combination of images, a meaningful and relevant segment name, and key demographic, occasion-based and attitudinal facts and statements that bring the segment to life.
Think of customer segment profiles as like descriptions of the hero from the movie or book of your brand. Look at how great characters come to life in movies and books. Customer segment profiles, like great characters, need to feel like real people. That includes all the good and bad stuff that comes with real people.
Check out our guides to segmentation, targeting and positioning to find out more about customer segment profiles. Check out our storytelling guide for more tips on how to bring your customer hero to life. And of course, contact us if you have specific questions on either segmentation or brand storytelling.