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Looking at customers and target markets

Looking at customers and target markets

I read an interesting article on the effectiveness of big data.

The article began with an anecdote of a father who was upset that his daughter was receiving vouchers for pregnancy products. It turned out that she was pregnant. Her online behaviour and browsing habits matched those of a pregnant person.

Big data is a highly effective predictor of individual personality, behaviour and needs. It is collected online, through cookies. Most people enable or accept cookies in order to use the web. Websites give warnings that they use cookies. Unless you disable cookies on your browser, your information will be tracked. And if you visit a site that requires you to accept cookies passively your browsing will also be tracked, within the site.

If you have an account on the site, and log in, your content and advertising will be customised according to what the site can perceive from your record of browsing. So, for instance, if I used a large news site, it would probably offer me football tickets, and try to sell me books. Those are sections of news sites that I browse fairly regularly.

If I enabled cookies on my browser (not a single site) a site that I visited would be able to place a cookie on my computer and record other sites that I visited. It could use that record to further refine the products that it tried to sell to me.

With a geolocation feature it is quite possible to match the location, individual and product. For instance, the daughter in the anecdote above, might walk into a mall and receive a voucher from a baby shop within a few metres walking distance.

Big data makes it easy to understand the customer and sell to her or him. What happens if big data is not available?

In retail, the obvious method is to identify the lines that sell, or don’t sell using the stock list. Low sales can be influenced by in store positions and promotions. This is a stop-gap measure. What if the product has lost touch with the customer? That has to be addressed with the understanding and work of the brand manager and the agency involved in production of the packaging and display material.

The two most effective tools for this will be consumer research, and personal observation.

On the topic of research, the most notable point is to define the target market well. Although this seems obvious, there are a number of instances where executives define their target markets by looking in mirrors.

That’s almost always a bottom line issue. The target market that mirrors the executive is a comfort zone, but ignores the profitability of other markets. In a heterogenous society such as Namibia, this approach is still visible, and it defies belief. Cultural reserve may be a personal matter, but it should not intrude in selling.

If the desired target market is homogenous, the brand manager, marketer or communicator has to consider it a problem, and the communications agency and / or research house must counsel against this.

In the case of the communication agency, it can advocate for change in the organisational culture, and can do so securely in the knowledge that support to a brand or company that espouses the position creates a reputational risk for the agency itself.

Personal observation is also important. Who are the consumers, and what do they respond to in terms of purchases, behaviour or culture.

A quick example of how to do this sort of observation is to change the radio station to one listened to by consumers, or using the same shops that the target markets use.

This activity can validate research, or provide clues as to how it can be made more effective. I have personally been in one situation where research failed to identify the full picture, and simple observation was the cure for refinement of the questions.

The point of this column is that in the absence of big data, Namibian marketers have to compete using cunning and an inclusive approach to the widest, sensible range of target markets.

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