Build a deep understanding of your customer, or risk irrelevance

A well-argued post on Mashable explores why the use of traditional demographic analysis in marketing today is a flawed approach to understanding your customer.

Much of the case made by the writer Jamie Beckland, a Digital and Social Media Strategist at US SaaS company Janrain, is based on the premise that the entire system of bucketing people into generations so you can get those eyeballs focused and then sell them stuff has broken down: it makes no sense today in a world of online social networks, instant chat, spontaneous likes and, generally, a wholesale shift in behaviours where the online friend you define is so different from the original meaning and is on the other side of the world.

[…] The year that someone was born will not tell you how likely he is to buy your product.

Fragmentation is now the norm because the pace of change is accelerating. Generations have been getting smaller because there are fewer unifying characteristics of young people today than ever before:


With the recent rise of the social web, people self-select into groups so small, so fragmented, and so temporal, that no overarching top-down approach could be successful at driving marketing performance.

Beckland makes a strong case to suggest that psychographic profiling is a far more compelling and useful means of understanding customers through analysing information from social profile and behavioural data. (As an aside, what do you make of behaviourgraphics?)

His post is a good read. Even if you don’t agree with the notion of psychographic profiling, or see it as just so much marketing mumbo-jumbo, you surely would agree that the changing consumer landscape, the changing behaviours of those consumers and the new ways in which people like to connect and engage with others on a micro level mean that “something better” than traditional demographics needs to be employed, for the very reasons I mention.

Anyone with an opinion and an internet connection can influence someone else about your brand and the things you care about. The fact is, if you want to reach out to or somehow make a connection with that anyone – today’s consumer – you need to first really understand who you’re reaching out to or connecting with. That means listening – the prerequisite and essential first stage in social media influencer outreach planning.

The first step in understanding your customer, in other words.


Beckland also talks about ‘customer lifecycle data’ where using the richness of all the new means of identifying the consumer who appeals to you, enables you to make that identification with near-absolute precision.

And that’s the key – recognizing that the customer is in control, not you; precisely understanding that customer when everything is micro and niche that relying only on methodologies developed in the days when analogue mass media reigned supreme don’t work any more; and being willing to reach out to the customer on their terms.

As Beckland’s conclusion states – and which forms the headline of this post – you must build a deep understanding of your customer, or risk irrelevance.

The customer really is in control as she decides what’s relevant, not you.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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