Ad libbing to himself in a mirror in the movie Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro asked, “You talkin’ to me?” In the world of sales and marketing, your prospects and customers shouldn’t need to ask this question. When developed properly, your message should be so relevant and tailored that they know you are talking to them. They feel you understand them. You understand their challenges. And you’re ready to help. You’re wielding audience segmentation and audience personas like a pro. You know and understand your target audience.

When it comes to effective selling, knowing your audience and tailoring your marketing and sales efforts to them is imperative to your business success. This adage is well-known. But how do you make it a reality? How can you develop a sales and marketing plan that is effectively tailored to your core audiences? How can you ensure your marketing communications are relatable? While understanding the mindset of your buyers and prospects can seem like a challenge, some of the world’s biggest brands provide a wealth of examples of the perils of generic messaging and the payoff from effective audience segmentation, audience personas, and targeted messaging.

A case study in clean. Market research is king.

One brand that learned the importance of understanding your buyer when developing and launching a product is Cincinnati’s own Proctor and Gamble. If you open your bathroom cabinet, chances are, you have at least one P&G product in there. While P&G looks like a blueprint for success in relevant sales and marketing messaging, it hasn’t always been that way. The 2000s brought major innovations in many product categories, including household goods and cleaning supplies. Providing more convenient cleaning products to American families has been a hit for P&G, including the launch of the Swiffer WetJet in the US and countries around the world in the early 2000s. Eliminating the need for a mop bucket, the Swiffer WetJet made it easy to do a quick mop of your floors while requiring minimal clean-up. In order to mop, you grabbed one pre-moistened mop cloth, mopped the floor, and tossed the cloth when finished. This would make the one hour per week American (women) spent mopping a breeze.

By comparison, Italian (women) mopped for four hours a week. One would think Italians would be even more excited by the promises of this new convenient and disposable product. Unfortunately, that assumption was wrong. The Swiffer WetJet was a colossal failure in the Italian market. Convenience was not a top priority for Italians. It was all about cleanliness. And Italian women didn’t trust that the Swiffer WetJet could provide the results of more traditional mopping products. Italian women were instead using the Swiffer WetJet to polish floors. After learning this information through market and consumer research, P&G developed a beeswax Swiffer specifically for the Italian market. And it sold like hotcakes. They also developed the Swiffer Duster that is now a best-seller in Italy as well as around the world.

Dig deep. And then dig some more – ask the hard questions.

While P&G ultimately found success, and I think we can all agree that P&G isn’t struggling, how much more success could they have enjoyed from the outset if they dug more deeply into their audience personas and mindsets from the start? How many more loyal customers could they have gained if they had asked a representative sample of Italians questions like, “What do you value most in a cleaning product?”, “Why do you buy certain cleaning products?”, “Why is cleanliness so important to you?”, “What do you feel is missing from your current products?” 

While P&G is a Fortune 500 company, the lessons learned through their public successes and failures can be applied to your small or mid-market business as well: know your audience

Meet (or re-meet) your new best friend: market segmentation.

Market segmentation encourages you to break out your audiences via four traditionally identified segmentation types: geographics, demographics, psychographics, and behavior (for more information on the definitions and differences between these four types of segmentation, please check out this article).

P&G knew that Americans spent one hour a week mopping and Italians spent four hours a week mopping. That quantitative information led them to believe that Italians would value convenient cleaning products even more than Americans based sheerly on the numbers. (They could save more mopping time per week because they were allocating more mopping time per week.)

With market research and the collection of psychographic and behavioral data before the creative was developed, P&G may have gathered that Italians valued cleanliness over convenience allowing them to craft the Italian marketing message and sales plan(s) to speak to the cleaning power of the Swiffer product – a true “reason to believe” for the target audience. The deeper audience mindset information could have also led them to launch a product that was a true cleaning power rival to traditional cleaning products. Understanding the audience at a deeper level could have saved P&G millions (based on overall marketing budget estimates), and made them millions (or even billions) much sooner.

As discussed above, P&G did ultimately do their homework, and the answers to the deeper psychographic and behavioral questions resulted in research-backed strategic plans to create new products. It also allowed them to revise their sales and marketing messaging for current products with more effective copy and creative. This shift in approach paid off and resulted in a doubling of sales for their cleaning portfolio.

Know your target audience: Research is worth the (small) investment.

Lucky for all of us, the above mistakes have already been made. And we can learn from them! Take the time to understand your audience by asking the hard questions and doing the research as an initial step in your sales and marketing planning. Market or consumer research doesn’t necessarily require a huge budget. Here are some great places to start on your path to gaining deeper insights into your target audiences:

  • You can use tools like Google Surveys or SurveyMonkey to source reliable data and samples in an economically savvy way. 
  • There are additional resources like Kantar and Nielsen that can provide current/existing industry and consumer research that may be highly relevant to your industry, company, prospects, and current customers. 
  • As a salesperson, you have the most direct relationship with customers both potential and current. You can take the time to sit down and talk to them. Ask them about their challenges in the industry. Ask them what’s going well for their business and what isn’t. Take the time to understand them as people. As Umault Founder and CEO, Guy Bauer, often says, “Your customers don’t wear their suits to bed.”
    • When you’re able to get this type of information, pass it along to your marketing team! This is primary research that should be shared and circulated to help position your company, your products, and your marketing in the most effective way.

Integrate your hard-earned insights into your sales and marketing plans.

Tradition tells us that the Ancient Greeks were large proponents of “know[ing] thyself.” Savvy sales and marketing people should “know thy [potential] customer.” Sales and marketing plans (including your strategy, creative, and content development) should be developed in light of consumer and market research at whatever scale your budget allows for. If your plans haven’t taken audience segmentation and personas into account, and it feels like your sales and marketing tactics just aren’t landing, it’s never too late to take the time to listen and pivot. Listen to what your prospects and customers are telling you and use the information to create messaging that demonstrates empathy, trust, and hope for a better way forward. And ride that effective messaging to well-earned business success.