Discover the Real Truth About Buyers and Their Needs

Written by Irakli Beselidze - April 15, 2015

I was surprised to know that my research would be of great help in a month after conducting it. Once I started working for the Gutten company, I looked through the papers left after my predecessor and found a folder entitled “A Gutten’s portrait of a typical buyer”. I was curious and decided to find out who it was. So, I opened the folder.

Here’s how a typical buyer looked. It was a man having children, a wife and a summer house. He was 30-55 years old and he earned not too much money.

Well, I looked through all this information and asked myself a simple but important question: “What am I to do with this portrait?”

I really couldn’t understand how all diagrams, reports and tables helped my predecessor, but they were definitely of no help to me. The idea to make some conclusions on such general data seemed strange to me. They had children, wives, earned little money… Well, half of the country’s population answered that description. Following the logic, we might add that our typical buyer had two arms and two legs.

“You know,” I explained to Ann, “a socio-demographic approach is based on the naïve assumption that people who have similar characteristics (like gender, age, income, etc.) think and act alike. If you can sell a product to one of them, you can sell to others too – this idea was the basis for creating the poor homunculus. The problem is in one thing. If we find all house owners who answer this description,” I knocked on the folder with the portrait of our typical buyer, “it will appear that the majority of them are not thinking of changing the roof at all, while the rest 75% of owners prefer other material to Gutten. So, I consider these portraits to be insane and stupid,” said I. “Instead it’ll be useful to know buyers’ preferences. For example, do you know what buyers value in roofing? And why do they choose our Gutten? That’s it! I also don’t know but I might try to learn.”

I was so much inspired by this idea that assured Olga to undertake a full-scale study of buyers’ preferences. I created a questionnaire and asked interns to hold a poll. All of the students who communicated with our buyers looked so nervous and silly that buyers didn’t want to speak and made everything to leave the shop.

But there was one pleasant exception – Victoria. She thoroughly saw over the selling floor and immediately came to men who looked at roofing materials.

“Hello,” said Victoria, “could you help me, please?”

A man became speechlessly amazed by a girl looking like Scarlett Johansson or Marilyn Monroe.

“Are you sound on all this?” Victoria pointed to stands with Gutten, profiled roofing and metal tile, at the same time blocking off an exit.

“Well, I am …” hummed and hawed the man.

“Does it mean ‘yes’?” asked Victoria coming closer and closer to her victim.

It took two months to finish the research. As a result, I had a thick folder of questionnaires which couldn’t be processed because of the lack of time. Want to know why I had no time for this? Well, it was because of Olga. Olga again and again. Olga that had contradictory ideas all the time. Buy now, when I had the whole marketing department at my disposal, I immediately asked Ann to process the results.

I so eagerly awaited the data on our buyers as some people waited for the New Year to come. These data meant the beginning of a completely new life for me. A life based on science but not on guesses. A life full of common sense and marketing initiatives. I looked forward to, danced, looked over Ann’s shoulder to her findings and rubbed hands in my thoughts. Thanks to Victoria and her friends, our buyer would rise to my view without any puzzles. And he rose at last.

I clearly remembered how my thoughts changed while I was looking through the figures. “Oh, how interesting it is” changed by “I thought as much”, and then by a sad idea “Hm, and what’s in it for me?” The evolution from excitement to depression took no more that fifteen minutes. For several moths I was absolutely sure the received figures would clarify and unscramble everything. Now I saw I was wrong.

I was really sad because the logic I followed seemed to be faultless. Firstly, I wanted to understand what criteria people used for choosing roofing materials, what was important for them. And secondly, I wanted to clarify if Gutten met their needs. Was it logical? I thought, yes. And the funniest thing was that I got answers to my questions.

For example, I discovered that a half of people went to buy roofing materials when they constructed a new house, and the other half – when they reconstructed the old one. While choosing roofing materials, they firstly relied on prices (what a surprise!), secondly – on technical characteristics (one more shift of the existing paradigm), and thirdly – on a brand name. They put more value on waterproofing and less value – on heat insulation. Besides, they thought Gutten showed better sound absorption than profiled sheeting but worse than metal tile. All this information was in the final report but it lacked the most important thing. There wasn’t an answer to the question what it all meant.

If, for example, metal tile seemed more waterproof than Gutten to people, what were we to do with this? And who exactly evaluated Gutten – those who bought and didn’t like it or those who were skeptical of its reliability? I had such doubts and questions each time I looked at new figures. Now I didn’t need abstract data, I needed answers to specific questions.

Why did John prefer Gutten while Peter choose metal tile? What exactly motivated a person to start considering Gutten but then suddenly buy another roofing material? In other words, what triggered those who bought from us and those who didn’t? That was exactly what I wanted to know.

Each marketer wants to know what each buyer wants. And Michael wasn’t an exception. Searching for the answer to his question, he turned to socio-demographic approach and conducting a questionnaire survey but rejected both ideas. But are they so useless?

Socio-demographic approach and conducting a questionnaire survey: to use or not to use?

Indentifying target audience based on socio-demographic characteristics is really an outdated and superficial approach. It treats all people alike without considering the fact that a target audience comprises too many people with different interests and mindset. As a result, the knowledge of a target audience comes down to a set of stereotypes about people and their habits. But these stereotypes give no idea on why people who belong to one socio-demographic group choose competing products.

What are the possible consequences? The development of an inefficient marketing strategy. If you don’t understand WHY people choose your product and what factors influence their decision, you’ve got just one thing left – you need to concentrate on product’s characteristics. It means that you either promote its low price or focus on product’s competitive advantages. But in fact, buyers need a different thing. What they care about is the possibility to quickly and easily solve their specific problem. They just want you to explain them why your product will be a perfect fit for their needs.

To solve this problem, you need to delve into buyers insights and research all stages of the buying cycle.

In this case the only relevant source of information is the buyer since he or she is the only one who knows answers to the following questions:

  • What triggered their decision to start searching for the solution of the problem?
  • What did they expect from purchasing a perfect solution?
  • What exactly prevented them from buying your solution?
  • What product’s criteria were important for them?
  • Who influenced their buying decision?

The knowledge of socio-demographic characteristics won’t help here. You may develop a marketing strategy that assures potential buyers to purchase your solution only after researching their behavior. This is a serious and time-consuming work but it helps answer the question what product features are most valued by buyers. And this, in its turn, lets you avoid a typical mistake made by many companies who work for one and the same target audience and develop similar strategies. Having a stereotyped perception of buyers, these companies do not take into account that their products are different, and that buyers need them for solving absolutely different problems.

While a socio-demographic approach is absolutely useless for the development of an efficient marketing strategy, conducting a questionnaire survey helps making the strategy well thought-out. But, of course, you need to start not from the questionnaire but from a deep research of your buyers. And only when you’ve found interesting hidden motives of their decisions, you need to conduct a questionnaire survey of your real buyers – to understand which insights are the most important ones, and which ones are less crucial. This particular sequence – a qualitative research first and then a quantitative one – will help you to create a persuasive marketing strategy.

What approaches do you usually use for identifying your target audience? Which of them are the most efficient? You're welcome to share your experience with us in the Comments section below.

Thousands of marketers are looking for answers to their numerous questions and fighting  their corner even when colleagues consider them to be madmen. Michael Fox is on of these madmen. He works for Gutten  as a CMO and tries to find best solutions to challenging tasks even if he has to question the authority of Philip Kotler and executives' vision for that.

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