“You are the target market”

The boardroom table was packed with ‘suits’. Grey faced executives, tired from wearying international travel and delayed jetlag, early starts, late finishes and the effects of all day grazing on stewed coffee and day-old Danish pastries. Jauntily, the Brand Manager struts into the room and dims the lights. The lamp from the lectern illuminates his keen eyes. He introduces the new advert. Stresses that it’s not quite finished yet and a little post-production is needed. Reminds the room who the target audience is and when it will be launched. He plays it. 60 seconds of cinematic brilliance. A new Swedish director applying his talents to toilet rolls for the first time. Edgy. Contemporary. Challenging. The tonic this brand needs.


Stony silence.

The executives shuffle slightly. One or two look at each other. Another frowns.

Then the Chief Executive pulls his finger from the dam. They don’t understand it. It lacks energy and pace. Is it supposed to be funny? Why is it so different from the last ‘new campaign’ a year ago? Will it shift boxes? They doubt it. The Marketing Director attempts to parry: remember, she says, “that you are not the target audience”. “We need to think about the needs and attitudes of Millennials here”.    But it doesn’t stand up. The tidal wave of criticism washes over the new advert, which sinks without a trace. The Brand Manager leaves the room, with a grey face, tired and weary.

Who knows in this fictional situation (inspired by real events) whether the new advert was any good? It may have been ground breaking or may have been clap-trap. But how we could we re-imagine the Marketing Director’s defence? What if we really could put our senior stakeholders in a situation where they really understood the target audience?  Here are a few techniques that are illuminating and fun.

Picture this! You need to start by constantly reminding your stakeholders who your target audience is (or are). What are their attitudes, their needs, their frustrations? How do these relate to your product category? You may choose a series of pen portraits, some voxpops, a short film or even a comic strip – however you do it, best to be clear who your audience is and be sure to bang on about their needs relentlessly.

ShoesMethod Act: get your critical stakeholders to wear the shoes of your target, to really be them. Is your brand a healthy snack? Get them to live on 2000 calories a day for a week. Or to only snack on unprocessed ingredients. Or to cut snacks out for a few days completely. Is your brand targeted at people who go clubbing regularly? Get them to work behind the bar for a night, or go out with a group of clubbers (release their inner pogo-er…)

(Sofa) Safari: it’s amazing what you can do from the comfort of your sofa or desk nowadays. Use resources to hand to find out about your consumers’ world. Targeting farmers? Go on to DEFRA website; read Farmer’s Weekly, organise a trip around a pig farm. But do it with a purpose: go back to your definition. What are the frustrations? What are the problems we need to try and solve? Do we know enough yet? Keep on immersing yourself in their context, their world.

Wingman: looking to target the gluten free market? Find some friends who have food intolerances or are coeliac. Interview them. Prepare a meal with them. Go shopping with them. Find out what makes them tick. Hear about their frustrations. And not just them: speak to their partner, friends or family. What are the impacts on them? There’s something illuminating about getting alongside your target and watching how they live their life.

Just watch out for variety and breadth. If it’s your Board you are going to immerse in the world of your target audience, ensure it’s everyone on the Board, and that they experience a range of situations. One may be broad in scope – a safari for example, getting them out and about, another may be tight (for example, living on a vegan diet for three days), one may be relatively short, another more extended.

What we’ve found with our experiences at The Crow Flies is that an immersion programme such as this starts our seeming like a major effort for the senior stakeholders, even a distraction. How can we fit around already busy diaries? Surely they don’t want me to do this – isn’t this what they should be doing? But once the benefits are seen, once the connections start to happen then reality bites. A safari, Consumer Connections – call them what you will – are quick and incredibly engaging ways to build stakeholder understanding and alignment by getting them to put their feet in the metaphorical shoes of their consumers.  More than this, they’re a way of getting brilliantly useful stimulus into the execution of your brand’s plans (including your expensive TV advert).

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses.; +44 (0) 1283 295100.

© The Crow Flies, 2016

The pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow

My eye was recently attracted to a piece in Marketing Week from Waitrose Chairman, Mark Price, reportage from a talk he gave in Swindon on 2nd May. Its essence: we will do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. There was also the pleasing symmetry that a food retailer has the surname ‘Price’, presumably the same phenomenon as dog owners resembling their pets. Waitrose don’t seem on the surface a particularly contrary business. Indeed, you could argue with some strong justification that they reflect middle class aspiration in all its forms. Yet this simple statement, ‘do the opposite of what everyone else is doing’ reveals a maverick streak – and a great marketing lesson. A couple in fact.

The first?

The importance of zagging. This isn’t just ‘do the opposite for the sake of it’; rather, there is a natural human instinctive to follow. It’s the opposite of what people say they will do – as Monty Python beautifully summarised it, “we’re all individuals – but of course, we’re not. There’s a host of reasons why we want to follow: the need or desire to fit it; a way of building connections with others; to give us a sense of group security. And because brands or companies are the product of human actions, so it follows that companies tend to follow too.   ‘Me too’ products are aptly named – indeed, you could argue that (until recently) many Asian markets have built their entire economies on fast following – and done it blummin’ well. Let’s go back to Waitrose. Specifically, Mr Price’s comment was in regard to how the company he stewards is dealing with the threat of the Discounters, Aldi & Lidl in particular. He continued that Waitrose’s aim is to be everything that the discounters aren’t through a focus on service, range and making coming to its stores an experience. Contrast this with the Tesco response – also reported in Marketing Week: launching ‘pound zones’, areas of the supermarket that will offer non-food categories such as health and beauty and pet items for as little as 50p (‘Pound Zone’ presumably being snappier than ‘Half Pound Zone’?*).

Actually, Tesco have got a tougher job: sitting in the middle of the market, being the biggest retailer in the UK, they are a source of business for everyone. So they clearly feel they have to compete.   Yet Waitrose are competing by looking not at what their competitor is doing but by what they’re not doing. They are zagging when everyone else is zigging. It’s tough to do; it requires total alignment but it can mark you out as distinctive and therefore, more memorable to you customers.

And they also illustrate the second lesson.

They’re competing on their terms. To half refrain: they’re competing by looking not at what their competitor is doing but at what they can’t do. This is simple brand positioning at it’s best: you take the core thought that you are trying to own in the mind of your target and ruthlessly implement it. Waitrose is not a discounter therefore it responds with enhanced service offer, promotions for its customers and enhanced benefits for MyWaitrose card holders. At the other end of the price:service spectrum you have Aldi & Lidl. Reduced ranges, functional stores, little in the way of customer service add-ons: basic and to the point. Yet just as well positioned.

Which illustrates the issue that Tesco are facing. It’s not that they’re big: there are plenty of significantly bigger companies who continue to grow strongly. No, their issue lies in the notion of every little helps. It seems they are trying to do everything to help. If they’re to return to the path to growth, they need to get back to doing Tesco things that help.

(*Which reminds me of a family friend who when she first went round ‘Poundland’ kept on asking in a slightly astonished voice, ‘How much is it?’. “£1 Jane” came the repetitive response. “That’s why it’s called Poundland”. She’d have been much more comfortable with Tesco’s counter-intuitive Pound pricing strategy.)

IMG_1067David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands. To find out more about how The Crow Flies could help you, just wing over an e mail to or call on +44 (0) 7885 408367.   You can follow The Crow Flies on Linked In (, on Facebook ( Twitter, you can caw us at @crowflieshigh. Or just send a carrier pigeon and we’ll intercept mid-air. 

© The Crow Flies, 2014