After bingeing on NBC’s fall show, The Blacklist, it occurred to me there are very real similarities between the way marketers and criminal detectives work. The show’s heroine, Liz Keen (who, btw, is most likely the secret daughter of James Spader’s character Red Reddington), responsibility as an FBI profiler is to create a criminal’s backstory as a way to understand the emotional psyche and motivations to project future behavior. In many ways, this is startlingly similar to the way a marketing strategist looks at a brand’s core consumer. We also “channel” individual consumer psyches to position and sell our clients’ brand and products in a way that fulfills the target audience’s practical need as well as underlying emotional desires.
Consumers connect with brands that make them feel better – rather than just because they do a good job of delivering benefits they think they want. They want relationships with brands that fit with how they see themselves and their values – whether today (attained) or in the future (aspirational). And with the merging of our analog and digital lives, accessing consumer values, desires, perceptions and behaviors is easier than ever. We just have to be willing to listen and listen hard. From traditional market research to contextual ethnography studies to social media analysis, we are able to glean critical and keen insights from today’s jaded and marketing-adverse consumers to develop the profile – a backstory that identifies the emotional and practical “problems” our clients’ brands must solve.
So when Mississippi Development Authority, needed to create awareness of a federal grant program, Homebuyer Advantage Program, that provided up to $40,000 as down payment on foreclosed homes to qualified buyers – we developed a profile of the low-income head of household via focus-groups and secondary research. The key motivator for this individual is they felt it was their responsibility to provide a better life for their family and owning a home in a secure and stable environment was the gateway to realizing that dream. Not only did the profile identify the “problem,” but it also helped us understand who their influencers were. This knowledge not only helped shape the messaging but also the delivery. Running a traditional media program only would not be enough to move the needle: a grassroots campaign that mobilized key influencers such as local community and church leaders – as well as lenders – was need to provide the necessary credibility to allay the skepticism of these proud decision-makers. This multi-pronged approach proved most successful, as Mississippi was one of only five states to meet its goal of grant distribution.
Target audience profiling also helped a long-time client of Ramey to avoid a costly product launch. As Viking Range Corporation prepared to launch a product line that was a step below the ultra-premium Professional Series price point, Ramey utilized an ethnography study among consumers, who had either recently bought premium appliances or who were in the market to buy, to understand the perceptions of ultra-premium appliance products. During the sessions, it was determined this “Premium” group was much more pragmatic regarding kitchen appliances than Viking’s current “Ultra-Premium” consumer. The Premium audience felt that ultra-premium appliances were overkill and too much for their kitchens. This insight shifted the original campaign strategy of promoting the allure of the Viking lifestyle to a strong point of sale campaign – as the premium segment consumers needed reasons to believe that the product is an authentic Viking and the features are worth the extra cost. Also the research highlighted a key point of difference in decision-making between the two audiences: the premium consumer drives the purchase process and want to see products side-by-side to make hands on comparisons, as opposed to the ultra-premium consumer taking recommendations from a consultant such as a kitchen designer or architect. A strong point of sale campaign, which was previously not a consideration, became the highest priority.
Investing the time and resources to develop a deeper understanding of the consumer’s relationship with a brand, its category and the buying process is a solid investment, as MDA and Viking Range have realized. As marketing profilers, we have a strong curiosity of human nature and an equally strong need to solve the “problem” – fortunately, in our world, lives are not at stake, as is with the FBI profiler.
Kristine Jacobs, VP/Group Account Director and Director of Strategic Planning at The Ramey Agency