There is a tremendous private property on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Lon Retreat. Gorgeous gardens. To-die-for location, close enough to hear waves crashing nearby. The architecture considered and flawlessly executed. There are only a handful of rooms available. It is opulent and exclusive in every way. Ladies and gentlemen, hosting ladies and gentlemen.
How do you think it would make you feel if you stayed there? Imagine the kick out of it you would get? There are many accommodation choices in regional Victoria, so why would someone from Melbourne looking for a couple of days away choose this property? Perhaps they haven’t explored The Bellarine yet. Maybe they’ve chosen the famous Daylesford spa region many times before and want a change. Lon Retreat have built such a strong Brand that it is a destination, not just accommodation to facilitate another experience in the region.
At the time of writing, Lon Retreat goes at 4.7 stars for Google and at 5 stars for 138 reviews on Tripadvisor. Why is it a strong Brand? Because from day one, the owner, Claire, has had clarity about the Brand she is building, whom they are making it for, and what they stand for. Claire knows why guests will pay a significantly higher than commodity price for a commodity – accommodation. Claire understands what the Lon Retreat Brand says about guests who visit. You don’t just get brag-worthiness when you stay. You feel you’ve arrived or are arriving (in life).
What does engaging with your product or experience say about your customer?
Understanding this and articulating and delivering on it is terribly important to your business. Yet if I stood at the front of a room full of one hundred tourism business owners and asked them to raise their hand if they could describe their ideal customer with certainty and clarity, I’m betting less than ten would be able to.
If you had been sitting in that room, and didn’t raise your hand, this chapter is for you. If you were sitting in that room and were fifty-fifty raising your hand, this chapter is also for you. Only if you were sitting in that room and shot your hand up so fast your arm nearly fell off, skip to the next chapter.
Before we move on to Strategy, we need to ensure you have incredible clarity about your ideal customer so you can develop a product and the language you need to use to attract them. Not only does this make it easier to design a customer experience that aligns with their aspirations and desire, but it also makes everything else in your business easier.
How you describe and position your product becomes more effortless. Your advertising targeting and choice of audiences are precise. And the effectiveness of both will be apparent.
Imagine you were at a Chamber of Commerce event, and your sole objective was to find one new customer among the one hundred or so people in attendance. There are people of many cultures, backgrounds, occupations, and ages at the event. To promote what you do, the event organiser has provided you with a table, a banner and some brochures and has given you explicit instructions not to harass people; instead, wait for them to approach you.
What’s your approach? Would you generalise what you do in a feeble attempt to appeal to the diverse number of people in the room? Or would you craft your message, look, and feel to appeal to one type of person? Perhaps, there are only three to four of those in the room.
When I put it like this, it seems nonsense to try and appeal to everyone, and in doing so, become less appealing to an ideal customer, doesn’t it? But that’s what businesses do every day in their Brand and Marketing when they don’t have clarity about their perfect customer. They generalise, and when you do, marketing gets hard. You can’t possibly communicate effectively to the masses, and not in a manner that highly appeals to a specific type of person.
I worked with a Tavern (bar and restaurant) struggling to attract clientele. While running the Brand Strategy, diving in on much of the business, I discovered in the afternoons on certain days in the bar area that they had a strip show targeting tradies at the end of their day. The show ran from late afternoon to early evening, briefly crossing over with the incoming dinner trade in the attached restaurant.
The dining area was attached to the bar area. A door connected the two spaces, and there was nothing stopping someone from the restaurant from wandering through and, within an instant, inadvertently finding themselves in the middle of the strip show. It happened too – in my research I noted various Tripadvisor reviews complaining about it.
The promoter managing the girls was also managing the Tavern’s Instagram account! They were sharing almost identical content on a direct competitor’s social account. If you visited their website, they would talk about everything they offer, from the bar, cellar, restaurant, breakfasts, live music, corporate functions, and everything in between.
The restaurant offered a variety of cuisines. Not in a typical Australian pub menu way, with various meals on offer. They were explicitly a mix of Mexican, Spanish, American, and some typical Australian dishes, presumably for the completely unadventurous guest they ‘simply must’ have some offering for. Such was their commitment to being everything to everyone.
Not only could you not tell them apart from their competition on their social accounts, but their Brand and product offering was also undifferentiated.
To recap, they looked like a strip bar on their social media accounts, and their website spoke to everyone. In-person, they operated an all-cuisine restaurant for groups and families in the same proximity as girls getting their kit off for tradies at the bar. Midweek they’d advertise a coffee and scones breakfast menu on the radio.
With all this seemingly obvious mixed messaging and lack of differentiation, they still wondered why they were quiet!
If I revealed now that this was a fictional story, you’d probably be completely unsurprised. The concerning thing is, it’s not. It happened, and that’s what the business offered and how it positioned itself.
When presented with their Brand Strategy, they accepted it and planned to adopt and implement it through the venue. I was thrilled. Almost immediately, they had even decided to drop the strip shows and committed to clarifying their offering in the restaurant. However, within two weeks, they’d reverted.
Oh well, to quote Henry Ford – ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’
If your customer can replace you by driving a few minutes further down the road for the same thing, make no mistake, you are selling a commodity. You’re always going to scamper around looking for new customers, special offers, or slash your prices.
Conversely, if you’re the only option and greatly appeal to a specific person, you have more control through the entire buying process. The absence of choice and lack of replaceability rises you above commodity, makes you a valuable proposition, and gives you leverage in the transaction.
You may describe it as a competitive advantage or unique selling point in marketing.
There’s a fantastic business, Sea All Dolphin Swims, on The Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, where you can swim with Dolphins and Seals. There are limited permits available to run these tours in the bay, and simply having one creates a unique selling point. However, there aren’t many tourism businesses that operate with such exclusivity as Sea All Dolphin Swims. Many tourism businesses have a like company only a few minutes away.
I often go to restaurants and walk out asking my wife why it seems so hard to get hospitality service right. As widely understood that excellent service is excellent for business, it still, somehow, remains uncommon.
Even in today’s market, outstanding service remains a differentiator. So can designing a Brand that appeals to a specific type of person.
You may not have access to something so exclusive as a licence to swim with dolphins, but you don’t need to either. Your service and positioning can be your competitive advantage. As I will demonstrate throughout this book, it is a real unique selling point if you make it.
Let’s assume for now I have convinced you of the value of getting very specific about your ideal customer. Before you start considering who that target customer may be, let me introduce you to a couple of approaches for choosing this group.
If you don’t have a marketing background, the most familiar way to group people might be within a demographic such as age, culture, employment, or location. While choosing a group from one, or multiple demographics, may work for your business – before you do to do it – let me introduce you to the concept of psychographics.
Psychographics goes beyond classifying people based on general demographic data and instead seeks to group people by what they think, driving consumer behaviour. What are their beliefs and values? For example, do they value family, saving money, holidays, learning, or career progression? What are their opinions and attitudes? Where do they lie politically, are they prudent and conservative, or do they believe experiences in life are more valuable than material possessions?
The good news is (or some may say ‘scary reality’) that for marketers, many digital advertising platforms have the consumer behaviour data you require to target potential customers by their interests and behaviours, aka psychographics.
A standard tool in marketing is to create an example Ideal Customer Profile to lead decision making in the business. You’ll find other names for it, such as Customer Avatar, but they generally look similar.
A one-page description of who the ideal customer is, how they think, where they hang out and how they behave online and offline. Popular in marketing is to give this Ideal Customer a name to make it easy to refer to them in decision making.
For demonstration, I’ll speculate that for Lon Retreat, it could look something like this.
Sarah is a 36-year-old professional who commutes to Melbourne CBD for work. She has a high disposable income and values quality over quantity. Sarah wears Brand name clothes, regularly shops online at night, and places high importance on her appearance. She keeps a tight friend group, and they catch up regularly to try new restaurants all over Melbourne. Sarah has been in a relationship for a few years and is happy with its pace. Sarah periodically gets away with the girls for short breaks to regional Victoria. Because they work so hard in their daily life, they want to make sure they have a great vacation. They only ever go somewhere new when a close friend recommends it to them, or the destination is named an absolute must-do by their favourite travel blogger. Sarah enjoys downtime on social media and is progressive in using it. She’s happy to try new social media platforms.
I could keep going, but you get the gist. It’s a powerful exercise to describe your ideal customer because it gives you so much clarity of exactly whom you should be aiming for. It also provides much of the direction you need for copywriting, targeting ad interests and behaviours and making more marketing decisions.
At this point, I might add, despite commanding great exclusivity simply by having the permit to run Dolphin swim tours, that doesn’t mean the owner James ‘Murph’ Murphy rests on his laurels. Quite the opposite.
He’s one of the great movers and shakers of the Victorian Tourism Industry, constantly pushing the edge by applying new technology such as Virtual Reality and looking to form partnerships with other operators like the ferries. He’s also unequivocal on his ‘why’ – Education in and conservation of marine life – “Every decision we make is ultimately about maximising the positive impact on the health of our oceans, our marine life, and building advocates to protect it in the future.”
At the time of writing, Sea All Dolphin Swims goes at 4.8 from 89 reviews on Google, and on Trip Advisor is ranked the #1 experience to do in Queenscliff, Victoria, with a rating of 5 from 482 reviews.
Not only does he run a fantastic business, offering an excellent customer experience. He has a unique selling point or differentiator. Through his ‘why’, Murph knows his customers well and gives them a reason to buy into the Brand long-term. It’s the definition of an absolute ‘must-do’. Everything aligns.
Niching down to a precise ideal customer isn’t enough if the customer experience, your ‘why’, and your Brand Strategy don’t align. It’s a starting point for the clarity you need to make every other decision in your business.
Your homework from this chapter is to write your Ideal Customer’s Profile.