How To Differentiate A Brand Part 6: Define A Unique Strategic Target

by Bruce Tait  •  Published February 2012

Most organizations define their target group in terms of the type of person who buys their product or service most frequently. Follow the money as they say. For a breakfast cereal that might be harried moms, 25-44 who care about their kids health. We call this group the volume target. They are the brand’s largest source of volume and marketers spend an inordinate amount of time researching them, studying their buying patterns, etc. Too often this leads to also mirroring them in communication. Here is our harried mom now in the TV commercial for the breakfast cereal.

Two problems with this last part. First, the moms in the volume target may not actually aspire to be harried moms. In fact, they may want to feel like they are in command of their lives or that they’ve got more on their minds than breakfast cereal. The communication is usually far more successful showing the aspirational self than the reality. We call this more aspirational group the Strategic Target. They are particularly important for badge brands where the user imagery for the brand is especially important.

Take Harley Davidson. The volume seems to come mostly from middle aged upscale professionals. You’ve seen them riding their shiny Harley’s on perfect summer days. They are living out a fantasy of rebellion on Sunday before heading back to their jobs as dentists on Monday. That’s the volume target. But if Harley started featuring this group of dentists in their advertising they would be finished. That’s because the “real biker” with the leather, beard, tattoos and genuine tough-guy demeanor is the Strategic Target. This real rebel biker is the guy the volume target wants to be. Even if that real biker isn’t really responsible for most of the volume, that’s who needs to be in the ads.

So problem one with a fixation on the volume target is that people don’t necessarily want to be reminded of who they are — they want to become something better through your brand. That something or someone better is the Strategic Target. The second problem with a communication focus on the volume target is that it’s hard to differentiate based on that kind of user imagery. The reason volume targets represent so much volume is that they are common. Common is not good for differentiation.

But a Strategic Target can be quirky or eccentric. Special and rare. I’ve posted before about the value of archetypes in defining user imagery (How To Differentiate a Brand I). However, a brand becomes particularly unique if it can understand the person its volume target hopes to become. Then find the person who has become that kind of human. That’s the Strategic Target and it can be a very interesting, textured person — even for a mass brand. The Strategic Target is a particularly powerful concept for really mass brands. We found that Best Buy struggled mightily with this concept but it was quite easy to find the person their volume targets wanted to become.

Think about your Strategic Target. It’s an opportunity to really differentiate.

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