Can you define your customer?

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I recently watched Bruce Hardie, Marketing Professor from London Business School deliver a marketing masterclass which, in part, aimed to define the word ‘customer’.  He said that the closest he could come to defining a ‘customer’ was by using a quote about marketing from theorist and academic, Tim Ambler:

 “Marketing is the sourcing and harvesting of cash flow.”

After searching for an alternative ‘customer’ definition, I discovered that the Oxford dictionary was pretty close to the mark:

“A person who buys goods or services from a shop or business.”

Hardie ran an exercise, which I have reworked and will share with you now.  Read the short paragraph below and simply count the number of touch points at which I am a customer.  Don’t forget, just count as you go.

“I arrived at Euston train station, in London, at 13.00, on 22 December to catch my train.  I logged onto the free Wi-Fi using my iPad (which I bought in 2012). The free Wi-Fi wasn’t working well so I paid to log onto a hotspot called Kizoom.

Whilst waiting for the train I bought a Costa latte coffee, a Tracker Bar from W H Smith and picked up a free Metro newspaper.  I called my colleague on my work Blackberry, which operates on the Orange network, and asked her to turn off my Dell computer which I had accidently left running.

I started to daydream about what I would eat that night at Wagamamas restaurant – chicken gyoza most probably ­– until my Virgin operated train arrived to take me to Birmingham.”

How many customer references did you count? 13?

Wrong, I’m afraid.

Now, read Hardie’s preferred marketing definition once more and count the touch points again:

“Marketing is the sourcing and harvesting of cash flow.”

Hopefully now you’ll see that I am only a customer at five touch points.  I’m a visitor of Euston train station, a user of free Wi-Fi, I have been a customer of Apple (in 2012 when I bought my iPad), my employer is an account holder of Blackberry and I’m a traveller, but in order to be a current customer, I must exchange money (cash flow).

Hardie’s point is this: you need to be ultra-clear who your customer is and a generic definition will never suffice.  If you can’t define them, you can’t count them, or segment them, and if you don’t know how many customers you have, you can’t possibly analyse their behaviour and you’ll never truly understand them.

Create your own customer definition, in your own way and on your own terms, so that when you’re asked, ‘how many customers do you have?’ you can say something a little more analytical than ‘lots’.

Picture citation: 10ch Customer (CC BY 2.0)

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