We’re struggling to understand our key customers. Help!

I was lucky enough to spend last Wednesday at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the fashion world, this is essentially a glamorous trade show.

The seats aren’t filled, as you may expect, with wealthy fashionable types, but rather with buyers from high- end retailers.

Fashion is business, and designers know that better than anyone. They are at the mercy of increasingly fickle customers and their reputation hinges on the delivery of great new product (“collections”) twice a year.

When you then consider that the world’s most successful designers (Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs etc) are, in the most part, middle-aged men who create almost exclusively for youngish women, it begs the question “how do they do it?”

The answer lies in the designer’s muse. Great designers always have a muse; someone who embodies an ideal client, someone to project their ideas on to, someone to remind them how their customers think and what they like, and someone that inspires them to create.

So what relevance does this have to non-fashion businesses?

In my experience, most business owners absolutely understand that to grow their business they need to know their customers, and they usually interpret this as an exercise in gathering demographic data and statistical profiles.

But this often fails to meet the needs of the consumer, because at the heart of success is creating products for people, not statistics. 

My suggestion to business owners then is that instead of assimilating the buying habits of an amorphous group of female 25 to 35 year olds, they take inspiration from the great fashion designers and find themselves a muse.

To find a muse, start by identifying your key customer; the person who buys enough of your product at a price that generates your best profit, then:

  • Find a real person who both embodies your key customer and inspires you; make this person your muse.
  • Work on getting to know your muse. Not just the facets that relate directly to your product, but also the seemingly irrelevant stuff; their nuances, their habits, their ambitions, their kids, their clothes etc.
  • Bring your muse to life inside your business. Some businesses create a cartoon persona for their muse, others use the real person; irrespective of what you choose, the addition of visuals and stories will help everybody to understand.
  • Keep in regular contact with your muse, possibly for years. See how their aspirations change and understand how that affects your business.  Much has been made in the press recently about how the beleaguered US motor industry, and Ford in particular, failed to do this.
  • Refresh your muse. If your muse moves away from fitting the profile of a key client and is no longer relevant, replace them.

Of course the concept of having a muse is not just limited to business-to-consumer industries; the business customer is a person too – you just have to identify exactly who in the business it is.

Business muses will rarely be as elegant as designer muses, but if everything they say about fashion is true, they will probably be easier to please.



Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses.  Julia is the author of “How to Bake a Business”  and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).

To read more Profitable Growth expert advice, click here.



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