Segmentation Is Killing Your Brand: Five Reasons to Find Your Unicorn Customer

Deb Gabor, Founder of Sol Marketing

A store is a place you go to buy things, usually out of convenience or habit. In contrast, brands inspire irrational loyalty and yes, even love. But how does a company build itself into a brand that people can fall deeply, madly in love with?

The old model says that segmentation is the key to business success. This involves strategically dividing your potential customers into groups based on who they are and why/how they’re buying. Segmentation is a fine marketing tactic, but it won’t build a brand that people can wholeheartedly rally behind. In fact, segmentation can even work against a brand by diluting the brand identity. In order to build the type of brand that customers can fall in love with, you must first create a detailed picture of your ideal "unicorn" customer.

Let me start with a real-world example of one brand that I personally worked with. This company is one of the world’s largest retailers of hookahs and hookah supplies. When I asked who they thought their ideal customer was, they described an older, Middle Eastern man. In reality, their ideal customer—the person most likely to bring in the most amount of revenue for this company over time—was a young man between the ages of 18 and 28 who wants to bring people together around the hookah. He is a discerning, curious, fun-loving hookah enthusiast who knows that the most memorable and fun hookah experiences start with the right equipment, accessories and shisha tobacco. He wants to be the life of the hookah party, and you can see why he’s the ideal customer.

To define your ideal customer, start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is the customer that will be worth the most over the long haul?
  2. Who will be the most profitable and delightful customer to serve?
  3. Who will not only keep buying from you again and again, but also recommend you to others?

Then, create an in-depth profile of this customer—the person who is most highly predictive of your brand’s success. Imagine the ideal customer in excruciating detail: What kind of car do they drive? What clothing do they wear? What perfume do they wear? Every minute detail must be worked out in your mind to make this person become as real as possible. To help you fill in the details, consider doing the opposite of segmentation. Think about what unites your customers, and create a singular brand that is for a singular customer archetype.

What Are the Benefits of Identifying the Ideal “Unicorn” Customer?

  • You will build a stronger brand identity. If a brand can clearly define who its biggest brand champion is, then more doors will open than previously imaginable. The creative process will become easier, and everything that the brand does will be more thoroughly informed by this one anchoring concept. The brand purpose becomes unified and less fragmented, making it stronger and more appealing to customers.
  • You will create a brand that your team can rally behind and be truly passionate about. When you build a brand with a strong identity and purpose, you can then recruit people to be part of the team who also feel strongly about the brand purpose. It’s much easier to inspire the team to put in extra work when they feel like the brand is something worth working for. In fact, it starts to feel less like work and more like fun.
  • You will make the brand more human. Thinking about the ideal customer as an actual person will help you to think about the brand in more emotional terms. The result is a brand that people can relate to on an emotional level.
  • You will inspire irrational customer loyalty. A strong brand identity makes for a strong company that instills customers with confidence. This means that people come back even if they’re dissatisfied simply because they love the brand and know the brand will redeem itself.
  • You will help to better inform segmentation. Without a clear brand identity, segmentation is like driving around without a clear destination in mind. You might find some interesting things along the way, but you’ll waste time and gas, and you will probably find yourself getting a bit lost. Build a brand first, and then use segmentation to help spread your awesome brand identity far and wide.

Is Segmentation Dead?

Segmentation has its place, and identifying the ideal customer archetype shouldn’t replace segmentation practices. But if your boss has asked you to segment the market, you are probably putting the cart before the horse. First, you have to identify the ideal customer, and then you can think about segmentation. Remember, you’re building a brand for one and segmenting the market to get your actual product or service in front of many.
If you want to make yourself more attractive to the man or woman of your dreams, you don’t start off by researching everyone in the world who might find you attractive; you focus in on your ideal mate and learn everything you can about them—their favorite flowers, what TV shows they like, what they do on Friday nights, etc. In order to build a brand, you have to approach your customers in a similar way. Learn more about the ideal customer and let those insights inform the brand identity. Segmentation can help in marketing, but it’s not going to help build a brand that customers can fall in love with. Finding your "unicorn" customer will.

  • Marketing

Deb Gabor is the author of Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything. She is the founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft and NBC Universal to digital winners like Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway, RetailMeNot and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. For more information, please visit www.solmarketing.com and connect with Deb on Twitter @deb_sol.

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