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Who Is Our Customer — A View From The Fashion Industry

by David Brock on June 27th, 2011

It might come as a surprise to some of my readers that I consult within the fashion industry —  it must be my keen sense of style they want to leverage.  It really is difficult to be an icon of fashionability and coolness…….

I’ve always admired the connection with the customer that my fashion industry clients have–it’s something all of us can learn from.  These clients are always trying to understand what’s “hot” with their customers, what drives them, what are the great trends or fads they will buy.  They focus intently on understanding “who” their customers are.

One of my clients is a fashion leader for powersports, they create clothes and fashions for various segments within the motorcycle industry–both riders and “wannabes.”  It’s not just one segment they address, motorcycle fashions go far beyond leather jackets with gang logos on the back.  It’s fascinating to go to their design studios.  Two walls are filled with “pictures of their customers.”  They create “lifestyle boards” for each of their customer personas–they’ve identified about 10.  Their design studios have 10 different sections, each representing a different customer segment. Each of these lifestyle boards is filled with information—dozens of pictures of their customers–not in motorcycle clothes, but in street clothes, party clothes, everywhere.  They have the magazines each segment reads posted on the walls, music they listen to, movies they are seeing, gadgets they buy, the cars they drive, their hobbies and toys.  They have pictures of the places they hang out–clubs, restaurants, they know where they  go on vacations.  They have pictures of tatoos, jewelry they wear.  They track the websites they show up at, watch YouTube videos.  They also have all the statistical data posted on the walls—demographic information, census information, jobs, income levels, all sorts of data.

Their designers hang out with their customers, they take pictures and videos, they include these on the lifestyle boards.  With each of the lifestyle boards they’ve established, they are really trying to understand who their customers are–they are trying to get into their heads to see what excites them.  What’s important in getting this “picture of their customer,” is they go far beyond their customers’ riding motorcycles — they know just understanding their motorcycle riding experience is far too limiting–even misleading.

These designers know it’s important to understand who their customers are.  They leverage this knowledge to create new fashions–things that compel their customers to buy.  They know “Twilight,” vampires and such are important to one segment–incorporating these as design elements into some of their clothing lines.   They know in Lady Gaga is important to another segment, incorporating colors and themes consistent with the little monsters into those lines.  They know the lifestyles of young professionals and what they want to see, or the older professionals, or the retiree that takes adventure riding vacations.

We can learn a lot from those motorcycle fashion designers.  Too often, when we try to understand who our customers are, we focus too narrowly–how do they use our products, what problems do we solve.  It’s  too limiting, we need to understand who are customers are as people–where they live–what drives them professionally and personally.  We need to get a very broad picture of them.  We can develop these views for our customers–as individuals and enterprises.  Once we really understand our customers, then we can map our product development plans into things they consider important, we can focus our marketing messages on the issues they are most interested in, we can engage them in their buying process–focusing on the issues they worry about, rather than regurgitating our features and capabilities.

We’ve seen our high technology clients learn from these fashion designers–people in the semiconductor industry, software companies, integrators.  We’ve seen our industrial products clients get great leverage from learning from these motorcycle designers.  We’ve seen these approaches become the cornerstone to customer engagement in the financial services industry.

Take some time to look at the fashion industry–they know their success comes from understanding who their customers are.  We can learn a lot from them.

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