“Don’t lose our power users!” It’s the No. 1 concern we hear from brand executives who come to us for help building their business.
Here’s the problem, though: Your power users, your longtime fans, your core customers — they’re a fixed universe. Keeping them, and only them, happy is not the ticket to growth and long-term impact.
To thrive, food, beverage, and wellness brands need to constantly convert new believers. There’s a whole cohort of fans-in-waiting out there, ready to fall in love with your brand’s promise and products. You just haven’t yet sent them roses.
To grow your brand’s audience, you need to first get over your team’s institutional fear of failure, and then understand where and how to find new consumers.
Fear of Leaving Fans Behind
Brand leaders are charged with growth. That’s a given. But it’s a mistake to assume that growth can come from selling more stuff to a finite number of people. If your brand is duking it out on price, or can’t get invited on shelf because your products are too similar to what’s already there, then your target audience, no matter how loyal they are, may be in the way. Growth won’t come from your 250 die-hard fans spending 5 cents more; it comes from getting 250,000 more people to think the same way.
Unfortunately, most consumer products companies have a short-term financial mindset; data is judged in quarterly or semi-annual segments, and no marketer wants to be the person who’s responsible for losing share. A false sense of safety emerges from focusing on the core fan base; if you can keep them happy, that feels like a win.
The census of power users is often not big enough to matter, but brand leaders are so freaked out about losing them that they often don’t see beyond them. Growth means adding new consumers to the fold, and in appealing to those new people you risk leaving your early adopters behind.
Global brands with massive audiences are more adept at weathering these audience shifts. For mid-cap brands, potentially losing a few points in share in exchange for larger long-term expansion feels chancy.
Let me reassure you that building an audience is not a zero-sum game. You don’t lose an old customer for every new one you add.
There’s another fear at play here: Leaders and teams are fans of their brands and naturally think their audience mirrors their own preferences and behaviors. New audiences may scare marketers because they’re unfamiliar. Because they’re not exactly like you, you need to figure out who they are, what they respond to, and how to communicate with them.
Recognize, too, that there’s a natural evolution in a brand’s audience. Consumers mature out of brands, develop new need states, and live in a changing world. They expect brands to evolve alongside them. Don’t change for change’s sake; change for growth and relevancy.
Where Are Those New Customers?
Consumer preferences and behaviors are going through massive changes because of the fear of recession. For most people, their perception of the economy is more driven by the media and bad news than by lived experience. In short, consumer behavior doesn’t match consumer sentiment.
People are willing to pay more for products they like, open to trying something more expensive, and curious about sampling other brands. They’re looking for products that fit and reflect their values. So it’s a good time to capture new folks, especially since everything points to continued strong consumer spending despite downer economic news.
So how do you look for these willing-to-try-ers? How can you find a large group of people who will evolve into die-hard fans?
We’re especially skilled at helping brand leaders reimagine market boundaries, reinvent categories, and rethink their audience. This net new audience feels like a foreign concept when you’ve been focused on a core group for so long. It’s all about identifying a larger addressable market of people who will similarly be attracted to your brand’s promise.
Business schools teach the strategy of narrowing your addressable market; our approach to audience development goes in the opposite direction. We’ll start with that core audience and their needs and characteristics, then look at the broader category and draw threads that connect them to understand that there’s a huge audience of prospects. It’s not that you’re going to market to ALL of them, but if you get into the right channels and communicate your brand’s values, those people will pay attention to what you’re doing, and you’ll win over a good chunk of them.
Use Data + A Whole Lot of Insight
This model of building a group of net new consumers relies on data, sure. However, data is an artifact, historical by nature. It can tell you that a transaction occurred, not why it happened. It provides a road map of sorts, but it won’t point in a specific direction.
Audience development takes creativity and chutzpah, and an understanding of human behavior that data can’t collect. To borrow an example from streaming TV: Netflix has all the data in the world and they’ve sliced and diced it to create shows for all these segments. While AppleTV doesn’t yet have the viewership of Netflix, they’re great at making series nobody else would make because they can see beyond what the data says consumers would watch.
As a marketer, innovator, or brand manager, you’re will have to rely on experience and insight to expand your universe of customers. We often talk with clients about finding the white space — the place of real opportunity, where your competitors aren’t playing. Find where your brand’s superpowers overlap with consumers’ needs and wants. Project your core group’s characteristics onto a larger universe. You might appeal to yoga moms, but wouldn’t on-the-go outdoor enthusiasts love your products, too?That empty void looks scary, but it’s full of potential. It’s the only way you get to something (or someone) new. We’ve helped a bunch of brands navigate that white space and find the consumers they never could have imagined. So let’s talk about who you should be talking to.