Insight Gone Wrong: 10 most common mistakes of customer targeting


Last week, Pinarello, the LVMH-owned Italian cycling brand launched a new range of electronic road bikes. They launched with a social-media based campaign featuring types of supposed e-bike riders they obviously wanted to target. But they got it wrong. Very wrong. This made me think it’s worth reviewing some of the most common mistakes brands make when trying to connect with specific customers.

I’m not going to dog-pile on Pinarello. I don’t actually think Pinarello was fully wrong in their insight work: there are probably many women out there who would love to ride an e-bike to keep up with their friends and partners. The e-bike market as a whole is exploding. I can imagine e-bikes could be a lot of fun and super practical under the right circumstances. Hell, an electric cargo bike is pretty near the top of my life goals list. My best guess is Pinarello hired a consultant to run a few focus groups and they got a few rational ‘reasons’ different people who buy these bikes. And they ran with it.

Where Pinarello went wrong was mistaking insight for communication. Parroting insight back to a customer can be a death knell for any brand.

Beyond that, they chose to emphasize out-dated gender (and age) stereotypes, and failed to test their communications (had they shown this to even a handful of industry insiders who ‘fit the profile’ of their market, the brand would have realised their mistake before ever going public). Potentially, though, Pinarello simply did not understand that while most people will rationalise a purchase after they’ve bought it (I’ll be able to keep up with faster riders, I can do longer group rides etc), people are emotional, cultural creatures. We make decisions without knowing it. We want to be sold the joy, the dream, the positive side…. 'Don’t tell me to buy a bike because I’m not good enough. Tell me what joy I can have when I’m able to truly push my limits.'

Pinarello’s mistake is unfortunately more common than not. So I’m going to share the 10 most common targeting mistakes brands make and ways you, as brand-builders, can address them. The internet is full of great resources and crib sheets on targeted SEO and other forms of digital advertising. Before you do that, these are the mistakes brands make when they’re trying to figure out what to communicate in the first place.

10 common mistakes of customer brand targeting

  1. Rational insight parroted as communications: as in the case of Pinarello, repeating any sort of insight back to a customer is a dangerous move. While for some it might resonate, for many others, any truth might be lost in execution: the tone might be condescending or sound too academic, the chosen visual might not connect with people. The best insight deals in deep, hard truths about what ultimately motivates people and it means being vulnerable and honest about how your brand might or might not actually resonate.
  2. Holding up a mirror: This mistake is often made when targeting “trend-setters”, “early adopters” “Millennials” or whatever other title you want to give your coolster target. “Holding up a mirror” is a phrase I learned when working on the Nike account at Wieden + Kennedy. It’s what happens when a brand tries to flatter its target into being customers: “Look how cool we think you are! You’re so cool. We’re cool because we think you’re cool.” The worst offenders are apparel brands followed a short second by soft drinks. The problem is these people are usually not inspired by what they know. Show them something different, something that challenges them.
  3. Blinded by youth, beauty or gendered stereotypes: If you’ve ever seen a smiling mother wiping up spilled Kool-Aid with a triple-ply paper towel, you’ve seen this mistake in action. Don’t show people the ideal. Few people connect with the ideal, they connect with the truth.
  4. ‘Targeting’ everyone: Obvious, but worth the reminder. Focus, relentlessly. If your client or ‘boss’ insists on a wider group of people, one simple tactic is to remind them what a target literally looks like and insist on selecting a ‘bullseye’ and then people around them who are influenced by the ‘bullseye’ target people.
  5. Assuming the right people will find you: Just because you know who your target customers are and what to say to communicate with them, don’t assume they will come to you or just ‘discover’ you. Go to them. Make it easy for them.
  6. Confusing what is measurable and what isn’t: There are many decisions made to target customers which would be made better through A/B testing. These are measurable decisions: let the technology available help you out. But not all decisions are measurable.
  7. Your brand or product doesn’t match or actually address your customer insights: Product market fit is everything. If your product or brand behaviour can’t actually address some sort of functional, emotional or cultural need, you need to reassess your targeting or your product.
  8. Segmentation in the land of personalisation: Increasingly customers are expecting to be treated not as ‘a type’ (were they ever?) and more and more, thanks to the technology which backs it up - as total individuals with personalised tastes, personalised messaging, and personal purchase histories. Ask yourself if your brand should be focusing on segmentation, if you have the capabilities for personalisation - or where you do.
  9. Mistaking demographics for attitudinal segmentation: This should be obvious, but it’s easy to get tripped up thinking age, gender, race, education levels or geographic location are enough. The more important questions are: What does it feel like to be our customer? How does our customer interact with technology? How is our customer influenced by their lifestage? What fears or anxieties do they feel?
  10. Misunderstanding your customer because that’s what the competition does: Just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right, or effective for that matter! Many marketing decisions are simply made out of habit or worse, fear of doing something different. Always question a request for doing what your competition (or even, the whole category) is doing. If anything, what the competition is doing is a good hint to what your brand can become an antidote to.