Why you need to know your audience - An unexpected lesson

Read here what the Honda story can teach you on why you should know your audience and how to do it the right way.

Why you need to know your audience - An unexpected lesson

Do you know why what happened to Honda in the 1960s is still a great business lesson today?

Back in 1958, Honda took the bold step of venturing into the U.S. motorcycle scene. During that era, the Harley Davidson, Indian, and Triumph brands reigned supreme in the American motorcycle market. Enthusiasts associated these bikes with the archetypal image of a rugged, leather-clad biker—an outsider.

Honda, however, aimed squarely at this iconic biker demographic upon entering the U.S. market. The Japanese company crafted sizable motorcycles designed to rival the offerings of Harley Davidson.

Honda's Unexpected Triumph: The Rise of the Super Cub

Surprisingly, the initial foray by Honda into the U.S. motorcycle realm fell flat. The grand vision didn't quite match reality; their larger bikes struggled to attract buyers. In the early 1960s, die-hard Harley and Indian aficionados showed little inclination to switch to Japanese models.

However, amidst the struggle, a peculiar trend caught the attention of the U.S. Honda team. It wasn't the leather-clad rebels but rather city-dwelling, unconventional motorcyclists who were drawn to Honda's diminutive 50cc Super Cub.

In Japan, the Super Cub had already amassed a fervent following among the urban, younger demographic. Surprisingly, Honda had initially overlooked this market segment in the United States, opting instead for a different approach.

Gradually, Honda redirected its strategy toward targeting this urban demographic. Rather than chasing after traditional motorcycle enthusiasts, they focused on attracting young buyers uninterested in the stereotypical biker image.

This fresh approach aligned with the preferences of those in the Japanese market – individuals seeking affordable, practical transportation for short urban trips.

The iconic "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" advertising campaign emerged from this shift.

The monumental success of the Super Cub in the U.S. paved the way for Honda's expansion into the conventional motorcycle market. Within a short span, they captured an astounding 63% share of the U.S. motorcycle market.

So why should you spend time understanding who your audience is

Honda teetered on the brink of becoming a mere footnote in US automotive history due to their initial misunderstanding of their target audience. Fortunately, they recognized this misstep and made a crucial pivot before it became irreparable.

Had Honda initially honed in on their most receptive audience, they could have avoided squandering resources by marketing to an audience unlikely to embrace their motorcycles.

Great marketing and design are like building a pyramid

Effective marketing and design parallel constructing a pyramid. The audience serves as the foundation; understanding them thoroughly is the essential starting point before formulating strategy or execution. Strategy forms the second layer; it can only be developed upon a comprehensive comprehension of the audience.

Execution represents the pinnacle. Without a sound strategy based on audience understanding, execution falters. Regrettably, it's common to invert this sequence, a mistake Honda fell victim to.

The pressure from external forces—bosses, CEOs, and colleagues—often triggers this misalignment. The urgency for immediate results can overshadow the necessity of audience comprehension. It's tempting to succumb to shortcuts touted in blog posts promising miraculous outcomes for Facebook ads. Yet, falling into this trap is perilous.

How do you learn about your audience

Let's dive into the process of understanding your audience now that your boss is onboard. Here are some valuable avenues I recommend exploring:

  1. Participate in sales calls alongside your sales team. Observe the questions posed by potential customers and note how the sales team responds to them.
  2. Spend time engaging with customer service. Valuable insights can be gained from both satisfied and dissatisfied customers, offering a comprehensive perspective.
  3. Initiate direct conversations with your customers. Reach out to 10 or 15 individuals and ask for a brief 15-minute discussion to truly understand their viewpoints.
  4. Explore online forums, where your target audience likely congregates. Platforms like Reddit can provide invaluable insights. Dedicate 30 minutes per day for two weeks; it's a goldmine of information.
  5. Delve into review sites such as Yelp, Google, G2 Reviews, and Capterra. These platforms often hold rich customer feedback that can offer significant insights into preferences and opinions.

What about surveys?

There's a deliberate omission from this list: surveys. While surveys provide data, truly understanding your audience involves more than statistical information; it requires intuition and genuine human connections.

If you opt to include surveys in your research, by all means, go ahead. Just remember, your audience comprises real people, not just data points.

Throughout your audience research, focus on several key aspects:

  • Understand their decision-making process. Is it an individual or group decision? How long does this process typically take?
  • Identify their pain points, whether related to their professional endeavors (for B2B) or personal lives (for B2C companies).
  • Pay attention to customer service interactions to gauge customer satisfaction or discontent.
  • During sales calls, investigate if potential customers currently use a competitor's product and why they consider switching.
  • Analyze common themes mentioned in reviews. Are there specific features of your product/service that stand out compared to competitors?
  • Uncover their extracurricular interests. Knowing what your audience enjoys outside of work can be insightful for tailored marketing strategies.
  • Lastly, observe the tone and voice your audience uses in communication.

A final thought on getting to know your audience

Audience research isn't limited to specific roles within an organization. From top-tier executives like the CMO to entry-level marketers, investing time in understanding your audience is crucial. Even after years in a company, periodically revisiting and reassessing your audience ensures your marketing strategies remain relevant and effective, leading to overall better outcomes.

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