Marketing, Professional Development

You Only Need to Market to One Person: A Coffee Shop Story

Brands, stop trying to be everything to everyone

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

My university students are working on a marketing plan for a specialty coffee shop in the downtown area of a small city. They are beginners learning the ins and outs of marketing in a hands-on situation, just like many people and businesses out there who are trying to sell a product or service but have no previous training in marketing.

The students are trying to define a target market for the coffee shop and are having trouble figuring it out. So far, in early drafts, four groups have given various answers ranging from broad descriptions to, well, still pretty broad descriptions. Anyone within a few miles. Single men and women with money to spend. Women aged 22 to 30 who care about conservation (the coffee shop’s owner feels strongly about water conservation).

I have a secret. The coffee shop only needs to find one ideal customer, and I know where that customer lurks. She’s 20 years old and works in a downtown boutique about two blocks from the coffee shop, so she passes by regularly. She studies at a local college, likes to collect succulents and plants, adores scented candles, buys designer clothes affordably at Marshall’s, and plays video games when she needs a break from homework. She sometimes goes to Starbucks but especially likes the unique vibe of the downtown coffee shop, where she often goes to study. She always posts an image on social media while she is there. I’ve known her since birth. In fact, she lives in my house. She’s my daughter.

While my students are busy crafting strategies to grow the coffee shop’s social media following to as many people as possible, they forget something fundamental. Something that many small business owners and even big corporate brands forget. It all comes down to one customer. More precisely, it comes down to the image we can build of our biggest fan of a particular customer.

Marketing specialty coffee to everyone within five miles of the coffee shop will not be justifiable in terms of return on investment, or ROI. Nor is marketing to all the singles of a certain age in the city. It helps to fine-tune a bit and look for psychological bents like just those female singles who feel strongly about conservation. But when we intimately know a customer who visits the shop a couple of times a week and focus on her, now we are getting somewhere.

Imagine if the coffee shop stopped trying to attract a wide range of people and started targeting people who are more like my daughter. We will call her Eleanor. How many more times can we get Eleanor to visit our shop instead of Starbucks? She already loves us; she just needs an incentive to visit more often instead of splitting her purchases between the local shop and the large chain. How can we make Eleanor feel special? Investing more in this customer will quickly pay dividends. If she is spending $8 on a coffee and pastry twice a week and we increase her visit to three times per week, she will spend an additional $1248 with us over a year.

How many Eleanors do we need to keep the coffee shop going? Where do we find customers that look just like her? Or are similar enough to offer and deliver to them the same products that delighted Eleanor and send them the same marketing messages that attracted Eleanor in the first place. Investing in similar customers will be exponentially more valuable than blanketing our message to a group of people whose interests and behaviors marginally align with those of our best customers. We already know they are worth at least $832 each to us, possibly more.

How can we get Eleanor to spread the word on our behalf and influence her friends to do business with us? She is already posting photos and sharing the love every time she visits, unprompted. Eleanor is credibly giving testimony to the atmosphere of our coffee shop and the quality of our product. She normally visits alone, but what if she brought a friend with her or inspired someone to stop in on their own? Even if they are half as valuable as Eleanor, that’s over $400 per customer per year. 

Think about the time and money we would waste, even on low-cost social media ads, to blanket a wide swath of single men and women and hope that a fraction of them turn into customers who visit once, or twice or six times per year. Eleanor’s word of mouth returns dramatically more ROI.

That is not to say the coffee shop shouldn’t advertise. In addition to marketing personally to our Eleanor in creative and meaningful ways, they certainly can and should use paid advertising. But it needs to be strategically targeted to the exact kind of customer that is already our golden goose. 

We need to find out exactly where look-a-like Eleanors hang out, in real life and online. Where do they see brand messaging, and what messaging entices them to come in, buy, and frequently return as a regular customer (not just like and share our pretty pictures and entertaining posts)?

Over time, the coffee shop can cultivate the relationship with its increasing number of Eleanors by continuing to provide excellent customer service, a loyalty program, creating fun special events or promotions to attract repeat visits, asking Eleanor’s opinion on new products and services, and recognizing her as a brand ambassador in some way. After all, she’s special, and we want her to know it.

Who is your Eleanor? Every business has at least one (or you aren’t doing this business thing right). Find her and make your marketing dollars more effective with less effort.

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