Getting Inside the Customer’s Head


No matter how incredibly delicious a product is, taste alone does not guarantee commercial success. Getting to know the customer and meeting their needs are key ingredients for building a sustainable brand.

Food brands must cater to two types of customers: retailers (or food service operators) and end users. Today’s article, the third in this series about entering the packaged foods arena, tackles the elusive consumer.

The ultimate challenge is to attract the target customer, influence them to choose YOUR brand above all others and keep them coming back for more.

Who is your target customer?

When identifying the customer, it is tempting to cast a wide net in the hopes of reeling in “every fish in the sea”. However, targeting a specific group is a more effective strategy. By establishing a primary target, such as mothers with young children, it is easier to craft a message that resonates with the audience and influences purchases. Brands with a broad appeal may also have secondary and tertiary targets.

Ferreting out the insights

Start by building a demographic profile based on who is most likely to buy and use the product. Then zero in on needs (both physical and emotional), values and behaviours to gain insight into what drives purchase decisions. Here’s how:

  • Survey customers through social media and in person; the greater the sample size (number of respondents), the better. Choose respondents carefully, ensuring they fit into the target group and regularly purchase similar products.
  • Surveys are most effective when conducted by an independent third party that also analyzes the data. Keeping respondents in the dark about the product and company represented is critical for honest and unbiased feedback.
  • Interviews conducted in the consumer’s home provide insights about lifestyle and how to meet their needs. Taking a peek inside the refrigerator and pantry reveals what they actually buy. Then delve deeper, to learn why the product was purchased and understand the post purchase experience.
  • Accompanying customers on grocery shopping trips, with kids in tow, and observing their behaviour can be an eye-opener, revealing how they make buying decisions.
  • Consumer taste panels, executed by professionals with sensory training, are an effective tool to test formulations and validate assumptions.
Creating a customer persona

Based on consumer insights and data collected, form a picture of the target customer. The customer persona for a children’s cereal may start like this: “Meagan, age 36, is married and a working mother of two children 2 and 6. The family has a household income of $100,000 and lives in the suburbs. Meagan’s daily challenges include juggling work and family responsibilities and finding ways to stretch the budget. Her top priority is the health of her children, so she regularly checks the nutrition facts and ingredient statements looking for artificial additives.”

Keeping the customer top of mind

The customer persona is invaluable when making business decisions, providing guidance for purchasing, product development, packaging, marketing, advertising and sales.

Relying on hope, gut feelings and stakeholder opinions is a flawed plan. Getting inside the customer’s head is crucial to deliver a product that meets their needs and beats the competition.

As a packaged foods consultant, Birgit Blain makes brands more saleable. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at

© Birgit Blain

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This article appeared in Food in Canada magazine

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