There certainly is a lot of hullabaloo these days about fancy terms related to building corporate or organizational outreach success. You’ve probably heard many of them. Social media marketing. Customer Relationship Management. Return on investment. Viral marketing. Branding strategy. The list goes on and on.

It’s easy to get excited.

Here’s the truth about all of the above: they all mean squat if you haven’t started with truly understanding who your customers are.

Get to know your customers and you’ll be better prepared to tailor a campaign to your needs.

So what do you need to know? It depends on your needs. But we’re talking about any of the demographics and/or habits you require to make decisions about where to promote your brand, either to existing customers, or potential customers. Women. Men. Teens. Working professionals. Retired. Ages. Their communities (big or small, urban or rural). Income. Their average annual donation to your organization. Favourite activities. Etc.

Savvy organizations already collect this information, responsibly, from their customers. It can be through a few added checkboxes on website registration, short questions included in mailings, contests, surveys, or information obtained at point of personal contact. Ever wonder why Radio Shack made a habit of always asking for your postal code? Bingo. Instant information on customers’ location. That makes the target area for a flyer campaign a breeze because the locations of the store’s shoppers are instantly available.

What about your website? Are you really drilling down on analytics to see which pages are viewed most? That can reveal the habits and interests of your visitors too.

Never let anyone internally or externally sell you a promotional plan that isn’t based on an understanding of your customers. If you do, you’ve bought into a crapshoot approach to marketing your brand. That’s like a basketball coach sending his team onto the floor with no set plays, and no defence strategies. Good luck.

Yes, it’s tempting to dive right into a marketing campaign because of the lure of ‘results’ you are convinced are ahead. But know your customers first. Your marketing plan will actually be further ahead — before you even begin.