Why Customer Goals Matter

By The Earnie Team

Typically marketers look at audiences and segment them by their characteristics. For example, we know that men aged 24 – 40 typically like sport, so why not target them with relevant “male” content and push it out through channels where we can reach them? Clearly oversimplified, this method of segmenting by age and gender still makes sense to a degree, but there’s a better way of appealing to consumers. It’s what Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business Review) and Phil Barden (of Decoded) call goal orientated segmentation.

So what is goal orientated segmentation and why is it better? Products, brands and services are mediums through which consumers achieve goals – as Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want the quarter-inch drill, they want the quarter inch hole!” By attending a live sports event, customers are not only going to watch the sport itself but in doing so, satisfy their goals of entertainment, excitement and adventure. By segmenting markets by age, gender, or lifestyle brackets marketers are ignoring the problem that customers in those broad segments are very different to each other. At best this type of analysis provides a proxy approach of understanding consumers.

When consumers need a job to be done they look to products that can help them best do that job (Christensen, 2005). Therefore, the more relevant a product or service is to the job or goal of the consumers, the higher the expected reward will be for consumption of this. If a goal for getting fit is that someone wants to look good then an exercise programme that stresses this either explicitly (such as the hugely controversial beach body ready campaign below which resulted in huge boost in sales for the company) or implicitly will better activate the reward areas of the brain for that consumer. Just how well a product or brand fits with a consumer’s goal is called goal value by neuroscientists.


So if goals provide a more meaningful way of segmenting your audiences, how can brands and creative agencies effectively leverage this to realise their goals through advertising, packaging, positioning etc? The brand-goal link in the mind of consumers can be triggered explicitly or implicitly by communicating goal achievement. As a marketing expert at Harley-Davidson said, “What we’re selling is the possibility for a 43 year old accountant to dress in black leather, drive through small villages and make other people fear him.” The explicit goal of a consumer would be to buy a premium motorbike but there are many motorcycle companies that do this, which is why the product category emerges. By focusing on the implicit goals of autonomy, adventure and self-determination in their advertising, Harley Davidson are able to create a point of difference and become more relevant to the consumer (see where we’ve done it before – T20 blast, PDCWinter Run). When consumers are asked about why they buy certain brands they will inevitably talk about the explicit goals. Accessing the deeper implicit level of motivation in conjunction with the explicit goals is key to how agencies create a relevant connection to brands (Barden, 2013).

Whilst age, gender and other demographic factors are useful tools for marketers, we’ve found that we can better align products and advertising to consumers by looking at goals and motivations of consumers. By accessing the explicit goals and the implicit goals of consumers we are delivering better goal value. It is particularly important to focus on implicit goals in order to generate a point of difference for brands as Stephen Brown, professor at the Kellogg School of Management says, “just following explicit consumer wishes leads to replaceable products, copycat advertising and stagnating markets.”


Barden, P., 2013. Decoded: the science behind why we buy. John Wiley & Sons.

Christensen, C.M., Cook, S. and Hall, T., 2005. Marketing malpractice. Make Sure All Your Products Are Profitable, p.2.