Customers: there may be a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap?
And so, as we enjoy our short, hot summer, a new generation of university graduates return their rented gowns and mortar boards and head off into the big, wide world.
The lucky ones know what they want to do and are taking the first steps to fulfilling their dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or, God forbid, a banker.
Some will seek to monetise their talent in the arts by maximising the life-changing royalties their talent can bring. Others will have a sporting ambitions and dreams of glory, perhaps, in the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
Some won’t have a clue what they want to do.
And some, young as they are, will have a business idea that will change the world.
At about the same age, when I was 23, I had such a dream.
My thought was to capitalise on the explosion of a new-fangled boom called the audio cassette – and, with a thing called the Walkman, that you could listen to music on the move.
This led to the iconic SFX – the world’s first music magazine on audio cassette.
While it is true that, as a business, SFX lasted less than two years, I feel entitled to remind you that our first issue sold an audited 58,000 copies in London alone.
This meant that, once the ‘content’ had been created, it had been copied (in a day) onto 58,000 cassette tapes which were distributed, in bulk, to thousands of newsagents for 58,000 customers, who had been made aware of this brand new concept through old media, to part with 50p each to buy them.
Nowadays, of course, in the digital world we live in, there are much easier ‘routes to market’ than this.
You don’t need the capital to build a factory or a production line.
You don’t need lorries to distribute your product (deliver, perhaps – ‘distribute’, no).
You don’t need to pay rent for a shop on the high street (or be bullied by the major multiples).
You don’t even need to pay for the media space to communicate the brilliance of your idea to potential customers.
But there is one thing that will never change – and that one thing, let me tell you, is the meaning of the word ‘customers’.
Customers are people who pay you money for whatever it is you have produced to sell them.
Customers are not ‘followers’ or ‘friends’.
Customers are not ‘likes’ or ‘shares’.
Customers are not ‘clicks’.
Customers = cash.
Never forget this.
A ‘consumer’ only becomes a ‘customer’ once you’ve been paid.
I cannot tell you the number of great new business ideas pass my way where the enthusiastic management team have failed to fully understand consumer response to their sexy new idea and, within this failing, another axiomatic mathematical formula:
Consumers = customers = cash.
You may think this naïve. If so, you would be surprised to know how naïve otherwise intelligent and sophisticated business people, including bankers, can be.
I cannot tell you how many business plans, and financial forecasts, have passed my way which include an expenditure line called ‘marketing’ without a clue what this means.
For when you ask these sophisticated financiers who the marketing expenditure will be aimed at, what it is aimed to achieve, how it will achieve it and how much cash it will generate, they look at you with eyes as blank as an empty column in a spreadsheet.
Usually, they argue that ‘marketing’ is a fixed percentage of ‘revenue’. They fail to understand that revenue is a function of marketing – not the other way round.
And, as numbers people, all they get back from me, a people person, is yet another axiomatic financial formula:
Marketing = consumers = customers = cash.
I accept that some of the world’s most highly valued new media businesses have attracted extraordinarily large customer bases and then tried to work out how to monetise them – but did Facebook or Twitter have 58,000 paying customers in the week they launched? Did they?
I would argue that these are the exceptions that prove the rule so whether you are a student or a high-flying banker, I have provided you with the 1-2-3 of marketing:
1. Customers = cash.
2. Consumers = customers = cash.
3. Marketing = consumers = customers = cash.
Forget this at your peril.
Or it will cost you.