When people talk about their company's target audience, you typically hear things like "individuals between the ages of 13 and 25 who enjoy playing video games and have a mobile phone," or "active consumers between the ages of 25 and 45 who like to hike and rock climb" or "procurement officers at Fortune 1000 companies."

These descriptions all follow the traditional format taught in marketing classes around the world, and, sadly, they're all nearly worthless because they provide almost no relevant information for making strategic decisions. Every year, countless executives and marketing directors dutifully write up plans with these kinds of empty descriptions of their target audiences. And every year, these same companies fumble around trying to figure out why they're not clicking with their customers.

Skip the Stats

Your customers aren't demographics. They're not age ranges. They're not job titles, or geographical regions, or salary brackets. They're human beings. It seems ridiculous to have to say that, but companies are chronically unable to remember this basic fact.

As a result, these companies continue to churn out utterly uninspiring messages to their audiences. "Like video games? You'll love Blongotron!" "UltraThingy is designed especially for your active lifestyle!" "MetaSystemizer optimizes corporate alignment to streamline synergistic opportunities."

Meanwhile, all their customers are rolling their eyes. They know marketing drivel when they see it--just like you do--and they quickly move on.

Get Real With Your Customers

If you want to connect with your customers, you have to stop pushing knee-jerk marketing clichés on them, and focus on understanding who they really are, how they really think, and what's really important to them.

That soccer mom with 2.5 kids? Her name is Sarah. Yes, she goes to yoga classes, do you know why she goes? She has a minivan, but do you know how she feels about it? Stop making assumptions (because you're probably way off) and start asking questions. Then, when you start to understand, you can get real in the way you talk to Sarah.

Get Your Company on Board

Once you better understand what's going on in the minds of your audience, there are several steps you can take within your organization to ensure that this information doesn't just sit in a dusty binder on some executive's shelf, but rather that it becomes an everyday part of how your company works.

For example, you can create a "customer persona" (a fictional profile of a typical customer) with a name and a face, to help your staff connect with your target audience in a more direct way.

In meetings, then, they'd no longer have to try to hold an abstract customer profile in their heads; they can simply ask, "What would Sarah think about this?"

This simple change can bring about significant differences in the way a company considers its customers during decision-making processes.

Who are your customers?