Your aspiring customers can be more valuable than your paying ones…

My recent article about the Koala team’s overzealous belief of their brand awareness reminded me of a story about one of my first bosses, Sir Peter Abeles.

Sir Peter built the TNT global transport and logistics empire, which at one stage owned Ansett airlines. I was the National Marketing Manager of TNTGroup4, which was where I got loads of hands-on experience building databases and using direct marketing techniques for B2B and consumer marketing.

Sir Peter Abeles

Reg Ansett, the visionary founder of Ansett Airlines, bought Hayman Island in the 1950s and turned it into Australia’s most luxurious island holiday resort. Of course, the only way to get to the island back then was with Ansett Airlines. (BTW this was many decades before I eloped to get married on Hayman Island)

Back in the 1980’s after TNT bought Ansett – and consequently Hayman Island – the company made a huge investment in refurbishing the Hayman Island Resort. Those in the hospitality industry will know that all resorts eventually get stale and require deep pockets to bring them up to date.

After completion of the refurbishment, Sir Peter flew to Hayman Island to inspect his heavy investment. He attended the soft launch to the travel trade and left the island feeling comfortable about its new direction. Upon landing in Sydney, Sir Peter would normally be collected by his personal driver, but on this occasion his driver was unavailable.

Hayman Island Resort

So Sir Peter took a taxi. The first thing the cabbie asked Sir Peter was “where have you been?” Beeming proudly, Sir Peter said “Hayman Island.” The cabbie immediately replied “where’s that?

Suffice to say, Sir Peter politely explained where and what Hayman Island was, while discreetly seething under his breath. As soon as he got back to work, he demanded to see the Hayman Island marketing team, to get an explanation as to why a taxi driver at Sydney Airport hadn’t a clue about Hayman Island.

The mistake the team made was simple. It had micro-targeted a “luxury audience” by advertising exclusively in the Ansett magazine, upmarket lifestyle, fashion and travel magazines, as well as through media releases to travel writers. The problem with this niche-tactic of course, was that only those who could immediately afford to go to Hayman Island saw the advertising.

Nobody who aspired to go to Hayman Island, or who would save to go for a holiday there, had seen the advertising. They were not aware the Hayman Island Resort existed. So when Sir Peter said “Hayman Island” when answering the cabbie’s question, he didn’t get affirmation from the driver about his decision. Sir Peter was expecting something like “wow you’re lucky, I dream of having a holiday there.”

Holiday envy…

Part of the process of a considered purchase, such as a luxury holiday, home, car, camera, bed, lounge etc is the reinforcement by colleagues that your decision is a good one. Or even one they envy. It’s part of what drives our ego.

This is why your brand advertising should not just reach those most likely to buy, or those who buy regularly, but also those who might buy occasionally or dream of buying. Sales growth comes in distinct ways depending upon what you’re selling. Fast moving consumer goods such as groceries for example, have different buying patterns to high-value considered purchases.

Growth for high volume (often unconsidered) purchases comes from:

  • Convincing current high volume customers to consume more of your product
  • Converting high volume customers from a competitor to your brand
  • Getting more occasional users to buy your brand when they are in the market

Read Byron Sharp’s book; How Brands Grow for more detail.

Growth for low volume considered purchases comes from:

  • Additional purchase by a current customer
  • Converting a customer from a competitor to your brand
  • Getting first-time buyers to buy your brand

So, regardless of your product category, when marketing to consumers, you want as many people to know about your brand as possible. This includes those who will buy your brand and those who wish they could buy your brand. It’s why brand advertising, publicity, social sharing and review sites are all important tactics.

B2B is a different kettle of fish – you can often put every customer in the category on a floppy disk (ask your parents if you don’t know) and communicate with them based on where they are in their buying cycle, often driven by contractual arrangements or tenders. That’s for another article.

So don’t forget your aspirational customers, they help your paying customers justify their purchase and may eventually become your customers too.

Hmmm, it’s almost 20 years since my bride and I eloped. Maybe I should plan a quiet family celebration at home? Not likely. I suspect my bride aspires to at least a week back on Hayman Island.

I wonder if the resort has a past customer deal…


  1. Hey Malcolm, interesting article. The one proviso I would add would be related to brief and budget. If My Abeles has, say, been parsimonious with his marketing budget and the brief had been to generate quick bookings, the strategy is a sound one. Marketers battle with budgets every day – building brand awareness is terrific when you have the budget and time because, as you say, you grow a longer tail of aspiring customers. But if the brief is short term revenue growth on a tight budget, you do what you gotta do. At the end of exercise, the only thing that ultimately matters is the financial return when you’re in a for-profit entity.

    • Thanks Simon, you’re right, though the budget wasn’t an issue at the time. They just targeted too narrowly. I do understand they found even more budget after Sir Peter’s bollocking…

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