Can You Get Target Profile Wrong?: The Fear Of A Bad Choice

Can You Get Target Profile Wrong?: The Fear Of A Bad Choice

A while ago, women across the planet started to do something quite unusual. Right after they tidied their homes to their satisfaction, they would remove this spray and give it a few squirts around the house. The name of that spray was (and is) Febreze.

Today, Febreze is a multibillion dollar brand. But it almost didn’t make it to market

It almost crashed and burned before it saw the light of day. And the reason had nothing to do with the product. Instead it had everything to do with the marketing—in particular, the target profile.

At first, Procter & Gamble (the makers of Febreze) thought they’d hit a gold mine

It was the year 1993. And one of the chemists at Procter & Gamble (P&G) had been working with a substance called hydroxypropyl beta cyclodextrin. And this chemist smoked a lot, and hence his clothes smelled kinda yucky. But one day, when the chemist’s wife greeted him at the door, she was puzzled. She was under the impression that he’d quit smoking, because his clothes smelled so fresh, so unlike the stale cigarette odour she’d anticipated. The chemist was curious. Perhaps it was the substance he’d been working on.

As chemists do, the chemist went back to his lab

And he worked on the product, improving it, playing with it. And finding to his amazement that when he put the hydroxypropyl beta cyclodextrin in water and sprayed it, the scents of a lot of yucky stuff were drawn into the molecules.

And once the mist dried, the odour disappeared with it. So now P&G had the potential for a multibillion-dollar product on their hands. They even had a name—they called it Febreze.

All they needed was a target profile.

And there she was–this park ranger in Phoenix, Arizona

The park ranger often dealt with animals. All kinds of animals. But skunks did figure quite prominently. And she was having a hard time getting rid of all the smell. Her home, her sofa, her clothes—it all smelled kinda ‘skunky’.

It’s not like she hadn’t tried to get rid of the smell. But nothing worked. And it was affecting her, because she always felt that her dates were judging her. And her love life (and confidence) were going down the drain. Then along came Febreze to the rescue. She sprayed it on her curtains, rug, uniform—pretty much everywhere she could think of. And the odour was gone. It was a miracle.

And that miracle should have turned itself into a monster-selling product

But it didn’t. Apparently she was the wrong target profile. Even though P&G marketed Febreze as a product that would get rid of the smells, women weren’t buying. Women weren’t even using the product even when samples were handed out. The problem lay in our brains.

Have you ever put on a perfume and then can’t smell it any more after a couple of hours?

Well, in the fragrance industry, that’s called the fatigue factor. And the customers who most needed the product couldn’t smell any foul odours at all. Hence Febreze didn’t get much traction. No one, it seemed was using the product at all. The target profile was wrong, and the entire marketing team were down a blind alley with not many solutions.

Ironically, another target profile came to their rescue

P&G found another woman in Scottsdale, Arizona who confessed to using Febreze every day. What was puzzling was that her home wasn’t particularly smelly. It was devoid of pets; no one smoked; there were no skunks around. But she didn’t use Febreze for specific smells.

She used it as a final touch.

After she cleaned the house, she took the Febreze and gently gave it a few sprays. She called it a mini-celebration. The problem that Febreze was solving wasn’t bad odours. Instead it was being used as a final touch after the room was tidy—almost like the frosting on the cake.

So yes, the target profile can go off target

And this is our fear. That if we choose the wrong target profile, we’ll be doomed forever. And yet, we only think this way when it comes to a sales letter. If we’re out eating ice-cream, and we’re presented with a new flavour, we don’t feel we have to pick right, or we’re doomed.

When we went on our first date, we didn’t exactly have this notion that we’d hit it off so well that we’d be together with that person forever. We normally expect that we may get lucky and pick the flavour of ice-cream and date of our dreams. But we’re nonchalant if we don’t.

P&G wasn’t nonchalant

Febreze turned out to be a monster hit, and continues to be a top player in the market today. And despite doing their research with probably hundreds of women, eventually even a massive company like P&G, found that target profile worked best. And that if the target profile didn’t work at first, they would try again. And so they did.

And so should you…

The odds weren’t in P&G’s favour. They had a product that never existed in that shape or form before. You don’t have that problem for the most part. If you’re a consultant, or a product creator, there are probably dozens of products similar to yours already in the marketplace.

You don’t have to educate your public that much. You just have to find someone who will speak to you, give you the entire sequence of the problem, solution, roller coaster etc. And your first pick may well turn out to be just fine.

But if it doesn’t work, don’t give up yet

A sales page may not work for many reasons. And before you reject the target profile in favour of another, do a little research with at least a few more people and see if the problem/solution etc. resonates with them. If it does, then there might be something else wrong with your sales sequence. And it’s worth investigating.

But if the audience doesn’t get all excited about the problem/solution it’s time to get right back to that drawing board. Get another client. Do another target profile interview. It sure is worth the trouble—as P&G found out.

And so will you.

P.S. Do you have a question or comment? Write it here and I will respond.

The Brain Audit—Read what Howie Jacobson, author of “Adwords for Dummies”, has to say:

“The Brain Audit turns a century of brain research and market testing into 7 vivid and clear steps that anyone can use to make their own marketing more compelling”

I first stumbled upon the author, Sean D’Souza, at a conference where we both were speaking. I listening to his presentation on Saturday morning, and then locked myself in my hotel room for 16 hours straight while I rewrote my presentation on Google AdWords For Dummies to make it more like Sean’s.

Why? Principally because Sean understands and conveys underlying structure better than anyone else I know. He loves showing people the simple steps that make all the difference, so we can ignore the fluff and the BS.  The result is always entertaining, frequently hilarious, and to any business that wants to attract and serve more customers and clients, incredibly valuable.

The Brain Audit turns a century of brain research and market testing into 7 vivid and clear steps that anyone can use to make their own marketing more compelling. And the best thing is, none of this is obvious. You never walk away from Sean’s brain with the feeling of, “Oh yeah, I knew that.” His approach and insight bring tired old marketing concepts like “USP” and “positioning” and “differentiators” to life in new forms.

Howie Jacobson
Author, Google AdWords For Dummies

Read more about The Brain Audit

Top Selling Products Under $50

1) NEW! How To Put That Zing-Kapow In Your Articles (With StoryTelling)
So what are the elements of a well-told story? And why have they been playing hide and seek with us for so long?

2) You already know that 80% of a sales letter depends on your headline.
So what’s the remaining 20% that causes customers to buy? Find out more

3) Do You Often Hit A Wall Called ‘Writers Block’?
Learn how the core elements of outlining can save you from the misery of writing your next article.

4) Do you know that visuals immediately improve your sales conversion?
Learn how to create drama and curiosity and help improve your web page conversion with visuals.

5) Do your websites, brochures, presentations, etc… confuse your clients?
Put some sanity into your design, even though you are not a designer?

6) Chaos Planning
Year after year you sit down and create a list of things you want to achieve. Then suddenly the year is nearly over, and you’ve not really moved ahead as you’d expected.
Learn Why Most Planning Fails: And The Critical Importance of Chaos in Planning.

Black Belt Presentations
How to create presentations that enthral, hold and move an audience to action.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus
  • Add to favorites
  • Print
  • Email


  1. says

    Thanks Sean, I’m reading ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg where the Febreze story also features but from the point of view of how an organisation can create consumer habits. It was really interesting to read the story again but from a different angle.

  2. Chérie says

    Sean, the way you write this makes it very obvious (great concept, great delivery)– but how do you apply this to service-based “products”? If I’m a CPA, for example, preparing taxes for small businesses–how do I test my target of small business owners?

    • says

      The key is to understand that you’re not dealing with small business owners, but one type of owner. This owner will have specific needs and will be of a specific temperament. The biggest problem that we have been marketing today is that more people deal with target audience instead of target profile.

    • says

      The key is to do an interview with a single business owner—one you’d consider your ideal client. And they will tell you:

      1) Their biggest issue.
      2) Their second biggest issue.
      3) Their third biggest issue.

      And that’s what goes out in your messages. The issue (problem) and the solution (how you fix it). And the consequences of not fixing the problem. As a CPA, you may believe that you prepare taxes, but that’s not how the client sees you (you will be utterly amazed if you take a client out to lunch and do an interview, that almost no one will use the words you use).

      Their words matter. The “EXACT” words.
      And what they see as the problem/solution matters. Again, exact.
      Which is why you need to take a recorder with you. And then get it transcribed outside. As business owners we “translate”. You don’t want to translate, you want to “transcribe”.

  3. says

    Hi Sean, So my target market is people who are moving ,and my unique selling point is ,We are the fastest part load service available, but we also service full loads as well . Am i confusing both targets , or is it the webb site thats the problem, because of a mixed message.I have had two new webb sites running but nothing is happening, and .Is this because the sites are competing against each other or what , Your advice would be most appreciated ,Do you offer a service that would monitor , Test, And rectify what needs to be done,I am willing to pay for such a service but its justnot available in Ireland, They all say Yer we can do that but bottom line is they just want the moolah,many thanks and warm regards colin,hopefully anticipating a reply.

    • says

      Yes, when you send out two messages it’s like chasing two hares at the same time. You’re unlikely to get either.

      However your issue may not be your message. It could be that people aren’t visiting your website as often as you’d expect. But once they get there, they then need to get the message, and then they need to be given some clear action.

      So we are looking at three steps:
      1) Get the right person to the website.
      2) Get them to understand a single, powerful message.
      3) Get them to take a specific action.

    • says

      I don’t understand.

      Febreze did and continues to do exceedingly well. But only once they fixed the way their put out their message. I’m not familiar with what Nova did wrong. Or if they were able to fix it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>