I was recently reminded of the importance of one of the most basic rules of marketing – never try to second-guess your customers.

One of my current clients is developing a holiday centre in the UK countryside and I’m helping them with the branding, marketing and launch strategy.

I started with all the usual things; spoke to key managers, visited the site, understood their business plans, did the desk research etc.  Next on the list was to get some feedback from a small group of potential customers, who’d been on some trial visits while the place was still being refurbished.

As a very experienced marketer, I had a pretty good idea of what was needed.  By the time the focus group came around, everything seemed to be coming together nicely.

But here’s the thing.  My client is a small charity that provides community care for people with learning disabilities in a fairly poor, inner-city area.  Their clients are all ages and ethnic backgrounds, and their disabilities range from mild to severe.

And during the focus group, it became very clear that none of the usual rules applied.

This inspiring group of people had a completely different perspective on what a holiday meant to them. I couldn’t possibly have imagined their lives without meeting them.  What had seemed important before quickly went out of the window.

I left the group with a new understanding of a very unique target audience.  I felt genuinely honoured to have met them, and really happy to be making a small contribution to improving the quality of their lives.

Most importantly, it reminded me to always take the time to understand what customers actually want – and not to assume anything – no matter how experienced you are.