A Lesson in Serving Your Customers: Flour Sack Dresses During the Depression

I came across this amazing story today, and it brought home to me just how important it is to know your customer and make it your company’s business to meet their needs.

I remember learning in high school about people making clothing out of old flour sacks during the Great Depression, and I knew that some of the flour sacks were printed with patterns. But, I didn’t realize that it was done on purpose.

According to The Fascinating History of Flour Sack Dresses on oldphotoarchive.com, the flour and seed companies found out their sacks were being used to make clothing, so they began to print patterns on the cotton bags. That way, when families purchased their much-needed food, they also received the material to make their clothing. (Or a really adorable stuffed rabbit as shown in one of the photos.)

This is a wonderful example of knowing what your customers need and solving a problem for them. At a time when jobs and money were hard to come by every little bit counted. These companies were already providing a necessary product. They didn’t have to go the extra mile, but they did.

Successful businesses still do this today.

How is your product, service or content solving a problem for your customer or target audience?

First Step To An Effective Marketing Plan: Know Your Audience

Before you can create an effective marketing plan for your business you must know your audience or customer inside and out.

If you do not know your customers or clients, their wants and needs, then you are wasting your time and money with marketing tactics that may or may not work. It’s the old spaghetti against the wall approach. You toss a handful of spaghetti and sauce on the wall and see what sticks and what falls off. It’s messy, and what do you really get out of it other than something you have to clean up later?

Here are five ways you can get to know your audience:

1 — Go Where They Go

Start your research by using keyword search on various social media sites to find out where your audience is “hanging out.” You’ll probably want to start with broad keywords that relate to your products or services. So, instead of searching “#brandxpapertowels” you’d search “#papertowels” or #bestpapertowels.” See what they are discussing. What’s important to them about products like yours?

It’s important to know where you can find your audience. Perhaps they are more active on Twitter or Pinterest and not so much on Facebook. Then you’ll know where to concentrate more of your online marketing efforts.

How do they like their communication served up? Are they responding more to video, photos and images, or text conversations? Those insights will help you build your plan around tactics that will best resonate with your audience members.

2 — Discover Your Influencers

Who in your audience is already talking favorably about your brand? Again, use your keyword, hashtag or @ tag search to find these influencers. Here’s where you search mentions of your specific brand or product. Are they sharing your posts with their friends and followers? What do they most appreciate or love about your brand or products? What are they not so happy about?

All of these insights will help you discover what these influencers want from you and your business, which will help you reach them in more productive ways as you build out your marketing plan.

3 — Follow Them

Once you’ve identified your key influencers, start following them on social media. Do they have a blog? Sign up for the feed.

Really focus on what they are discussing…what’s important to them.

This is research. It’s going to take time, but it’s part of knowing your audience “inside and out.”

4 — Ask Them

This seems like such a logical step, but many businesses will still refuse to do it. If you’re a small business, you may think it’s not worth your limited amount of time and resources to take this step. It can be time-consuming. However, I urge you to make the time.

Once you have identified a group of your best influencers, reach out to them and invite them to join a special closed Facebook group or be a part of an advisory panel for your business.

People are busy just like you, so giving them an incentive, such as free products or services to review periodically or goodie bags of logo items, can be a nice way to thank them for their candid feedback. Offer them a first look at any new products your company is launching. Make them feel special.

Be clear that you don’t just want the sunshine and roses. The most beneficial information you will get from these super fans is their honest opinion. Remember, they already love your brand or product.

Again, this can be a step that requires you to set aside manpower resources. You’ll have to make time to communicate with your influencer group. You can’t ignore them once you’ve opened this pathway. And, you’ll also have the added cost of providing them with products, services or other goodies.

However, if you treat them right and show that you value their opinions, they will reward you by spreading the love. And, you will be able to use their feedback to craft that amazingly effective marketing strategy.

5 — Who’s Following Your Competitors? 

I think as marketers we sometimes forget about the influencers of our competitors. We only care about the folks who love us, right?

But, you can get valuable insights from observing the people who are loyal to a company that has similar products or services. What are they sharing? What do they feel like that company is doing right? What can you learn from that?



These five points can provide you with the information you need to begin to get to know your target audience. Once you’ve mastered these steps, you can develop a deeper relationship with your customers and your influencers while continuing to hone your brand’s marketing strategy.