Bill Gregory – By whatever definition, marketing consists of activities designed to get a product or service from the producer to a consumer. Hand copied flyers delivered door to door, simple giveaways at trade shows or business expos, a basic radio spot, a Facebook page, or a sophisticated and expensive web design with the use of multiple media…it’s all marketing.
Marketing gurus consistently tell us that successful marketers target their market and that one of the key elements in this targeting is to understand your customers. Indeed, whether you are selling B to B or B to C, the new marketing mantra seems to be B to P, meaning that the focus needs to be on the Person in the equation.
When working with small start-ups and the conversation inevitably turns to marketing, most of us have delivered the elemental advice, “you need to figure out who your target market is.” Easier said than done when the budget for market research is limited and the methods new or unfamiliar. Mandy Porta, owner of Success Designs, a website design and marketing firm based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offers some advice in her article in Inc. online titled simply, “How to Define Your Target Market.”
Porta says that with the current state of the economy, having a well -defined target market is more important than ever. No one can afford to target everyone. The vision of start- ups often exceeds their grasp. Asked about who they are selling to, many will say, “anyone who will buy my product or service.” According to Porta, targeting a specific market obviously does not mean that you have to exclude people that do not fit your criteria from buying from you. She says that targeting your marketing allows you to focus whatever marketing dollars are available on a specific market that is more likely to buy from you than other markets…a more affordable, efficient, and effective way to reach potential clients and generate business.
At the top of Porta’s list of tips is for business owners to look at their current customer base, who they are, why they buy from you, what their common characteristics & interests are. Her main point is that it is very likely that other people like your current customers could also benefit from your product or service. When examining current customers, Porta suggests examining not only the traditional demographics, such as age, gender, location, income level, etc., but also what she calls psychographics, the more personal characteristics of a person including personality, attitudes, values, interests/hobbies, lifestyles, and behavior. Determine how your product or service will fit into your target’s lifestyle. How and when will they use the product? What features are most appealing to them? What media do they turn to for information? Do they read the newspaper, search online, attend particular events?
Paige Arnof-Fenn, CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global marketing strategy consulting firm, puts it a bit differently, but also says that it is a “marketing truism” that it is critical that you understand your customer. To be successful, she opines, you must know what they already have and use, what they think they need, how they are solving their problem now, what’s working, what’s not working, how they make their purchase decision, and who influences that decision. She says, “It is not about what I think or what you want, it all comes down to your consumer. As an example she notes Starbucks, who do not spend a lot on traditional advertising. It is mostly ads on subways to reach their customers knowing a location will be close by. As she puts it, “They do not need to run Super Bowl ads to get their attention.”
In my own words, whatever vehicle you choose to promote your product or service, you have to know your customers well enough to create a natural and believable connection between your product/service and their life. In the world of trade show and business expo giveaways, for instance, making this connection means thinking about where and how this giveaway will be used and if it in any way will connect the customer to your product. A pen or pencil with your company name on it may look great but has little value if it will one more pen or pencil sitting in the bottom of a desk drawer. A realtor friend of mine ignored this principle when he gave out rubber jar openers in the shape of a house with his name & telephone number on it. It looked cute, but probably sat in the back of kitchen drawers for the most part. In other words, it was a very functional item, but after the lid was removed from the jar of olives, what was the connection to my friend’s product or service? Perhaps a series of printed cards with tips on how to get your house ready for sale, or how to find a home loan, or preparing for moving , or ideas for reducing home maintenance costs would have been a stronger connection.
Arnof-Fenn also talks about the idea of “affiliate marketing,” She suggests that business owners look at non-competitive products or services that are reaching out to the same audiences to see if there are ways they can collaborate through shared outreach efforts, such as newsletters, mailings , or co-branding opportunities. She suggests that small business owners probably can uncover a handful of like-minded products or services that are talking to their customers and that by supporting each other, both sets of customers will see joint efforts as a value-added opportunity for them.
I thought about these two concepts when working recently with a bakery owner. The owner was not a start-up…she’d been baking and selling out of her home for several years. She had only recently leased and moved into her current commercial space. While her business is good, it needs to be better. As our conversation turned to “targeting your marketing,” it became clear that while her cookies and other pastries are excellent, her cakes are outstanding, and her wedding cakes are described as “out of this world,” both for taste and presentation. She was marketing via flyers handed out door to door in the neighborhoods surrounding the bakery, and word of mouth, which generated some walk in cookie and pastry business, but didn’t capitalize on the huge wedding market with her prized wedding cakes.
Who is the primary customer in the wedding market? We agreed that the bride & the groom were main players, and that she might want to focus on marketing where brides and grooms showed up. Churches where weddings take place, caterers, hotels and banquet centers where receptions take place, tuxedo rental shops, wedding dress makers and shops, wedding planners, wedding photographers…all have possibilities for “affiliate marketing” opportunities. How about a glossy photo of 2-3 of your most creative wedding cakes, along with a small cake sample…in the shape of a wedding cake of course… delivered along with your personal card to the owners/managers /directors of these wedding “affiliates in your area? After the wedding, why not offer the bride & groom your services to seal and store a piece of your cake and deliver to them on their first anniversary, with a 10% discount card for other family members celebrating “cake occasions”…birthdays, baptisms, anniversaries, graduations, and others?
In her article, “How to Define Your Target Market,” Mandy Porta offers up some final thoughts for the small business owner:
Once you’ve decided on a target market, be sure to consider these questions:
- Are there enough people that fit my criteria?Practically, she notes, if there are only 50 people that fit all your criteria, maybe you should reevaluate your target.
- Will my target really benefit from my product/service? Will they see a need for it?
- Do I understand what drives them to make decisions?She notes that small business owners often don’t know where to find critical marketing information. As business advisors we can provide assistance with ESRI and Reference USA data. She suggests searching online for research others have done on your target. Search for magazine articles and blogs that talk about or talk to your target market. Search for blogs and forums where people in your target market communicate their opinions. Probably most important, ask your current customers for feedback.
- Can they afford my product/service?
- Can I reach them with my message? Are they easily accessible?
Once you know who you are targeting, she notes, it is much easier to figure out which media you can use to reach them and what marketing messages will resonate with them. Instead of sending direct mail to everyone in your zip code, you can send only to those who fit your criteria, thus saving money and potentially getting a better return on your investment.
Bill Gregory is a Business Advisor with the Northwest ISBDC. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.