Some businesses have a very obvious target market. If you sell onesies for babies, it’s obvious you have to market to parents; if you make bridal accessories, brides to be and their friends is what you’re after. However, there are some businesses out there that are too generic or unfocused and don’t seem to be able to pinpoint a specific group. I have seen business owners that make knitwear, or prints, or jewellery, who think their target market is anyone who uses those things, or at the best they limit it to very broad categories like men/women, or young people/older people.
This is business suicide.
One of the most important things a budding entrepreneur can learn early on is that their audience is not everyone. You’ve probably heard this before. You might even agree with it in an abstract way, but thinking of something in an abstract way doesn’t really help you stick with it. So, why is this so important?
Anyone who cares out there?
The reason a lot of people want to stick with the broadest market they can is that they feel like they would be limiting themselves and losing potential customers if they focus on a smaller group. So they look at their product or service, decide that any woman or any man could potentially use it, and go with that.
I don’t know how to break this gently to you, so here it goes: a lot of people don’t give a damn about what you’re selling. They really, really don’t care. To assume that everyone who sometimes wears jumpers or has a print hanged on their wall or wear rings would be interested in what you sell is like saying that everyone who has ever gone to the cinema loves every movie genre.
I love horror movies. When a new horror movie comes out, I don’t need a lot of convincing to go see it. I need even less convincing when it’s a psychological horror type movie like Session 9 or when it comes backed by a director whose previous movies I like. If it’s a slasher/gore/teenagers in the woods kind of film though, I’d probably need a bit of hustling in order to spend my money on it. And if it’s a comedy with fart jokes, no amount of pleading would make me go watch it.
Moviemakers know this, and I bet they spend little money and effort on me when the movie they are promoting is a fart joke comedy, purely because they know their marketing efforts will most likely go to waste on me and they’re better off going after people that like that kind of movie.
This is pretty obvious, right? It’s also obvious for a lot of business owners who have a specific person in mind when they market their product or service, but if you’re not among them though, you might want to take another look at what you sell. If your product or service could be used by pretty much everyone at some point, it’s quite likely that they don’t care whether they buy from one person or another. What this scenario brings is competition – truckloads of it. And when you suddenly become just another one in an endless sea of businesses and your product is easily replaceable, one of two things happen:
· Your audience will look for convenience – if you’re not the closest or the one with parking or the one that offers express delivery or free returns, you’re doomed.
· Your audience will look for the cheapest price – and when you’re competing on the price, not only are you cutting your profits, but you’re subjected to the whim of your competitors (if they lower their prices, you’ll have to do the same to stay competitive).
If you’re competing on convenience or price, you’re in a bad place. And to keep up with the string of bad news, let’s bring the rule of thirds into the equation.
The Rule of Thirds
I go shopping with friends sometimes. I remember one particular time when I went to look at dresses with a friend of mine back home that had been invited to a wedding. We were rummaging around the shop, and then she picked up this dress, turned around with stars on her eyes and yelled “this is goooorgeous!”.
I looked at it. Jesus Christ. That was the most unspeakably atrocious thing I had seen for a long time. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it because you had to be there to soak it in all its glory, and to be honest, I think my brain has blocked the memory. But she loved it, she really did. So I looked around, wondering if other people in the shop felt the same way I did, or if I was in fact wrong and they were all flocking in towards the dress rail elbowing each other. You know what they were doing? They were ignoring it. They were walking past it without even noticing it.
That’s the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds states that, for any given product or service, a third of the population with access to it or interest in it will love it, a third will hate it, and the remaining third will feel neutral about it. Even though everyone that was in the shop was interested in dresses, this specific dress was loved, hated and ignored depending on who looked at it.
The same can be applied to your business. What’s the point of inviting a thousand people to have a look at your product or service when, quite frankly, 30% of them can’t wait to get home and tell their friends about the aberration of nature they just witnessed and another 30% are thinking of what they’re going to have for lunch tomorrow while you go on about its benefits? Wouldn’t you be better off inviting three hundred people that actually like the kind of thing you sell so you can devote all your time to them and make them feel like you cater especially for them?
What I’m trying to stress here is that by stopping chasing everybody, all you’re doing is stop worrying about a gigantic mass of people that were probably not going to buy from you anyway. They might have if you showed them a great offer or if they happened to be in the neighbourhood, but the effort you have to make to get them to pay attention is not worth the payback. When you focus on a niche instead, you are speaking to a group of people that might be smaller but are genuinely interested in you and what you’re selling. You’re speaking to people that care about it in a language they get and makes them feel especial because their needs are the centre what you’re giving them. You’re helping them solve a problem, or find exactly what they were looking for and not something that’s just good enough. You’re creating an army of loyal people that will look for you when they need something similar or will recommend you when someone they know does. Personally, I know what group I’d rather focus on.
Defining Your Audience
I think one of the problems that business owners face when trying to figure out who is most likely to buy their product or service is that they are used to a system that has been in place since the 60s. This system tells us to look at categories like age, gender, location, income, family status, etc. and create a proto-person based on that. If you’re the person that sells onesies and baby clothes we mentioned before, and have decided that you want to stick to the
and want them to be personalised
and made from high quality materials so you can charge more, you might do
something like this. UK
Income level: High, probably an ABC1
Marital status: Married with kids or expecting a child.
And then you might end up creating Henrietta, who is a 30 year old stay at home mum, lives in a suburb in
with her lawyer husband and two
year old daughter and is expecting her second child. Don’t get me wrong, this
is great (especially if you add other layers like interests, lifestyle, etc.)
and a lot of businesses would benefit from doing something like this, but it’s
also limiting. Kent
What if your business happens to focus on something that can’t be so easily categorised based on the audience’s age, gender or location? What if you sell printing services in your local area, business consulting services nationwide, or jewellery worldwide? These services and products could potentially appeal to people from very different backgrounds, age range or family status. And that’s when you get stuck.
What do you do when it’s hard to determine who your target market is using these variables? You base your product or service on a common need or desire shared by different people from different backgrounds – and the best way to do this is by applying what we’ve learnt in the previous posts and looking for the gap in the market or the un-met need. You need to understand that the reason you might find it hard to define your audience is that you’ve created something first and then thought of who would want to buy it, rather than look for people that have an unsolved problem or a need that is not being met and design something that does just that.
For example, the local printer may notice there are a lot of people in the area that don’t have the time to wait in a queue for 2 hours during busy times and create a service so they can send their files by email, pay online and go pick it up when it’s convenient for them. The nationwide business consultant may have a look around and realise there are a lot of small businesses that need help to outline a strategy that is tailored to their business but can’t afford the prices of her competition and don’t really need all the services they offer, and decide to create express workshops where she can give them basic business help that will set them up to continue working on it on their own for a price they can pay. In these cases, the categories are based on something more abstract that has nothing to do with gender, age or lifestyle choice. By basing their service on people who need to print something but have little time, or people that need help with their business but don’t have a lot of money and don’t need all the “extras”, not only they are able to define a target audience, but they’re creating your own niche and standing out from the competition.
Let’s say that you make jewellery for women instead. Jewellery is a very broad category, and anyone who wears it has a huge range of options to choose from. Obviously there are different styles, but even in those sub-categories, the offer is massive. If you stick with the “I make jewellery for women” line, I’m sure you’ll agree that you have little hope of making regular sales. However, you could decide to make bridal jewellery. Now we have a smaller market and it should be easier to sell your wares, right? Wrong. Do you know how many people sell bridal jewellery online? Not only that, but if a bride to be is looking for generic jewellery for her wedding, it is quite likely she’ll prefer to go to a well known manufacturer in her local area, someone she can trust and whose wares she can try on and discuss.
Now, what if we take it further? What if you decide to start selling vintage bridal jewellery, offer a pretty big selection and team that with great content about the different styles used in each decade, tips like what kind of dress it would look great with and reviews of wedding packages that have a vintage feel to them? You just claimed your spot as an expert in vintage weddings. Not only you’ve become one of the most appealing businesses for a bride looking for a vintage style wedding, but you’ve opened your business to other opportunities related to vintage weddings – things like offering affiliate links to vintage bridal wear shops or vintage wedding packages should be easy to do if you wanted to go that way. Not only that, but by becoming the person to go to when someone is looking for a vintage theme for their wedding, you’re not longer competing on price.
Where Does Your Audience Live?
Not literally of course, because that would be creepy, but now that you hopefully have a better idea of who you are selling to, it’s time to move onto the next set of questions:
· Where do these people hang out? and
· Which approach are we going to use to reach them?
Let’s start by thinking of how to reach them online and offline. Working on connecting online tends to be more time effective, but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of building relationships face to face. Let’s also think of how we’re going to go about this. Are we going to go out looking for them, or create an interesting space to make them come?
Reaching Out For Your Audience
Some business owners tend to look for websites, blogs or forums that offer business advice and where people promote their stuff indiscriminately. While these can be good for getting support, ideas and talking to fellow business owners about your problems, it’s not going to do a lot for your sales, simply because that’s not their audience at all.
One of the things I suggest my clients is to make a list of sites that are targeted to the same market they are interested in. If you sell bridal accessories, go to Google and type in things like “bridal blogs”, “wedding blogs”, “wedding forums”, etc. See what comes up, have a look at the first few results and decide which ones have significant traffic and use a tone that you identify with. Don’t try and be part of every site you find because you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin and interacting on each one once a month. A list of the top 5 places or a number your comfortable with is a good start.
Once you’ve found a few places your target market uses to hang out and you like the vie off, have a look at the content. What do they talk about? What do you know about that? Are you able to contribute to the conversation without pestering people to by your stuff? This is important, because if you’re planning to spam people and pester them to by from you, they’ll hate you so much that you’re actually better off not even getting in touch with them.
The idea is to introduce yourself and slowly start generating useful content, posting links, answering questions and generally being helpful. You can let people know you have a business that caters to them by linking to it from your signature or letting them know you offer something like that if someone mentions they’re looking for something that you sell, but if that’s all you have to offer, you really haven’t understood a lot of what I’m telling you. Be generous with your time, resources and skills, and work on positioning yourself as the person to go to for whatever they need on that area. If you show expertise and build trust, the step that any of them will have to take to buy from you will be a lot smaller when compared to your competitors. But don’t fake it or post irrelevant information just so you seem active. This should be done in an honest way, and if you are not really that bothered with connecting with them in a meaningful way, you are better off forgetting about this and looking for a different way to reach them. In a nutshell, if you care about them, they will care about you.
If you want to pursue your audience offline, the interaction works in a similar way – it’s just a different setting. Have a look online for trade shows, fairs, networking events or anything that’s happening around you were your target market is likely to make an appearance. Decide which ones will have good attendance and the biggest chunk of your people, and prepare something striking or original so they remember you. Anything from quirky business cards or a especial offer for the attendees to a booklet they can download with a specific code and will be of help to them would be great. In other words, don’t go if all you’re going to do is show up and mill about trying to talk to random people to see if they might want to buy your stuff. You should have some kind of strategy so that you don’t waste your time – and I promise it will also be a lot more fun this way.
The down side of the “going after them” approach is that it can be time consuming and it often takes a long time to see results. It’s a good idea to block half an hour every day to work on this approach rather than trying to post links or answer questions continuously, or stick to a few events that you think make the most sense for you rather than trying to be everywhere. This way, you can work on your connections and still have time to work on your product or service (we’ll look at time management issues more in depth in one of the next posts).
The Gravitational Approach
We have just looked at how we can look for our audience in order to connect with them, but what if I told you that there is a way you could make your target market wave their hand and tell you “Hey! I’m interested in what you offer, tell me more about it!”? Sounds too good to be true right? Yet it’s done every day by a lot of businesses.
Imagine that you’re thinking of redecorating your living room. This is an important and expensive decision, and you don’t want to go with someone dodgy and end up with a horrible living room, or getting ripped off, or both. So you shop around, dodging all the companies that are trying to sell you their services, and suddenly you find one that is offering you a free report with the most popular colour schemes, what the colours do for your mood and how to choose a design that can be easily integrated with the rest of your house. All you have to do is sign up to the site (which will also allow you to look at all the services they offer) and you’ll get it completely free. Great, you think, and sign up and download the report.
What you have just done is raise your hand and tell that company that you are interested in what they offer. You have done so willingly because you were getting something helpful with no effort on your part, but they have gained something invaluable: the email address of someone that has given them permission to advertise to them. Now they can send you a great offer, discount or information on a service without seeming pushy and knowing that you’re quite likely to accept it. The best part? They only had to put in the effort of creating this report once, but it will attract people over and over.
There is a term popularised by Seth Godin that describes this process – Permission Marketing. Other people have used variation like Gravitational Marketing to refer to a similar process, which in a nutshell, refers to the act of offering something helpful for your audience and requires a low commitment in order to get it – usually your name or e-mail address). When you accept what they offer, you identify yourself as a prospect and make the sales process a lot easier. This is the approach followed by supermarket loyalty programs or air mile programs, and it works great.
How can you apply this to your business in order to attract your audience? By creating a space that is filled with great content, links, ideas and tips that are not necessarily geared towards selling to them immediately, but rather focus on helping them, giving them interesting information and showing them how much you know about the area your product or service falls in. This can be done through a blog, a website, a Facebook Fan page or any other platform that allows you to create a sort of “living room” where people can hang out, learn, get help and get to interact with you. The great thing about offering this content is that you don’t need to advertise it heavily to people who may or may not be interested in it. The ones that are looking for something like what you sell will bump into it while searching around, and when they realise you’re not trying to ram it down their throats, they’re quite likely to stay. They’ll be basically telling you “I’m interested in stuff like this. Tell me more”. It’s a great way of reverting the process and letting your audience find you rather than chasing after them, isn’t it?
We will look at how we can build something like this a bit further ahead, but it won’t hurt to keep it in mind when you think of ways to reach your audience. And don’t think you need to choose one approach or the other – they work great when combined. You can create a space that allows your audience to find you and still go out and find other places where they hang out in order to tell them about the great place you’ve built.
We’ll be talking about branding – how to build your brand, decide on your mission, be consistent, make it fun and be memorable. If you have any questions or want to share any stories, please do so in the comments, I love hearing what you have to say!