Target market

Tell me again, why exactly is defining your target/audience so critical?

It’s critical because it’s deep and the deeper you can go, the better at providing a service or making a product that not only solves a real problem, but in doing so enables you to make deeper human connections that lead to a sense of identification and belonging, and foster genuine loyalty.

It’s incredibly easy to mistake defining your target market purely as a business function. The thing is, it is a business function and an incredibly, undeniably critical one, but one nonetheless that’s based on human behaviour and emotion. After all, there is no business, no such thing without human behaviour. For all the ideas, products and services in the world, none of them make a business without human behaviour. And human behaviour is governed by relationships and emotion.

The reason it’s so common not to give proper gravity to defining and understanding your market or audience is because business and commerce have become bigger, or seem more important than the underlying drivers. ‘Business’ in that regard has become very corporate, clinical and technical, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be both intimidating and confusing. In small business, we often develop a mindset and expectations that our business is just a smaller version of those big businesses, those corporate players. In some ways that’s true, but one of the dangers of that kind of thinking is that we can overlook the fundamental realities, like actual relationships with customers, for the ticking of boxes on a business plan template.

On this I’m speaking from experience. With a formal education in business and marketing, you would think that I’d know better than to skim over this point, but I did exactly that. I was so keen to get started on doing the work and building my business, that I wrote a few things down, ticked the box, so to speak, and moved on to the ‘real’ stuff. And then it wasn’t long before I got stuck, became lost and confused and had to come back to this fundamental step. The one advantage I had was that I knew what the problem was. Many people won’t and they’l flounder around trying one thing after another, wasting time and energy trying to figure out why nothing seems to be working and why they’re feeling so miffed.

So let me try to explain it this way;

1. All business direction, marketing, branding, positioning and communication is a form of human connection.

Whether it’s a commodity, like selling gravel to construction companies, or a customised consulting service,  the reason customers and clients choose to do business with you is because they perceive your business/product/service to be a good match for whatever their problem is. That is, they’ve made a connection between what they need and what you have to offer.

2. All human connection is a product of the way we feel.

That seems pretty easy to understand for a customised consulting service say, where how we connect or gel with that consultant has a massive impact on how likely we are to engage their services, but the same principle applies to commodity-type products. We have tangible needs that have to be satisfied, like price and speed of delivery, but we also rely on our perceptions for how well we believe our needs are met and the satisfaction of quality. You can tick all the boxes for a great product or service, but if a customer perceives your business to be disorganised and unreliable, then it’s through those eyes their final decision will be made - the way they feel.

3. The way we feel about a brand/product/service is determined by the way we experience it.

Talk is cheap and what you say, especially about yourself, isn’t enough. You can say your gravel is the cheapest, and it might be. You can say it’s the best quality, and it might be. You can say you achieve fast and reliable deliver every time, and you might, but if your website is a mess and the person who answers the phone in the office sounds like they’d rather be anywhere else, but there, it’s highly likely that potential customer will never find out.

And that’s for a commodity - think again about the consultancy or any sort of personalised service. The sakes are even higher because that potential client is looking not only for their needs to be met, but they want their values to be matched. They’re making a judgement call and they want to feel good about making the decision to work with you, to buy your product. It’s not a check-the-box situation, they want more - they want to feel like you’re the perfect solution and they’ll make that judgement according to the way they experience your brand/product/service. They’ll be looking for evidence of your values in everything you do, in every touch-point with you and your brand. They want a certain kind of experience and you need to know what that is is you’ve any hope of providing it.

4. Our experience is determined by how well a brand/product/service matches our world view and the things that matter to us.

Our world view is like the filter through which we judge and value things according to how well they appear to match our own values and the value we place on the needs we want to satisfy. Gravel might just be gravel, but does that mean you don’t have to worry about values, just because it’s ‘just gravel’? No, because there are plenty of other places to get gravel. After all, it’s just gravel. But if you understand why your customer needs the gravel and that it’s important that he can trust in your delivery efficiency because that’s what he’s promised his clients, then you have a chance to make a difference. It’s not up to you to decide what gravel means to him, it’s up to you to understand his world view and how gravel fits in.

To deliver the kind of experience your customers want, you have to understand how they think, what they value and how they want to feel. Yes, they want your product or service to do certain things and match certain criteria, but they also want to feel a certain way as a result of engaging with that particular brad/product/service. You have to understand what they value and why they value it so that you can communicate an understanding of, a match between you, your brand and their world view.

 And when you think of it like that, it’s pretty clear that it’s not a check-box on a business plan template, right? Or rather that there’s a lot more to it than a mere check-box would suggest. Yes, it’s deep and yes, it can definitely seem daunting. And absolutely yes, it can be very tempting to skim over, but can you see how important it is not to skim? Can you see how important it is to take the time to go deep?

 

The more you know about your ideal client or customer’s world view, their values, their preferences, their desires, the more you understand about how they want to experience your kind of product or service, the more you know about how they feel, the greater connection you’ll be able to make with them. Connection is the aim, not because it’s a business function, but because it’s what we humans seek, it’s how we’re wired. And we’ve figured out along the way that without that connection there is no business, and seeing there’s no connection school or degrees, only business school and degrees, we gave it a business term and put it under the heading of ‘marketing’. I’m not knocking that at all, it makes sense, but if you’re going to make it work, then you have to understand that it’s a human thing first, and a business plan heading or check-box second.

 

I hope that makes some sense to you. It really bugs me when really smart small business owners, who are really good at what they do, second-guess themselves about what they know to be true because of intimidating business and marketing jargon. It makes me weep to see these bright sparks waste hours cranking out some meaningless business mumbo-jumbo trying to smarten up their act, become more ‘professional’, when the real answers, with the real feeling and the real knowledge of what they actually do and who their actual people are is so much more valuable. Business, commerce and marketing are just frameworks to explain, test and implement commercial outcomes, and we need them, they’re fascinating and very useful, don’t get me wrong, but underneath all of the terms and the systems and concepts is, first of all, human connection.

 

Back yourself and what you know to be true. Serve your people better than anyone and have a brilliant day.

Andrea

Treat your customers like they’re ALL your ideal customers

The whole point of identifying who your ideal customer is, is so that you can gear everything towards delighting them. Delighting them starts with understanding what matters to them, what they’re looking for, what their problems and challenges are and what makes them smile. You have to get into their skin so that you can figure out ways to make them feel like your whole business is made just for them.

We also do this because we know that where there’s one, there’s usually more. Unless your instincts and research have been shockingly off-kilter, this ideal customer is going to be representative of traits and preferences shared by many of your customers. In fact, part of what makes them ideal is the fact that there’s lots of them, enough anyway that serving them is profitable.

The thing is that they all look, sound and act differently so you won’t always be able to tell who the ideal customer actually is. But you know that’s not the point, right? The point is that you treat all of your customers like they're your ideal customer - going out of your way to make them feel special, oozing pride in what you do and making sure they leave feeling better for having chosen to do business with you.

Knowing your ideal customer gives you a framework for delivering the very best products, service and experience for all of your customers. Your goal should be to use it to do the very best job you can for every single one of them because every single one of them has a million other options. Your competition is just a click away. Most businesses are no longer constrained by geographical borders, so if you’re not making your customers feel special and like you deserve to have their attention, then someone else will.

Targeting your ideal customer is probably something you already do instinctively, but it’s worth being more intentional and focused about because;

1. It's a practical thing that you can only know by trying.

Because target marketing, that is, defining and targeting your ideal target market is not an academic thing - it only means something if you implement it and test it out. One thing about business, both big and small business, is that it’s a constant process of iteration - of testing and tweaking to see what works, what lands. It’s an ongoing process.

Identifying your ideal customer or client isn’t something you land on and that’s it. It’s a constant process of trying, testing and of iteration and as I said above, you only learn these things by doing them. It can’t be a purely academic process - that won’t give you enough of what you need, in the same way that demographics aren’t enough. It’s only by putting things into action that learnings are uncovered and the next step is revealed. You really have to embrace that this is a journey, not just a final destination.

2. Its subtle.

Just because you dont land the right message or approach or promotion to your target market, does not mean the market is wrong. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and assume that either this whole ‘target marketing’ is rubbish OR that you just got yours wrong and have to go back and do the whole thing again.

Maybe you just have to tweak the message, the way you say things. Think of your kids - a good parallel example. How many times do you have to tell them, 1. to keep their room tidy and 2. why it matters? A gazillion, right? So does that mean your kids are the wrong target for your energies? Of course not. Does that mean that the message isnt worth sharing or teaching? No way. It means you have to stick with it and tweak the way you say it, when you say and how you say it.

And also, this brings me to the 3rd point ...

3. Repetition and consistency of message is a brand and marketing fundamental … for a reason.

Well it is and for a good reason; its how we humans learn. No matter how smart we are, no matter how tailored, relevant and personally compelling the message is, we need to hear it multiple times and often in multiple ways for it to finally sink in. It’s just the way we are, and remember that for all the jargon and all the fancy terms, marketing is all about human psychology.

It’s for that reason that I can draw parallels between marketing messages to our target markets and trying to get our kids to hear our reasons and abide by our wisdom. It’s also for that reason that you know and understand more than you think you do about marketing, your target market and targeting that market. Marketing is not all that different to what everyday business people call ‘common sense’. Really.

4. Ask them!

If you already have customers or clients, ask them what they think. People love to give their opinion because it makes us feel like we matter and that were being listened to, so ask. Ask them how you’re going. Ask if there’s anything they’d like you to be doing differently, or better. Ask them about an idea you have, see how it lands with them. Be real, be genuine and be brave. You don’t have to take onboard everything that is offered in return, but you might just stumble on some valuable insights that make a difference to how you think and what you do. If nothing else, people are often delighted just to be asked.

 

5. Ive already said this, but it deserves to be said again - you already know this, trust your instincts.

Ive been reading a lot of articles out there on the web about marketing for small business and I have to say that even as someone who loves marketing and can happily geek out on this stuff for hours on end, it’s all pretty dry, boring, corporate and academic. I guess for many it’s disconcerting to mention ‘instinct’ and ‘gut feel’, to give permission to trust your heart and that some of the best decisions come from the soul, but if you’re anything like me, this is just as important as the science, theory and statistics.

Heart and soul and instincts matter because business and marketing is about human relationships. While figuring out your target market, market segmentation, differentiation and ideal customer may seem foreign and daunting, you’ve been a human all your life and actually you’re very good at figuring this stuff out because you’ve been doing it since you were born. Start with what you already know and use the academic stuff to focus and systematise for business.

You know more about marketing than you think you do. Think about who your ideal customer is and work out ways to delight them. Try it out, see what works, ask the question and build on what you learn. Your goal is to make them feel like they really matter and achieving this is the way to make your business matter to them.

Thanks as always for reading and please, if something resonates with you or makes you question something, I'd love to hear from you.

Have a great day,

Andrea

Photo credit: "Welcome" by Ramesh NG via Flickr

Why it makes sense for small businesses to target a niche they’re part of.

I’m developing a marketing plan for a friend and client at the moment, which is a lot of work, but honestly something I really love and have great fun doing. The best thing about diving in and doing the work for real, rather than just philosophising and talking about it, is the things you learn, the light-bulb moments. Figuring out what makes sense for him and developing a bespoke plan that works with his strengths and values, and connects him to his market, is my favourite thing.

A big part of my focus when I do this work is defining and analysing the target market; identifying the positives and the negatives, and developing an avatar that represents the common thoughts, feelings, values and aspirations of this group. He had indicated who the majority of his clients were in terms of their demographics and on exploring this, I found a lot of great reasons this was a good market to focus his appeal and communications on. But there was one reason that stood out head and shoulders above them all - he was part of this niche himself.

Bang! My client IS one of these people! So not only do they exist, which we already knew, and not only are they a viable niche for other compelling reasons, but he knows exactly how they think, the challenges they face, the things they care about, the pressures they live with, and the things they value and are striving for. Market research right there at your finger tips, on tap, real time.

The whole point of defining your target market and drilling down into as much detail about their psychographics (the things they care about) as possible is to communicate in a way that appeals to them, in language they use, in places and ways they’re already in and are used to. If you have something that could really be useful to a group of people, you need to know who they are, where they are, how they speak, what they care about and what compels them so that you can earn their attention and get them to listen to you. This usually takes a lot of research and dedication indeed - it’s hard to understand people who are not like us, especially when you’re talking in terms of statistics and demographics. But on a human level, we’re very adept at understanding each other and gravitating towards those we perceive as being similar to us, as understanding us. That’s why it makes a lot of sense for small businesses to target niche markets that they too belong to.

1. It’s easier to understand a niche you’re part of.
This means it will be much easier find your voice and serve them better … because you know what they’re all about. Like my client, he has market research on tap because he’s part of that group and therefore also has access to friends who are too. Gold.

2. You’ll enjoy your marketing a lot more.
If you’re part of that group and your focus is on serving their needs ridiculously well, then you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more and it will feel a lot less like work. Marketing is less likely to be icky and burdensome and your work itself is more enjoyable spent with people you identify with in a way that goes beyond a business decision.

3. Small businesses have limited resources; time, money and energy.
Honing your target to one that you’re part of and understand intimately is less of a drain on your precious resources because your message, your products, your customer service are all going to be much more efficient.

4. Focusing on a niche you know doesn't have to exclude or alienate others
… but your focus on this one group means you’ll do a better job for them specifically and this is what you’ll become known for. Clients who don’t fall into this group may also be attracted to you, and your products and services will probably serve them just fine, it’s just that you’re not wasting time and energy trying to change your message to appeal to all sorts of groups. Remember that trying to appeal to everyone dilutes your brand and awareness, and leaves you appealing to no one.

5. You’ll do better work.
When you really ‘get’ who you’re trying to help, communicate with, make something for, it makes the work you do much less of a struggle, much less forced. And when there’s less struggle and more flow, you produce better stuff, serve better and stand out more.


And I have also found this to be true personally - I’m definitely part of my niche. When I first began to explore my marketing philosophy and who I wanted to work with, I resisted the small business pocket. I had great aspirations for writing and developing my own brand and I wanted to work with my heroes and role models, except it was difficult to work out exactly what I could offer them, so I settled on trying to be like them. But then I came to realise that although those aspirations still stand, it takes years and years to build a thing like that - there is no switch that circumvents time and hard work.

That’s when I discovered that I was in many ways my own avatar - I was part of my own niche and that’s where it made most sense for me to be. Not only because I’m part of it, but because I have friends who are part of it too and I care about the challenges they face and the dreams they have. I know them personally and I have them on hand to ask and to serve. I also love them and the courage it takes to go after a dream, beat your own path, make something that’s truly your own, and put something you really care about out there into the world and run the risk of it being rejected and failing … or embraced and loved.

You don’t have to serve a niche you’re a part of, but if you’re in business for yourself and you haven’t really targeted a niche and honed your offerings just for them, then I hope you’ll consider one you already know something about. The better you can understand, communicate and serve, the better your work will be and the more you’ll stand out.

Photo credit: "Caitriona Jennings (Rathfarnam AC) won the Flora Women's Mini-Marathon" by William Murphy via Flickr

But I'm a small business - why do I have to worry about my target market?

Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe you’ve even thought or said it yourself - why do small businesses need to worry about target markets? Isn’t that something the big corporates do? My target market is anyone who needs widgets (insert coffee, art supplies, financial services, musical instruments, skincare products, whatever it is you do), and my widgets are the best, so I can help anyone. Meerp. Buwmp bouw. Not quite.

 

Ok so let’s just get this straight. Target marketing is not just some fancy marketing voodoo for the big corporates that some suited team of marketing consultants present to boardrooms in flow charts and info graphics. Targeting your market, or in other words, targeting your ideal customer is really important for small businesses too and I’m about to tell you why without the jargon and corporate speak.

Serve your customers better than your competitors do

So when you’re in business, you’re trying to deliver your customers something that they need or want. Chances are that you’re not the only place they can get that product or service either - it’s likely you have competition and your customer has other options. In order to compete therefore, you’ll be aiming at serving your customers' needs better than your competition does. Simple, right? Well it is, but this is where all sorts of marketing terminology usually steps in with a whole slew of jargon, statistics and graphics that basically try to convey this simple truth: if you’re going to serve your customers better than your competitors do, then the more you know about them, the better the chance you’ll have of achieving that.

Understand them

What happens when you start to drill down into the details of who your existing customers really are and who your ideal future customers should be? Well most likely you’ll find  you’re not actually serving the whole widget market. You’ll find that your customers have things in common; needs, preferences, values, problems. It’s in this detail, in this level of paying attention that you find what to hone in on. What makes them tick and how you can do things to better meet their needs. Now you can really start to see how you can blow their minds by doing a better job of being who they need you to be for them because you understand them.

How do they want to feel?

Now you’re a widget company that services the pink widget market. Sure, others who are not part of the pink widget market might also be satisfied with your product, but you know that the pink widget market needs pink widgets, they need them within 24 hours of ordering, they value and rely on great customer service and they’re happy to tell their friends about your widgets on Facebook. With this information you can start planning and prioritising your business practices and systems to make sure these pink widget customers feel the way they want to feel.

Serving well is how you stand out

This has never before been more critical for small business and never so achievable. The advent of Web 2.0 and the evolution of the digital world, the advancement of the smartphone and hand-held devices coupled with the interactive nature of web property, particularly the social platforms, means that we are all far more technologically connected than at any other point in time. It also naturally means that business no longer needs to rely on their face-to-face and in-person relationships, nor are they constrained by their geographical location in relation to their clients.The flow-on effect of this for small business is that although they have access to a greater number of potential clients, so do their competitors, and potential clients also have access to unlimited information pertaining to your particular industry. Therefore it’s never been more critical for a small business to know who they’re serving and serve them extremely well.

Make them feel like they matter

Have you ever heard that saying that if your try to serve everyone, you end up not serving anyone? It’s true because now that we all have so much accessibility to so many products and services, the way we choose who we’ll do business with and give our attention to are those who make us feel like we matter. Brands with personality, great products that feel like they were made just for us, backed up by great customer service and the feeling that we’re understood and cared for. This is how we choose and it’s how small businesses can stand out and compete with the bigger brands who, for all their resources, may just be struggling to reverse engineer that human element, that human desire to feel like we matter.

It's not for everyone, but it's better to those who count

Find out what your target market wants and go out of your way to over-deliver that with spunk, personality and care in a way that resonates with them. You’ll only be able to do this if you take the time to find out who they are and what they care about. It goes beyond you and your product and service, and spreads into a whole context for how you and the thing you do exists within their lives and their stories.

This is target marketing

This is how you will stand out. This is how you will be chosen and spoken about. This is how you will gain loyalty from the people you serve and how you will iterate and improve your business well into the future independent of what your competitors do. This is how you create a brand that sticks and stands the test of time - pick your thing and do it extremely well, the best. And the key to achieving this is in understanding your ideal customer so well that you can see the world through their eyes.

 

So no, it’s not just a corporate marketing buzz-word, it’s the fundamental key to small businesses standing out in a crowded world where trust and attention are our scarcest business resources. Small businesses have limited resources - don’t waste them. Take your time to identify and understand your ideal customers and focus everything on caring just for them.

I hope you enjoyed this article and have some extra oomph to go out and get really clear about the people you serve. Tomorrow I'll be talking about the advantages of being part of the niche you serve as a way of understanding them better and therefore better meeting their needs.

Catch you tomorrow,

Andrea

Photo credit: "Gift" by asenat29 via Flickr