When I teach small business classes on marketing strategy, I often ask participants the question, "Who are your customers? Who will buy your product?" I am often surprised that otherwise savvy small business people either have no idea who will buy from them, or they assume that 'everyone' will.
Assumptions like this can lead to wrong decisions, wrong pricing, wrong marketing strategy – and ultimately, business failure.
The most successful small businesses understand that only a limited number of people will buy their product or service. The task then becomes determining, as closely as possible, exactly who those people are, and 'targeting' the business's marketing efforts and dollars toward them.
You, too, can build a better, stronger business, by identifying and serving a particular customer group - your target market.
One of the first things you need to do is to refine your product or service so that you are not trying to be 'all things to all people.' Become a specialist!
For example, in my business, an ecotourism company, we made some specific decisions early in our market planning. As a charter boat business, we knew that there were plenty of fishing charter operators in the area, and 'party boats' as well. So we decided that we would offer sightseeing or special event charters, and that we would not allow alcohol on board, or fishing rods. Yes, this decision eliminated a percentage of the market - but it also gave us a 'niche' that we could capitalize on, and expanded our market in a way that other charter operators could not take advantage of.
Next, you need to understand that people purchase products or services for three basic reasons:
- To satisfy basic needs.
- To solve problems.
- To make themselves feel good.
You'll need to determine which of those categories your product or service is the solution to, and be prepared to market it accordingly.
Your product or service may fit more than one category, too – our charter business primarily targets folks who just want to feel good – spending a day out on the water, relaxing and being waited on. But it also targets people who have visitors coming from out of town, or even overseas, because we represent a solution to the problem of "What will we do while our company is here? How can we entertain them, or show them our area?"
The next step in creating an effective marketing strategy is to zero in on your target market. Continue on to the next page to learn how to use market segmentation to define your target market.