Business > Merchant Voice

Identify your target customers, and market to them

A friend moved to Europe last month and launched, with her fiancé, a business aimed at teaching locals the English language. She messaged me and asked for advice on the best way to market her new venture.

The first question I asked her was, “Who are your target customers?” Having an idea of her target audience would help me advise her on the best ways to market her services. While she had a vague idea of who she could market English as a second language to, she hadn’t yet pinpointed her target market. Without a clear definition of her target, I couldn’t assist her.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often with small business just starting. Without knowing who is buying your products or using your services, you can’t properly market to them.

So how do you know who your target market is? And once you find it, how do you market to your audience?

Step 1: Research to Identify your Target Audience

The first step I told her was to research. Talk to the locals in her area; see who would be interested in her services. Are they business professionals looking to gain a new skill for international trade? What about targeting school-aged children (and their parents) looking for tutoring? Ask yourself the question, “Who is going to buy my product?”

After you’ve narrowed your focus, create a persona of likely prospects. Identify their presumed age, gender, income, household size, where they shop, what they read, what they browse online. Narrow your audience as closely as possible and focus on one segment at a time. You can always diversify, expand, and add customer segments after you become established. If you’re not sure of your market, the simplest thing is to ask a group of people, “Would you use this? Is this valuable to you?”

For example, the target audience for my ecommerce business (wedding favors and gifts) is women, ages 21 to 40, who are single but in the wedding-planning process. They shop and read blogs about beauty, clothing, interior decorating, do-it-yourself crafts and weddings. They are typically college educated, have jobs, and do not have children. The social networks they typically use are Facebook and Pinterest. From this list, I can plan where I should focus my online marketing efforts, whether it is offering a unique DIY idea on a blog incorporating my products, to curating unique wedding content on Pinterest. Once you know your target audience profile, you can decide how to communicate your message to give prospects exactly what they are looking for.

A way develop your target market is to ask five basic questions.

  • Who will be using my product? This is where you obtain your demographic information. Tailor your advertising to people who will buy.
  • What other interests do they have? What websites and social media sites do they frequent? This gives you an idea of other channels — i.e., media, blogs, websites, and magazines — that you can promote your product on. Not every social media outlet or website will cater to your clientele. Focus on the channels that will convert best for you.
  • When will they purchase my product? Are there specific times of the year or in their lives they will purchase this item? For example, some items are seasonally based. Beach towels will only sell during the summer; seeds and flowers during the fall; gift items peak during the holidays. Now you can target your sales pitches or advertising during your peak periods.
  • Where will they be using my product? Do they shop online, offline, or both? Is it a home item, school item, business item? Where would they likely buy this item? If you’re targeting the home goods market, could you cross promote on home décor sites. If it is a school- or child-related item, you could sponsor a giveaway on mom blogs. Could you also sell these items to stores, such as Staples or Bed, Bath and Beyond?
  • Why do they need my product or service? Does it satisfy a want, a need, or a desire? Does it make their lives easier? What message can you send your potential customers to persuade them to buy your product or invest in your service?

Step 2: Research the Competition

I’ve heard pundits say, “Don’t worry about the competition, focus on your product.” That is only partially true. While you shouldn’t worry about your competitors, or copy them, you should study the top three well-performing and established competitors. Research is what will help propel your product forward and give you an advantage over the other startup companies in your niche. It will also help narrow your marketing efforts and, if applicable, your search engine optimization focus.

What should you focus on when researching competitors?

  • Products and services offered. What do they offer? How is it similar or different from your own offerings? How can you present your product in a unique way that is different from them? Be specific. Find your unique voice that will make you stand out from the crowd and appeal to your target audience. Additionally, in ecommerce it’s always good to determine your competitors’ bestselling items. Do you have something similar that can be offered? I always check out my competition to see if there are new products that are selling well for them that I can incorporate into my business model.
  • Price. Are your prices in line with the competition? Are you undervaluing yourself? Overpricing your items? Pricing your product at too low has many disadvantages. You will not make enough money to sustain profitability. You will lose your ability to negotiate or offer discounts. And it hurts the credibility and value of your product and your customer service will suffer. Conversely, overpricing your product also has disadvantages. Find a middle ground where you are selling enough at the right price to make profit. I have seen countless ecommerce sites go under due to extremely low prices. Those sites that are priced “just right” with the same or similar items flourish and grow.
  • Where are they marketing? Your competitors are likely targeting the same audience as you. Identify where they are marketing — i.e., which print media, niche websites, social media. While you may not want to advertise on the exact same sites, it will give you an idea of where you should be focusing your advertising budget.
  • How are they advertising? Are you competitors investing in print ads? Are they getting links from news sites, journalists, and press releases? Are they utilizing retargeting? Do they create infographics? Videos? Newsletters? Discover what methods they are using. A competitor who has been in the business a while likely has tested different areas and knows where and how to spend to get the best return.
  • Which social media channels do they use? Not every social media platform is good for every market. If your market is men, you may find your competitors on Twitter more than Pinterest. If you’re market is foodies, your competitors may use Pinterest, YouTube, and, rather than Twitter or Vine. Focus on the channels where your prospects hang out.
  • How they use the various channels? How do your competitors build their Pinterest boards? What types of their tweets get the most responses? What kind of stories do they post on Facebook that gets the most likes and shares?
  • Which keywords they are using? Essential for SEO, know which keywords your prospects are searching to find your product and incorporate them into your landing pages. Look at your competitors’ similar landing pages to see which keywords they are targeting. Look at the source code for the page to see if they are using meta keywords and descriptions. Make a list per page for each competitor and use a keyword planning tool — such Google’s Keyword Planner — to discover which keywords get the most searches for your product or service.
  • Frequency of content and campaigns. How often do your competitors post fresh content? How often do they send out newsletters? How often do they post and engage in social media? How often do they blog? How often do they offer sales?

Step 3: Product Promotion

After you have done your research, it’s time to launch your product. Your website should be up and running. You should have already developed some good starting content. You know whom you want to target and, with your competitor research, you now have ideas on how to target your market. Reach out to bloggers, media, and press contacts and start generating buzz about your product. Get active on your social media campaigns. In other words, put your plan into action. (You did make a plan based on your research, didn’t you? If you didn’t make one, use the research to form a plan now.)

Step 4: Product Placement

You have a product, you’ve done your research, and you’ve started promoting your product or service. Now what? Don’t wait for sales to come in. Start getting your product into the hands of people who will buy it. Determine the distribution, location, and methods of getting the product to the customer.

Here are some ideas on product placement (and sales).

  • Find complementary niches that can cross promote your product or service. For example, in the wedding business I can network with the sales managers of reception locations to promote my items to brides. They may get a percentage of the sale or if they may get a recommendation from me to them, and vice versa.
  • Affiliate marketing can offer bloggers a percentage of sales in exchange for promotion of your banners, links, or posts on their sites.
  • Bloggers can run a giveaway or review of your product.
  • Reach out to the media and request inclusion in gift-giving articles. Local media sometimes are open to small-business-spotlight articles.
  • Reach out to other ecommerce sites and offer to drop ship your product to their customers.
  • Get involved in the community. Sponsor a local little league or a 5K run and hand out promotional items. Sponsor gift bags at fundraisers.
  • Run a contest on social media.
  • Attend trade shows and get your product into other retailer’s hands to sell for you.
  • Give something back to your customers for referrals (percentage off coupon, a free gift) or create a loyalty campaign. Give them an incentive for referrals and for repeat business.
Erica Tevis
Erica Tevis
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