Targeting Your Market
Imagine practicing archery with your eyes closed or throwing a football with a blindfold on. In both cases, being prevented from seeing your target would make it nearly impossible to hit it. This concept can easily be applied to business, as well. Doing business without knowing what your target market is will prevent you from reaching your objectives: increased sales, market share or brand awareness.
Where the blanket approach of mass marketing was touted by marketing professionals of years past, today's industry experts are singing the praises of one-to-one, or relationship marketing. And rightfully so. Today's consumers, as you've heard many times, are savvier than ever before. With access to nearly any piece of information they want via the Internet, consumers don't want salespeople spouting off scripted presentations. Rather, they need advocates who are willing to help them find real solutions. How can you do that? By learning who your customers are; by finding out their real needs; and by offering them tailored products and services that work for them. The first step in attaining those lofty goals is to choose a customer base that is appropriate for your business.
I. Identify Potential Customers
There are two types of customer groups that you can target: individual consumers or other businesses. Individual consumers are somewhat more difficult to target because they are diverse and unpredictable, they typically have small individual budgets, and their buying preferences may change as they age. Businesses as a target market tend to be fairly stable over time and have large budgets to spend on various products and services.
It is not necessary to choose just one customer group. You may choose to target both businesses and individual consumers if it makes sense for your company. However, modifications may need to be made for your product or service if you choose to go this route. For example, the owner of a gift basket business may target mostly individual consumers as her main source of revenue, but have a secondary revenue stream from corporate customers. For the individual consumers, she may offer many customized options to satisfy their diverse tastes, and she would probably charge a higher price to ensure a good profit margin. For her corporate customers, she would likely offer a more limited product line at quantity discounts to allow her to mass-produce the baskets for large orders.
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II. Conducting Market Research
There are many sources of market research much of which is free of cost that have already been compiled that you can draw from for basic information about your prospective customer group. Search the Internet and your local library for studies and data that have been gathered for your particular industry.
For more specific information on your prospective customer group, you will need to either hire a marketing research firm to conduct formal surveys for you, or you'll need to learn how to do it yourself. Since marketing research firms are rather expensive, most small owners will opt to conduct the research themselves. While the research you gather may not be as structured or in-depth as that of a research firm, you can get sufficient information to identify your customer base at a fraction of the cost of what you would spend otherwise.
The most important objective of conducting market research is to find out what markets your competitors are currently serving, where market opportunities exist, and which markets will be most profitable for your business.
To begin, make a list of all of your competitors, including everything from large corporations to small mom-and-pop shops. If they have Web sites, visit each one and gather as much information about their products and services as you can, including prices, customer service policies, delivery methods, warranties and return policies. If some of your competitors do not have Web sites, it is perfectly legitimate to call the company and ask for the information from one of the customer service representatives.
After gathering the information, compile it into a table or spreadsheet. Identify areas that are weak or absent to identify possible market opportunities. For example, if you find that none or only a few of your competitors currently offer same-day delivery of products, this may mean that there is a market opportunity to serve a group of customers who must have your products the same day they order them. Don't forget: You can charge substantially higher prices for the convenience of same-day delivery of your products.
What products or services are my competitors not offering that I could offer profitably?
What competitive advantages do I possess that my competitors can't offer customers even if they wanted to?
What do my competitors offer that I could improve on?
Once you have a handle on your competitors, next you need to focus on your prospective customers. Conducting surveys is an easy way to find out your prospective customers' needs, buying preferences and spending habits, which in turn identify if they will make a good customer base for your company. Keep in mind that you should offer some sort of benefit or inexpensive giveaway to motivate customers and prospects to fill out your questionnaire. Some good examples include coupons or discounts on the next purchase they make from your company.
Your survey must include questions that obtain information on the following aspects of your potential customers:
Finding groups of customers to take your survey can sometimes present a challenge. To find prospects, visit Web sites, newsgroups, forums and listservs, or contact non-competing companies that share your prospective target market. For example, if you own a health food store, you may contact a local health club to ask them if you could conduct surveys of their clients on their premises. In exchange for them allowing you to take advantage of their space and goodwill, you could offer their clients some sort of cross-promotional item. For example, give them a generous coupon for your products that is exclusive to members of that health club.
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III. Choosing a Target Market
After you have conducted a sufficient number of surveys, compile the results to determine which markets make the most sense for your business to target. Ensure that the market you choose:
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IV. Compiling a Customer Profile
Just as a mission statement guides the operation of your company, a customer profile will guide your sales effort. Develop an overview of your target customers so that you and all of your employees are clear about whom you are selling to.
Here is an example of a typical customer profile:
Company X, an upscale sporting goods company, targets American male executives between the ages of 25 and 35, with an average household income of greater than $100,000, who enjoy outdoor sports and purchase sporting goods at least twice per year for recreation and travel.
After you have a clear customer profile, you and your staff must learn to think like your target customers to anticipate their needs. You must track the trends and preferences of this group regularly by staying in constant contact with them and altering your products and services accordingly. Good methods for staying on top of your customer base's changing preferences include: informal face-to-face discussions, in-store surveys, direct-mailings, and feedback requests on your Web site, in your store, and included with all products shipped.
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Peter Francese, Rebecca Piirto, "Capturing Customers : How to Target the Hottest Markets of the '90s," American Demographics Books 1995
Linda Pinson, Jerry Jinnett, "Target Marketing : Researching, Reaching and Retaining Your Target Market," Dearborn Trade, 1997
"Target Marketing for the Small Business," Upstart Publication Co., 1996
Sally Dibb, Lyndon Simkin, "The Market Segmentation Workbook : Target Marketing for Marketing Managers," Intl. Thomson Business Products, 1997
The American Marketing Association.
American Demographics, publisher of American Demographics magazine and Forecast, a newsletter of demographic trends and business forecasts.
U.S. Census Bureau. Especially useful are the Population Profile, and the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
The Social Statistics Briefing Room Data Web Sites for the 50 States.
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