When business owners experience frustration at a poor response to their marketing efforts, at the heart of the problem is often a misunderstanding about their target market. Without sufficient knowledge of the customers a business is trying to attract, business owners can risk:
- Wasting money on the wrong marketing channel or media
- Investing in a marketing design and messaging that fails to get the target market’s attention or switches them off
- Creating offers and incentives that go untouched… or touched by a less suitable customer group
- Blowing a hole in a marketing budget for very little return
- Allocating hours of time, money and energy to social media channels which the audience don’t use
It can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of the latest promotional idea, marketing channel offer or media deal, but in the long-run it really does make sense to pause and question whether this will really bring you in front of the customers you want. For most small and medium-sized businesses there aren’t large marketing budgets to draw on. Any investment in marketing needs to really deliver its worth in new enquiries and sales. Building the marketing efforts upon a strong understanding of existing and potential customers can help to ensure the business achieves:
- A far better return on investment from highly-focused marketing campaigns
- A more effective selection of marketing media – which makes it easier to decide which channels to devote time, energy and money to
- Greater customer engagement and enquiry levels to its marketing communications and offers.
So what form and depth should this understanding take and how do you go about finding out the insight you need? Here’s a simple menu to help satisfy your knowledge gaps.
Starters: find out why people buy from you
It’s sensible to start with your current customer base and, in particular, the types of individuals or businesses amongst them who you would like to win more of. This group represents valuable insight which can you can use to guide your marketing approaches to convert more of the same into paying customers.
- What are people buying your product or service for? – Consider here what issue, opportunity or decision you help or support. Familiarise yourself with the situations people find themselves in which make them seek out your product/service range or those of your competitors. Even if you think you know, it’s worth double-checking as situations change, social and economic circumstances change as this can alter buyer behaviour.
- Why do your current customers choose you over a competitor? Here you want to consider how you perform against your rivals’ offerings. For example, where do you stand in the market when it comes to price? How does your offering differ in terms of add-ons, after-sales servicing, quality of your service/product etc. Is your locality important to your best customers – or the way you deliver/distribute your service/product to them? Are there any other aspects that your wrap around your product or service which appeals to your customers?
- How is your service or product used once people buy it? What sort of lifespan does it have before people need to replace it? Is there any seasonality to demand for it? What aspects of your product/service are a ‘must have’ and which aspects are a ‘nice to have’ from your customers’ perspectives. By revisiting how people are using your service or product you can remain alert to new uses (which you can promote) or spot fading uses (which may signal the end to this particular product/service line).
Some of the information to these 3 components is probably in your own head or can be found out from your sales team or sales records. Other aspects can be gleaned from asking your customers directly – say through a customer feedback study, promotional events which bring you in contact with customers or via your sales team’s approach during the buying process.
The answers the questions give will guide you to what your marketing needs to say or demonstrate to resonate with similar customers. It will help you to better understand the type of situation which points to your business offering and the points of differentiation or key messages your marketing needs to contain to distinguish you from other providers. It can also help guide you on what product or service add-ons will be valuable to your current and potential customers and which are not worth investing in. If you’re in a market with strong competition, this information will be vital to help you defend, maintain or grow market share.
Main: find out who are the people buying from you
This area of insight helps you to spend your marketing budget more wisely and enables you to avoid media channels which will force your marketing messages to misfire. It also guides you on how your marketing needs to communicate your key messages.
Here you need to consider the types of people whom your product/service appeals to. Think back to your best customers who represent the greatest orders, profitability and loyalty to your business. What are they like as individuals and what demographics do they reflect? Even if you are operating in the B2B sector, behind every business purchase will be a person (or a handful of people) whose profile it will be useful to know.
Your customer profile analysis needs to uncover typical lifestyles, budgets or disposable incomes, jobs/roles, age/stages of lifecycle, locality etc. amongst your best customers. In a B2B environment it also helps to consider who your ‘buyers’ have to support in their organisation, what agendas (personal and corporate) are influencing decisions and the current key issues evident in their industry sector.
When it comes to looking at your best customers, consider whether they are time-rich or time-poor, how digitally savvy they are and what devices and media they use on a daily basis. What form does their buying process take when they buy from you – is it an instant decision or do they invest time evaluating different options? Again your past experiences of selling to them will provide a lot of insight, if not, be on the look-out in future or ask them.
The knowledge you gain here will help to guide you on which marketing campaigns will best reach customers like them. It will also influence how you should compose your marketing messages to appeal to these people. For example, if they are time-poor and make quick purchasing decisions then you know that you marketing needs to be as short and as succinct as possible.
Dessert: find out how your best customers came across you
It’s rare for one communication channel alone to encourage a customer to buy from you. Typically they have encountered a number of your marketing approaches before they make a purchase (eg ad + website + offer = purchase). It’s often hard for customers to distinguish all the different marketing messages they’ve experienced and in asking them they may only remember the most recent one.
Whilst it’s always good to ask customers ‘how did you hear of us?’ it’s also sensible to try to track the levels of enquiries and quality of interest you get from your each of your marketing approaches. Over time this will enable you to select the channels which work most effectively for the ‘ideal’ customers you want to attract.
If you haven’t got access to historic information such as this then make sure that, if you’re signing up to any new marketing approaches (eg advertising, social media campaigns etc), you investigate what volumes of your best/ideal customer profile it will put you in front of? What demographics of people can that marketing approach claim to deliver and what engagement levels have others experienced when targeting this market? Find out first before committing any expenditure.
Of course getting the marketing channel selection right is only part of the story and you need to ensure your marketing message resonates too. This is why the work you’ve done at the main course stage and in getting to grips with the nuances of the people you are targeting is so essential.
Any time you can devote to expanding your knowledge about existing and potential customers is time well spent. It really can make the difference between marketing that works and marketing that fails. Of course you won’t be able to know everything, but the more insight you can amass the more chance of success your marketing activities will have.
Also bear in mind that as humans, customers will evolve. How they interact with your product/service, what marketing they interact with and the messages they respond to will change. The closer you can get to your existing customers now, the more opportunities you’ll have of keeping up with these developments.
And if your current customer base isn’t working for you and you want to reach out to a new customer group, use your current customer profile to be clear about what isn’t working and why. The same approach we’ve outlined here will help you define the changes you need to make to attract the new market you want.
For more tips and marketing insight visit Extended Thinking.