This guest post is by Sharon Wilding, Chartered Marketer and an associate of The Marketing Eye
One of the most important factors in any business, and therefore in any marketing plan, is knowing and understanding the customers you are going after. You have to recognise that it is impossible to market your product or service successfully to all people equally. It doesn't matter if you are a large or small business, you should still be defining the groups or segments of customers you want to appeal to.
The trick is to define the segment as tightly as possible. This is the essence of niche marketing - focus down on a group of customers that you can get to know very well and then ensure what you offer gives them the value they are looking for. Niche marketing helps you develop your products directly for their needs, and can save you a lot of wasted time and money in communications.
At the Healthy Business event I attended recently, a number of previous attendees gave testimonials about what they had gained from the last sessions. The most powerful one came from Alan Noakes of
The ICELAB. His business was developing websites, but he knew this was a crowded market where it is hard to differentiate yourself. The business seminars he went to helped him think differently about what he could offer to make him stand out from the crowd. The answer was to focus on the niche of ecommerce where companies are looking to create or upgrade their website to expand their online sales. Alan researched the local market and found that direct competition in this niche was limited. This gave him the opportunity to claim the ground for his own and establish himself as a real authority in this area, for example by establishing the Ecommerce in Kent Awards.
Of course you can target as many niche markets as you can handle, as long as you stay true to your brand. Alternatively, you can create new brands to target customer groups who might be very different to that for your core offering (there are sound strategic reasons for not wanting to be limited long-term to just one market - if it contracts or disappears you may be left high and dry).
Once you are clear who your customer is (and who is not) so many other things fall into place. Decisions about how you let them know about you and what you do come more easily the more you understand what your customers' needs are and how they tend to buy. If you feel really creative you can give them fully-rounded personalities and lifestyles: age, gender, life stage, where they live, what is happening in their lives and when they need you. Give them a name if it helps!
Narrowing your target audience through niche marketing does not narrow your chances of success - it actually improves them by narrowing your options in that particular circumstance and helping you choose more wisely where you put your effort. Limited resources mean that even products with mass market appeal have to start somewhere!
So grab a piece of paper and answer this question now for your business - who are your customers? How much do you really know about them? And are your marketing efforts really tightly targeted to what they need? If not - do something different!