I’m sure you have read similar articles but before you rush away - Don’t. Hang around because I have 2 suggestions that you may not have read or heard about. Of course, these tips are at the end of the article, so you have to read all the way through - don’t skip to the end.
With each client that I work with, I ask a bunch of questions. Who are they? What do they do? How long have they been in business? What is their background? What is their vision? Etcetera. Eventually, I get around to the question of what is your target market? In 9 out of 10 cases, I get the same broad answer, something like: “Women, ages of 35 to 60” or some variation of that. As you can see with this answer, the target market is very broad and includes just about everyone (or at least half of the population). Sometimes I ask additional probing questions such as, “What about the geographical area?” but I already know they aren’t focused. Usually, I'll get a little bit more definition but often the answer is still very broad.
“Married women with children, ages 35 to 60, and living in Canada” is not a target market. That is a very large group of people. Sure, a very large company like Proctor and Gamble can select a broad target market like this but they are selling products to a market that is $1 billion in revenues per year - huge. Most companies cannot market to a market that is that large.
In this article, I want to talk about 4 characteristics for selecting a target market. These are:
A group of actual or potential customers (a buyer)
Have a common need or want (a problem)
That your product or service can satisfy (a solution)
Have a way of communicating with each other (a network)
A secure place to start (a beachhead)
This is obvious - you need a buyer. These are people who are buying or could potentially buy your product or service. The obvious assumption is that they have money. This is an easy assumption to make. Everyone has money. Every company has money. Money isn’t the issue. The issue is the level of priority. People and companies will spend money if they perceive that they have a problem and determine that your product or service can solve their problem. It’s almost that simple.
However, there’s a catch. If you have a small budget for marketing then you can’t afford to go after a large market, so you have to go small and by small, I mean very small. If you are running a business that targets other businesses (B2B) then the size of this market will be a hundred companies or less. You can expand to other target markets later but to being with, start small.
In his book, Crossing the Chasm”, Geoffrey Moore gives an excellent illustration:
Starting a fire is a problem that any Boy Scout or Girl Scout can solve. You lay down some bunched-up newspaper, put on some kindling and some logs, and then light the paper. Nothing could be easier. Trying to cross the chasm without taking a niche market approach is like trying to light a fire without kindling.
The bunched-up paper represents your promotional budget, and the log, a major market opportunity. No matter how much paper you put under that log, if you don’t have any target market segments to act as kindling, sooner or later, the paper will be all used up, and the log still won’t be burning.
This is such a good illustration - I love it. The lesson is that you can’t start a fire by holding a lit match to a log. You need to start with paper, which ignites the kindling, which heats up and lights smaller branches, and once this is nice and hot, you can add larger logs. But you can’t start with logs that are too big. Same goes for marketing. Start with a small market that is easily identifiable.
Again, this concept is like a mantra, if the prospect doesn’t perceive that they have a problem, then they aren’t going to buy. Period.
Okay, occasionally we all make impulsive buys and realize later that we didn’t really need that copy of the National Inquirer as we were checking out at the grocery store. But at the time we had a need for information, specifically about a recent celebrity’s divorce. Once we got home, however, we realized that the headline is just a made up story by some writer who is anticipating a divorce because the married celebrities were at different parties on the same night. We had a problem, we did an impulse buy, and we still have a problem. “Well, that was a waste of $5.00.” But I digress.
As a rule: No Problem equals No Sale.
One of the main reasons for marketing is to find customers who have a specific problem and bring attention to your company and your products as a possible solution. Of course, there is more to it, but this is a good summary.
I like to illustrate this concept by describing a room full of kids who are sitting with nothing to do - bored. Some kids are on the floor, some are sitting at a table, and some are sitting on a couch. If one of the children spots a pillow holds it above their head, then most of the kids will pay attention and try to get the pillow. On its own, the pillow had no value but with a little bit of attention, all of a sudden, the pillow has value and the kids want it. The problem, in this case, is that the kids were bored, and the pillow added some much-needed entertainment. Adults may be a little more sophisticated, but they really aren’t much different.
This is where marketing gets tricky. Of course, every problem is looking for a solution. But for any specific problem, there is often a multitude of solutions. For example, if a business that is struggling to generate revenue (a problem), any of the following could be “a solution”:
Update the website
Optimize the website (SEO)
Create a landing page and lead nurturing campaign
Fire up some ads on Google
Create a video
Hire a salesperson
Offer a discount
Host an event
The list is almost endless
Because there are so many “solutions” and so many companies offering “solutions” your company has to stand out. It has to be distinctive - unique. If you are offering the same solution as your competitor, then to get the sale your only option is to reduce your price. Who wants to do that? Lots of companies discount in order to get a sale but they shouldn’t. What they should do is figure out how to provide a solution that is unique and better.
A Network (Tip #1)
Up to this point, I’m sure that everything I have written is common knowledge. Most of us - all of us - have heard all these points before. But there is one characteristic of a target market that most articles and books don’t point out and that is this: People in the target market need to be able to communicate with each other. They need to be a group, or members of an association or meet together. The target market needs to be a network.
“Why?” you ask. The answer is that it makes your job much, much easier. If one or two people in the network like what you do, then they will tell others. There are other advantages:
It’s easy to identify
It’s cheaper to reach this group
It’s quicker to establish your brand
It’s a better way to build credibility
It helps the marketer focus
Tip #1 - The target market has to be a network and able to communicate with each other.
A Beachhead (Tip #2)
If you want to get off on the right foot with your marketing efforts, then two things are critical. You must identify a target market niche that has a network (Tip #1) and you have to establish a beachhead (Tip #2). If you don’t, you are doomed.
Again, let’s hear what Geoffrey Moore uses as an illustration:
For guidance, we are going to look back to an event in the first half of this century, the Allied invasion of Normandy on D Day, June 6, 1944. To be sure, there are more current examples of military success, but this particular analogy relates to our specific concerns very well.
The comparison is straightforward enough. Our long-term goal is to enter and take control of a mainstream market (Eisenhower’s Europe) that is currently dominated by an entrenched competitor (the Axis). For our product to wrest the mainstream market from this competitor, we must assemble an invasion force comprising other products and companies (the Allies). By way of entry into this market, our immediate goal is to transition from an early market base (England) to a strategic target market segment in the mainstream (the beaches at Normandy). Separating us from our goal is the chasm (the English Channel). We are going to cross that chasm as fast as we can with an invasion force focused directly and exclusively on the point of attack (D Day). Once we force the competitor out of our targeted niche markets (secure the beachhead), then we will move out to take over additional market segments (districts of France) on the way toward overall market domination (the liberation of Europe).
That’s it. That’s the strategy. Replicate D Day, and win entry to the main- stream. Cross the chasm by targeting a very specific niche market where you can dominate from the outset, force your competitors out of that market niche, and then use it as a base for broader operations. Concentrate an overwhelmingly superior force on a highly focused target. It worked in 1944 for the Allies, and it has worked since for any number of high-tech companies.
I have a client that is offering customized tours based on historical events in Europe related to WWI and WWII. Susan Raby-Dunne’s business is called Canadian War History Tours. The beachhead she is establishing is with surgeons in Canada who had a relative who fought in one of the world wars.
Let’s see if Susan’s approach fits our criteria:
A Buyer - Yes, many surgeons have relatives who fought in one of the World Wars and have money for travel
A Problem - This isn’t solid but it’s a good guess that at least 5-10% of the surgeons in Canada had a relative in one of the world wars and they would be interested in retracing their footsteps. More than 600,000 Canadians enlisted for WWI and more than 1 million Canadians fought in WWII.
A Solution - Yes, Susan has the solution. She will develop a customized tour for couples or small groups. See: http://canadianwarhistorytours.ca/
A Network - Yes, without a doubt, surgeons are a part of a network and they have numerous ways to communicate. All are part of the Canadian Medical Association.
A Beachhead - Yes, of the 10,224 surgeons in Canada, Susan has to start somewhere.
Surgical Specialists in Canada
The obvious beachhead is orthopedic surgeons. One of Susan’s specialties is John McCrae who wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”. She has written a book called Bonfire - The Chestnut Gentleman that tells the story of how John McCrae wrote this famous poem. It is written from the perspective of John McCrae’s horse, Bonfire. It is a spectacular story that is well written. You can read more here: http://www.westernhorsereview.com/blogs/bonfire-the-chestnut-gentleman/ John McCrae was a medical doctor and a Lieutenant Colonel. It’s a pretty good guess that he did many surgeries related to orthopedics. As a result, this is a good starting point for Susan.
I suspect that most business owners are tired of marketers talking about “audiences”, “target markets”, and “niches”. It is my hope with this article adds a couple of characteristics that will make it easier to understand the importance of targeting a niche that has a network and establishing a beachhead.
Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing The Chasm, 1991, http://soloway.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/46715502/Crossing-The-Chasm.pdf
Kevin Namaky, 7 Characteristics to Define Your Marketing Target, February 2017, https://gurulocity.com/define-marketing-target/