There is a fundamental difference between selling a product or service and marketing a product or service. Of cou rse, a business is going to make a 110 percent effort to sell to any and all customers, as many as possible. Each customer is precious. The patronage of every customer is valuable no matter who he is or where she comes from. This philosophy is just about foolproof when applied to your operations and customer service functions. But marketing needs a different focus.
Marketing has to be targeted to be effective. If you try to market to everyone, you will reach no one.
Let’s work through a networking analogy using one of our local Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours events. Say you have a marvelous computer software product that improves inventory management, and you want to use this event to make contact with prospective buyers for your software. A mass-marketing focus would push you to share your message with every person in the room. To do this, you could stand in the middle of the room and shout, “I have marvelous inventory management software.” Everyone would hear you. They would know what product you have to offer. They might also step away, avoid eye contact, and head for the other end of the room. That strategy won’t work today because we are inundated with mass marketing messages and therefore ignore (even avoid) the majority of them.
You could also go around the room trying to introduce yourself and your business to everyone present. Moving rapidly, you would shake a lot of hands and most likely be utterly forgettable. These types of flash grandstanding techniques come off as insincere and irrelevant.
Old-school untargeted marketing and advertising no longer work. Ads that are highly visible but irrelevant are mere noise. There’s no spark of connection — and that’s vital.
The average American sees about 3,000 ads a day. In this deluge of impressions, you might see an ad seven times before you really look at it. Studies reveal that a person has to digest an advertising message three times before acting on it. This translates to a need for each prospect to be exposed to advertising 21 times before any action takes place. Trying to market to everyone means that you are trying to stand out in that mix of 3,000 marketing messages — for everybody — 21 times.
A better option is to select a target, the customer most likely to buy your product and talk to those people or businesses. Generalizations and stereotypes are acceptable here. If you could reach only three or four people at Business After Hours, who would they be? Women or men? Younger or older? Dressed conservatively or stylishly? What type of group would they likely hang out with?
With our example of inventory management software, I’d look for operations managers. Remember, it’s all right to generalize. You’d probably look for middle-aged men wearing Dockers and plaid shirt. No neckties. These guys are probably not super comfortable in this networking environment, so look for the guys on the sidelines, enjoying the munchies, maybe having a beer, talking with their buddies.
Of course I know that operations managers are also female. After all, I was one. I know that they come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. The problem is that I can connect with only three or four people, so I want to target my effort. I can’t waste time trying to find the outliers in my market; I have to select a target customer who is the most likely fit for my product.
Every marketing campaign needs a specific target customer. You must know exactly who that type of customer is.
A marketing campaign for our mythical inventory management software that targets male operations managers aged 35-50 who enjoy hunting and fishing on the weekends, working in companies of 10-50 employees, is far more likely to land a sale than a campaign that reaches broadly.
Maybe we’ll connect with these operations managers on LinkedIn by writing a few blog articles on inventory forecasting. We’ll use the Mesa County Library’s Reference USA database to identify local companies that fit our target. Then we might run a small ad in a trade journal, follow up with a direct mailing, and network with these guys at the manufacturers’ council meetings. Networking events get easier; we’re developing some personal rapport based on our shared love of fly-fishing. Let’s set up one customer as a beta test, get a track record for good performance, and use that success to reach new clients.
And our software business is growing! Sure, our initial marketing missed the mark with those who don’t fit our stereotype, but as we build our reputation for innovative products, we can expand and touch new target customers.
Marketing isn’t about reaching everyone. It’s about connecting with your customers. You have to start that conversation with focus and attention, so start with a good one and grow from there.