“If you chase two rabbits you catch none.”
I once talked to the founder of a cyber-security company who insisted that everyone was his target market. Everyone. From suburban moms to F50 multi-nationals, everyone could benefit from his solution. His goal was to market his software solution to the world. He emphatically rejected the idea that targeting his product was essential to his brand & business success.
(Our conversation didn’t go so well.)
Why Target? Because It Grows Your Business
This is a challenging topic for small businesses, and I have empathy. As a growing business, you’re susceptible to where your revenues come from. Targeting your business – on the surface – can seem limiting. Targeting means you’re deciding to go after a segment, and therefore NOT go after other potential segments.
And what growing business wants to do that?
As brand strategist Lindsay Pedersen argues in her book Forging an Ironclad Brand, if you don’t focus on your ideal customers, you’re harming your chances of business success:
- You’re allowing yourself to get distracted and unfocused;
- There’s a good chance you’ll draw the customers you don’t want; and
- You’ll risk watering down your offering and weakening the power of your brand.
Let’s break these three points down and then circle back to how targeting doesn’t actually shut off other customers; no, targeting actually helps your business grow.
Targeting Grows Your Business By Preventing Distraction
By choosing not to target your brand to your most valuable customers, you’re chasing after two (or more) rabbits. You’re far better off focusing on a targeted audience who will deeply value what you offer than trying to be all things to all people.
Let’s take an example: Volvo. Volvo was founded in 1927 to withstand the demanding winter weather conditions of Sweden. The company targeted drivers who wanted a car that could handle and perform in the worst of Swedish winters (reliability).
Volvo Grows Out of Its Niche
As Volvo grew, it focused on drivers in similar climates who were also concerned about reliability. It eventually added “safety” to its benefit of “reliability.” That allowed it to enter more markets and appeal to drivers looking for safety: families, parents with young children, the elderly, and so on.
If Volvo had started by selling its cars to everyone, it would’ve competed with all car manufacturers. It would’ve had to make many different kinds of cars: trucks for hauling heavy loads; sports cars; luxury sedans; economy cars for first-time car buyers, to name a few. Importantly, its unique appeal – a car designed to withstand brutal winter conditions – would’ve gotten lost in the flurry (Ha! Sorry) of all these different offerings. By targeting a niche audience, Volvo grew by being relevant to a select audience and by dominating their target market.
Today, targeting is still at the heart of the Volvo brand. It doesn’t try to woo the sportscar fan with a slick roadster. It’s not going to offer hauling capability to compete with the Ford F150, or make an entry-level economy car. It’s focused on people who want and are willing to pay for safety and reliability. By leaning into its target, Volvo is able to compete smartly, grow its audience base and strengthen its brand.
Targeting Grows Your Business With Your Ideal Customers
When you target your offering, you’re targeting those who are most likely to deeply value what you provide. Doing this frees you up to focus just on them, and to provide them with exceptional service. When you do this, you run the high risk of delighting them and turning them into lifetime customers and evangelists!
Without targeting, you run the risk of landing the wrong customer – the one who doesn’t appreciate what you offer. The customer who’ll battle you on price, overlooking the value you provide – because to her, it’s just not important.
As an example, let’s go back to Volvo, with their fleet of cars delivering on reliability and safety. Imagine that Volvo suddenly starts selling a sporty convertible two-seater for the middle-aged executive who wants to feel young again. Ask yourself:
How hard would Volvo have to work to close this sale?
What will it take to convince this customer that a Volvo is the right car for him?
What are the chances this customer will be disappointed?
And here is the critical takeaway of this section: not all prospects are of equal value. The ideal Volvo customer – someone concerned with reliability and safety – is going to appreciate and value everything about Volvo’s offerings. Our thrillseeker is never going to want a Volvo, because he’s the wrong customer.
When you focus on your target audience, you target the customers you want to have in your business. You avoid landing the wrong customer who will not appreciate your offering. This can be a costly lesson to have to learn.
Targeting Strengthens Your Offering and Appeal
We’ve discussed what happens when you don’t target: you run the risk of over-extending and trying to appeal to everyone. It makes your work so much harder, and it also strips away any opportunity to play to your strengths. It waters down your unique appeal.
We’ve also discussed how targeting strengthens your offering and makes you more appealing to the audience you want to reach. And, we’ve talked about it insulating your from the audience you don’t want to reach. Focusing on your ideal customer allows you to delight them, which usually results in very happy and satisfied customers. This in turn opens up opportunities for repeat business and positive word of mouth.
But here’s another reason you’ll want to target. Targeting also makes you attractive to other peripheral customer segments. That’s right. Targeting allows you to serve other customers who aren’t your core target. (!)
Once again, let’s use Volvo. Volvo targets customers who care about reliability and safety and are able and willing to pay for it. Its broader audience is the luxury car buyer. As these evangelists talk up Volvo’s safety, reliability and performance, they gain the attention of other buyers in the luxury car market. Other customers who are thinking, “Hmm.. I’ve never considered a Volvo before… but maybe there’s something to these cars. It couldn’t hurt to have a reliable car, right?”
In this way, Volvo expands its offering to include luxury car buyers. By targeting your offering to a niche market and offering them extreme value, you’re indirectly expanding your brand awareness and reach to other segments.
Implications for Your Business
You’re not Volvo, but you know those who most value what your offer. So to target your brand towards them, start by thinking about what you offer that they most value. What services or offerings do they love? What keeps them coming back to you? How do you do things differently? I recommend reviewing feedback sessions with your customers and/or your customer satisfaction survey results. Really think through what value you provide and what sets you apart from your competitors.
Once you have this information, build your communications around these points of differentiation. Think about Volvo communicating to Swedish car buyers about how its cars are perfectly designed to withstand Swedish winters. Likewise: think about communicating your most valuable qualities to your target, as if they were the only customers you cared about reaching. Really lean in to what sets you apart from your competition.
How do you do this? This is where marketing comes into play. Marketing is about helping people buy wisely, you can read more about marketing here. You’ll want to bring your value message into your marketing, at every step in the customer journey.
This is done by being consistent with your messaging across all channels. From magazine ads to social posts to your website, brochures, newsletters: you want a consistent message about the value you bring. In doing this, you are leaning in to those who value you the most, and for whom you are most valuable.
For more on how to zero in on your ideal target and leverage this in your marketing, connect with us. We’d love to help make your brand magnetic to success.