Yeah, I know. As a consumer, the feeling that businesses may be targeting you may not be the most wonderful feeling; and the picture probably doesn’t help with this. Yet the phrase is useful to anyone who is selling a product or service, to remind them of the importance of marketing the product or service to the people who are most likely to want it.
Think of it this way: Businesses are trying to help people discover products and services which may be a good fit for their individual preferences. This is accomplished by marketing toward a specific target audience – perhaps not the friendliest phrase for a specific group of people who share common interests, like dirt bike riders or Trekkies.
Imagine standing outside of a football stadium trying to sell used golf balls to fans who are buying tickets. Sure, some of the football players will be golfers. But don’t you think you’d have better luck selling golf balls at a golf course? Even if you meet a football fan who plays golf, his mind will surely be on football, and he will probably be irritated to have you try to switch his mindset so he can discuss golf business with you right before the big game.
Even if the marketing is free, it still costs time and effort. And there are many more things that one can do to market a product than any human being can do in a single day. So you must choose wisely.
Marketing is much more likely to be effective when it’s geared toward a specific target audience, which is a good fit for the product.
Recall the football fan who might be irritated to discuss golf when his mind is on football. This point is important for customer satisfaction.
Suppose you succeed in selling a product to many people who fall outside of the target audience. These customers are less likely to be pleased with the product, which can affect reviews, referrals, and recommendations – i.e. it can lead to a little negative marketing. These customers don’t understand the nature of the product as well as the target audience, and therefore may not have realistic expectations for what the product should actually do.
As an example, this is often the case with free e-books. Readers outside the genre are tempted to buy the book because it looks like a good deal. Since the e-book is free, they may not feel the need to invest time and effort reading the blurb or checking out the Look Inside. These readers are less likely to know what is typical of the genre. They might also be trying the genre out, only to discover that they really don’t like it. Therefore, these readers from outside the genre are more likely to be disappointed with the book, which could lead to bad reviews.
When the author invests in the time or money to promote the freebie to the specific target audience, then many of the free e-books also go to members of the target audience, which helps to balance the freebies downloaded by other readers.
So if you just market a product to a general audience, thinking that the audience is so large that even a tiny percentage is significant, there may be possible negative effects to take into consideration.
Whenever possible, market the product toward the specific target audience. This can have a big impact on the cost-benefit analysis.
The first step is to identify the specific target audience. Think about who is most likely to use the product. Is there a gender preference? Which age group? What common interests will they share?
The common interests are especially important. Be as specific as possible – e.g. baseball is more specific than sports, and contemporary romance is more precise than romance which isn’t as vague as fiction.
Avoid being hypothetical like, “Chess players might be interested in graphic arts.” They might be, but you’re more likely to reach chess players through their interest in chess, since many won’t be in the market for graphic arts.
The goal isn’t to widen the audience as much as possible. Targeting an audience that is far wider than the people who are most likely to use the product makes marketing less efficient. Many companies, such as small book publishers, achieve success with a narrow audience – such as niche marketing. A very narrow audience can lead to good results if you succeed in reaching a large percentage of the audience. Marketing efficiency is very important, especially if you don’t have a huge supply of money to invest – like many indie authors and musicians.
Sometimes, you can widen the audience. For example, suppose that you wrote a mystery that strongly relates to basketball. In this case, you can target mystery readers and basketball players, as both may have a strong interest in the book.
In contrast, if a book is partly mystery and partly fantasy, trying to reach both mystery and fantasy readers may backfire: The mystery readers might not like the fantasy, and vice-versa. It’s better to market the book one way or the other, focus on the primary component, and try not to sell the secondary component. Some genres do mix well, like romantic suspense, which is already an established category.
Once you establish who the target audience consists of, the challenge is to reach them. Base this on the commonalities that they share.
- Where are they likely to shop – both physical stores and online? Which departments?
- Where will their common interests take them? Hobbies, sports, activities, entertainment, vacations, clubs, organizations, etc.
- What do they read? What do they do online? Magazines, newspapers, websites, etc.
The more you know about the specific target audience, the better your chances of marketing success.
Start out by thinking about it and discussing your ideas with others. Focus groups can help, and so can customer surveys (but be careful what you ask, and show tact). Meeting and interacting with customers gives you firsthand information.
As you consider various marketing strategies, think about how each strategy may or may not be able to reach the specific target audience effectively. Following are some examples. You just have to think long and hard about this, as every situation is unique.
- If you’re selling something instructive (how-to guide, software, nonfiction, learning resources, etc.), you could write and publish helpful articles, develop a blog, provide help in an online forum, give a workshop or seminar, etc. But focus on attracting the specific target audience.
- Common interests among the target audience can help you meet them at clubs, organizations, presentations, etc.
- Send a press release kit to local papers, radio stations, and television networks that have sections or shows which are a good fit for your target audience. Look for magazines and websites that match your target audience and try to get visibility there.
- Research how to use social media to target a specific audience. For example, on Twitter, use relevant hashtags.
- Develop a website (or blog, or both) with content that is likely to attract the target audience.
- Build relationships with potentially useful contacts, with your target audience in mind.
Remember that most people don’t like advertisements. Advertising works better for companies with much money to invest, which can sell a large number of products, and where there aren’t too many competitors. Free marketing tends to be much more effective for smaller businesses or individuals, and this is even more important when there are thousands of competitors – which is the case for authors, for example. Low-cost advertising in products that may actually be used by the target audience – like pens or bookmarks – can benefit those with fewer resources.
In the latter case, provide helpful content that attracts the specific target audience, try to be visible yet unobtrusive, and make it easy for the audience to discover your product without looking like an advertisement.
An important aspect of marketing is branding – getting the target audience to recognize the name of the product or business, and perhaps associate it with some quality (like luxury, creativity, or inexpensive). Advertising that does work does so through the branding effect. But marketing that isn’t advertising can also be highly successful at branding – perhaps even more so, since it doesn’t intrude like an advertisement.
Individuals and small businesses can benefit by interacting with the target audience in person – online, too, but in person can be highly effective. It can be a treat to meet the owner, author, or inventor, for example, in person. This is a valuable resource available to the “small guy.” Start locally and work your way outward. Take advantage of the fact that local newspapers, radio stations, and television networks are looking for local stories.
Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)