Many entrepreneurs assume that everyone will love their solution as much as they do, so they tune their marketing focus based on their own needs and wants. That’s the right place to start, but real growth and scale requires attracting customers who are not like you. Expanding your market into these areas requires thinking outside your personal box.
For example, Starbucks found initial success with professionals aged 25 to 40 in urban areas and with moderately high income but later looked to a new market of millennials who wanted a place to sit and chat, study or work. More dramatically, both Facebook and YouTube started out focusing on people dating but expanded their focus when they found dating was giving them limited growth.
To make the step outside your target market, here are some key initiatives I recommend for every company seeking new sources of growth.
- Update your technology to reach new customer segments. Today’s customers want to be mobile and location sensitive. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly, totally user-friendly, includes a blog and provides for customers review and feedback. Include mobile-app support and new social-media channels. Word-of-mouth is an inadequate strategy.
- Incorporate social consciousness into your message. Make sure your marketing focus incorporates the greater good of society and culture sensitivities. Make your offering part of improving customer lifestyle rather than just solving a problem. Do the same for your employees to get a new level of commitment, creativity and loyalty.
- Immerse yourself in customer domains you are missing today. Talk to industry advisors and industry experts to identify customer sets you are not getting. Use social media and personal discussions to isolate their interests and needs. Identify your built-in biases and define compensating development and marketing strategies.
- Extend your solution features to meet new interests. It may be small feature extensions, packaging and distribution that can make your solutions attractive and more competitive for new market segments. Pay particular attention to customer values and wants as well as needs. This step validates the efforts to reach out to new customers.
- Overhaul the buying and service experience. New customers are looking for the best buying and support experience as well as the best product. They are looking for online reviews and social-media recommendations from their friends. They are also looking for employees who are motivated and empowered to go the extra mile to build unforgettable experiences.
- Test drive marketing programs outside of your comfort zone. I’m talking about highly targeted efforts on specific demographics with pre-defined metrics, not the “spray and pray”—spray your message broadly and hope it sticks somewhere—approach. This “narrowcasting” approach allows you to penetrate and understand a new audience.
- Fortify your online brand reputation. Proactively increase interactive communication to your core market to reduce negative comments and reviews. Protecting a brand reputation requires more positive reviews earlier to offset the occasional negative one. Responding to all feedback from reviews is required online and all social-media channels.
Like Starbucks, an obvious place to explore is generational segments outside your core focus. You personally can’t be experienced in all five of the core segments—matures, boomers, gen-X (40s), millennials (20s), gen-Z (tween). Each has different interests, spending habits and priorities. After you have mastered the first one, broaden carefully.
I recognize that the conventional wisdom you hear from business advisors and investors is focus, focus, focus on a targeted market segment. While I agree this strategy is key to getting your startup funded and off the ground, when you see sales starting to plateau, it’s time to pivot from that strategy per the initiatives outlined here. Change is the only constant in businesses that survive and prosper.