Have you ever wondered when to market to a broad audience versus when you should market to a narrow or niche audience?
In my twenty years of experience helping people clearly communicate marketing that turns strangers into raving fans, I’m asked versions of this question all the time by MSP owners, business owners, and marketers.
I can understand why. When you have limited time, budget, or reach for your marketing communications, it’s tempting to want to focus your marketing on a broad target audience. It just feels like it makes sense. You want to get your message out to as many people as possible, right?
There is a very simple, straightforward, and definitive answer to this question. It’s so easy, in fact, that I could end this blog post right now. Here’s the short answer:
Go narrow in your marketing. Always.
That’s it, thanks for reading! See you next time!
Okay, okay, I can give you some more details. Let’s dive deeper into this so you can understand the WHY behind this simple answer.
Read on to discover how being more specific and targeted in your marketing can create a broader market for your business.
What do I mean by “niche” vs. “broad” marketing?
I once worked with a small coffee company. They were importing their coffee from Colombia and could tell you all about the soil and weather conditions on the hill where the beans grew, different methods for roasting the beans, how they prepare the coffee, and so on.
Here was their problem: They wanted to go broad in their marketing. The logic went like this: 500 million cups of coffee are sold per day in the United States. As a small company, all they needed was a tiny fraction of that amount, and they could succeed. So why not try to sell to that entire 500 million cup market?
The answer is because that huge, homogenous market does not exist, and trying to sell to every coffee drinker in the country is a waste of time and money.
Think about it: There are people who like organic coffee. There are people who like artisanal coffee from a cafe. There are people who like Dunkin Donuts. There are those who take home big red tubs of Folgers. The coffee market, like any market, exists as segments. The coffee drinker who buys in bulk at Costco will not pay $40 for a pound of artisanal coffee. Likewise, the artisanal coffee drinker is unlikely to purchase coffee at Costco if an artisanal brew is available instead. These are niches.
You cannot market to all segments at the same time. To paraphrase Seth Godin, if you have to water down your story to appeal to everybody, it becomes so broad and generic that it appeals to nobody.
The bottom line is that your business can’t be all things to all people…and it shouldn’t be! The more you can address a specific problem, the more engaged the people in your market who have that particular problem. There’s one big reason this is true, and it’s this:
All anybody ever buys is transformation
Your potential customer is in a state of unhappiness. They work with you, and now they’re in a state of happiness because of what you’ve delivered. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what your product is — when you’re communicating with potential customers, it’s the transformation that you’re selling to them.
For someone to buy from you, they must understand the transformation that you offer. If you are too broad in your marketing and can’t understand that specific transformation, they won’t engage, and they won’t buy.
Of course, gigantic brands like Starbucks and Apple go broad in their marketing all the time. So how is it that they can sell so broadly when I’m telling you that you absolutely must market narrowly, with such specificity?
Here’s the trick: there are 4 phases of engagement. The definition of specificity and the way you target will change during each phase. By understanding and applying these four phases, you can create an engaged market for your business, and THAT’S where broad marketing becomes appropriate. Let’s start by looking at…
Phase One: Problem Awareness
In this phase, your customer becomes aware of the problem you solve, and (this is the critical part) they self-identify with that problem.
There’s no magic marketing voodoo here — this is about effective communication. If you can successfully understand a problem your target audience is facing and how your business solves that problem… Then all you need to do in your marketing is explain to them why that problem is making them unhappy and how working with you or buying your product will make them happy by solving the problem.
Remember, it’s not your product that you’re selling. You are communicating the transformation from unhappy to happy that buying your product will provide to your target audience.
If you’re going to sell that transformation to somebody, they need first to become aware of the need for it, and that’s what the Problem Awareness phase is all about.
Let’s take Apple as an example. If I asked you to never use a digital music library again, you’d want to kill me. However, before Apple released the original iPod, did most people think of using CD players or Walkmans as a problem?
Not until Steve Jobs came along and pointed out that our music was all locked up on unwieldy CDs and tapes at home and that your music libraries couldn’t fit in our back pockets. Fortunately, Steve had the solution: the iPod. Everyone stampeded to the nearest Apple store, and now we would never want to go back to the old way.
Talk about a transformation! And the first step? Making the customer “problem aware.” The challenge is to dig into that problem space and understand your target market’s challenges with a great degree of specificity. If the problem does not resonate, then neither will the solution.
Phase Two: Solution Awareness
In the second phase, your potential customer is aware of the problem and the solution. Generally, this means they are aware of your category of product (although perhaps not your specific product itself).
For example, if someone’s problem would be solved by buying a smartphone, they are likely aware that there are smartphones for sale, but they may not know about the latest Android release. If someone wants a nice cup of coffee to start their day, they are usually aware that coffee shops exist, but they may not know why Gregory’s is different from Starbucks.
In your case, the person consuming your piece of marketing may only know about your category of product because you have just told them there is a problem. So now you have brought them from problem-awareness into solution-awareness.
They know they need something. Maybe they need their kitchen redone. Maybe they need to sell their house. Whatever their need is, they are aware that solutions exist. That’s an excellent place for them to be because now you get to introduce them to…
Phase Three: Product Awareness
Your target customer knows there is a problem in their lives that makes them unhappy. They know the solution that will transform them and make them happy is out there. They understand that the solution comes in the form of a category of products.
Now it’s time to talk to them about YOUR product compared to other products.
Why you over somebody else?
Why should the smartphone shopper buy Android instead of Apple? Why should the coffee drinker choose Gregory’s over Starbucks?
You need to be able to answer this question in a compelling way.
Because ultimately, any product within a given category will solve their problem. If the smartphone shopper buys Apple instead of Android, they’ll still have purchased a smartphone. The coffee drinker will walk out of Starbucks just as caffeinated as they would be walking out of Gregory’s.
The difference is the value in the potential customer’s mind and the personal transformation each product promises. That’s what differentiates one business from another and what will help your business stand out — if you have been diligent in understanding your target audience, that is.
Successfully communicate the difference between your product and other, similar products and you will have entered…
Phase Four: An Engaged Market
The market as a whole knows about you. They understand the problem they face, the solution you offer, and the unique transformation that your product offers over other products in the same category.
Wow! Phase Four is an excellent place to be. Please don’t get too comfortable, because now you have to give them a reason to buy, and they need to justify to themselves the purchase of your product.
Doing that is the key to extending and growing your market.
An example, let’s take a look at the messaging platform, Slack
A few years ago, nobody knew what Slack was. The first time Slack came to market, they came up with a slogan and offer that said, “Be less busy.”
This is Phase One. They are communicating a problem: Busy-ness.
By the way, did you notice that this piece of marketing is not targeting the entire global market for mobile messaging? They are not trying to compete head-to-head with WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. This has dialed in on a specific segment of that market: specifically, business messaging.
Here’s another piece of marketing from Slack that falls into Phase One. This time, they get even more specific.
Almost anyone who needs to communicate daily in a business setting can relate to the problem of too many emails clogging up the inbox. When Slack promises a 48.6% reduction in internal emails, what they’re saying is, “You have a problem, and we have fixed it for you.”
Next, we enter Phase Two. At this point, they have already communicated the problem that their target audience can relate to too many emails. Now the marketing begins to focus on the solution: a messaging app for teams.
By Phase Three, as we know, the target customer for Slack is aware of their problem, and aware of the solution as a category of product. Time to talk about Slack and why it’s better than other messaging apps.
Take a look at that copy: “The Sandwich Video team tried Slack. Turns out it really did change the way they communicate.”
Slack is telling you that they won’t just reduce your internal email. Using their product will change the way you work. They offer a vision of a streamlined, efficient, cutting-edge work environment that allows companies to get more done and feel more accomplished and fulfilled at the end of the day.
That’s a profound transformation for the segment they are targeting. (But, again, it probably wouldn’t be very compelling to someone who wants to keep in touch with friends on WhatsApp.)
Next, we have Phase Four:
“Where work happens.”
Do you notice how much more broad this message is than, for example, the promise of a “48.6% reduction of internal email”?
Slack can go broad with their marketing NOW because they have built a passionate, engaged following with high brand awareness. Everybody in their market knows who Slack is, so now they can broaden the message out from just internal emails to everything else they can do. Now, they can grow the category.
Would this marketing piece have worked in Phase One, before the target customer was even aware they had a problem? No, and it would have fallen flat and been ineffective. However, in Phase Four, it’s a perfect fit for an actively engaged audience.
Let’s go back to the coffee example.
Why is Starbucks so successful?
It’s not because of their coffee. It’s because of how they innovated in Seattle and because they could figure out one specific problem they could solve.
They turned the idea of getting a coffee into a comfortable space where people could hang out, study, work, or hold a business meeting. Then, once they gained brand awareness, they started replicating their model and expanding their brand.
Starbucks now has many different types of products from that very specific starting point. They even sell instant coffee now!
Nevertheless, just as Slack’s “Where work happens” message wouldn’t work in Phase One, Starbucks could never have marketed so broadly in the beginning.
They can do so now because people understand the brand and the problem it solves. Now, people are open to finding new reasons to buy from Starbucks.
It is imperative to start small, define a narrow market, turn them into advocates, and grow from there.
One more example, just to underline the point:
- Baby Einstein started in 1997 as a way to create baby geniuses.
- They marketed to a very small group of parents, who would do anything to create a baby genius.
- Today, Baby Einstein is a franchise with a whole line of multimedia products that control 90% of the baby media market, according to The Washington Post and Business Week.
They started small and specific: You want entertainment for your child. They ended up defining an entire category of baby media.
You can do the same thing Baby Einstein did, the same thing Slack did, and Starbucks and Apple did. You can elevate your business marketing to reach your audience with a compelling message and ultimately grow a broader, more engaged market … as long as you understand the difference between niche and broad marketing!
What I do all day is help people figure this out related to their business and market. My clients want to turn strangers into loyal fans who will sing their praises, and they don’t know-how. I fix that by turning them into marketing mavens. I use the power of story to create influential messaging and guide strategy that actually converts.
The place to start is right here, right now.