Find your niche: Everyone is NOT your potential customer

The age of mass marketing is over. Stop trying to be all things to all people: find your market and focus yourself to meet its needs.

Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters / File
A bee flies to an American yam bean flower in San Ramon, Peru, Aug. 27. No matter how they try, no flower will attract every pollinator. Some attract bees, but others get pollinated by hummingbirds, some by moths, and some by the wind. Instead of trying to woo every passing bee – or every passing customer – focus on identifying, attracting, and satisfying your key audience.

A big red flag goes up whenever I hear an entrepreneur try to argue that everyone is a potential customer.

While there was a time in America when large corporations with popular brand names could market to large segments of the population, that era ended decades ago. Our culture has become one that favors uniqueness and celebrates being different.

The era of the mass market is over. It has been replaced by what is known as the long tail of marketing, in which the focus is not on the mainstream but on much smaller market niches.

To be successful with a new business in this environment, the first step is to identify your specific target market. Exactly who are they and what defines them as a unique and discrete group of customers? What is their specific unmet need, also called their "pain," that makes them an attractive group of potential customers? How are you planning to take care of that "pain"?

The second step is to make sure you really understand them. Get to know as much as you can about your customers. While you can get some basic data from library research and searching through the Internet, nothing can replace getting to know them face-to-face.

Collect basic data on customers by actually talking to them. As you get to know them, make sure you learn how to think like they do.

You can also learn about your target market by talking to other entrepreneurs who already serve this niche. Not all will be willing to give you their perspective, but many will. The odds are someone helped them early on, and many are happy to return the favor. You may have to seek out entrepreneurs outside your immediate geographic market, but you will be able to find someone who will share experiences and knowledge about how to attract and serve your target market successfully.

Try to determine the one or two key factors that lead to the customers' decision to choose one business over another. It may have to do with product features, some aspect of your service, your pricing or possibly your choice of employees. The key is to understand what customers want, and not to push on them what you think they should want.

Finally, collect basic data on competitors -- from customers, from visiting their businesses, from suppliers, from trade associations, from others in the industry -- to determine how well they are taking care of your target market's "pain." Then position your business to serve your target market in terms of the key things your competitors are not providing.

If you can identify, attract and satisfy your target market, you will see intensity and loyalty from your customers that will ensure long-term success for your business.

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