It's one of the most common problems I find with small businesses - a lack of focus. I've stated before that I love to ask people the question, "what do you do?" I do this to gauge not so much what they do as how they answer the question.
Too many small business owners answer that question with something like, "a lot of things really, we do plumbing, landscaping, web design, and personal shopping." Ouch! How do you market that?
Honestly I think fear holds many people back . They're afraid that they'll pick the wrong target market, or the wrong service, or product. Instead of picking a target and a service, they run around chasing opportunities. This is no recipe for success. I can't think of a single business that has ever succeeded with this philosophy. The most successful brands in the world are incredibly focused.
What do Mercedes, McDonald's, WalMart and Coke all have in common? They are very focused brands that provide very specific products or services. Yes I know WalMart sells a billion things, but their brand is not a pile of products. WalMart's brand is about a being an American family super-store that has a huge selection of stuff at low prices.
The very first question: Who is your target market? There are two philosophies of business. One is to take a product or service and then go out and find a market for it. The other is to start with a market, find a need that's not being well met, and meet it. The second approach is a shorter and surer approach to success.
Both are valid approaches but, no matter what you do, picking a target market needs to be one of your first tasks. It should be one of the first sections of your marketing plan. You do have a marketing plan don't you?
The next question: What do you do? This seems simple enough. Again, you want to get pretty focused. You need to be different from your competition in some meaningful way.
Then you could put the answers together into a kind of beta positioning statement. Let's remember to make it a customer-centric benefit statement. Instead of "I design web sites" - maybe it's "I help independent Realtors gain more clients by putting useful information and services on line." Sound better?
Again the more focused the better, as long as your market has a demand for your service and is willing to pay what you're asking. This is where preliminary market research can come in handy.
Part of the reason why focus is so important in small business marketing is that small businesses don't have the capital or time to invest in "general public" marketing activities. Back in the day, many dot coms spent millions on Superbowl ads. Absolutely none of them are still in business today. Saving up all your capital for one grand advertising push to the world is not a strategy I recommend.
You can market different products and services to different target markets. Essentially you are diffusing your resources. Here's a little math:
- Let's say I offer a number of services in my business.
- I choose to go after 5 target markets and offer 2 of my services to each target market.
- I now diffuse my time and budget over 10 different efforts.
Seth Godin uses the analogy of a needle, a vise, and a baby rattle in a useful article about marketing.
Conquer one vertical at a time. Diversification may make sense down the line, but not in the beginning. Find your focus and dominate!
J D Moore - Marketing Comet