I have recently started working with a lot of dynamic, amazingly smart entrepreneurs. While their ideas are very exciting, I have seen a bit of a pattern in the way they approach their branding and marketing strategy, and there are at times one thing in common which, as a professional marketer, scares me endless.
They have a very vague impression of their target audience.
They are so excited about their startup idea, and have identified some potential targets, but they go blank when we start talking about what their real value proposition is and why it will be so appealing to any particular group of people.
Big companies spend ages and millions trying to identify and understand their target audience. Because if you don’t know who you are talking to, what is important for them, you don’t know what experience to create for them, how to offer them value, so that they start trusting that you ‘get them’. Trust inspires confidence for them to make an investment.
So at the core of your brand and marketing strategy, there should be one core element:
An in-depth understanding of your target audience (TA).
And here are the key elements that you should try to identify.
Professions (single/ married/ kids?)
Ideally, household income and an idea of their purchasing power
The demographics will help to build an idea of their lifestyle.
E.g. What does a regular day in this person’s life look like? What does this person do on the weekend? What kind of stores or hangout places do they go to? What are the kind of interests she/ he may have? What responsibilities may she/ he have?
PAIN POINT AND POTENTIAL PURCHASE TRIGGER
As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, a brand is a promise of value: it either meets a need or creates a need.
So identify first if your audience has a pain point (challenges or unmet need). In other words, is there anything that they’re not very satisfied about in their lives, a problem they perceive, that your brand can offer to solve?
As human beings, we can live with our pain points for some time. But then you know how like one day, something shifts, and we make a purchase? Something in an ad just mentions one final point that has been missing in the offers so far but we weren’t even aware of it. Or maybe some incident happens that pushes us over the edge and makes us want to find a solution. Or maybe we read some new information on social media which prompts us to think this is the right time for the purchase.
Once we know we want to buy, then we start considering the subconscious top-of-mind brands. The ones that have constantly been communicating to us and we hadn’t paid attention. And we also consider the ones that prompt that trigger in us. So depending on your marketing objective, you need to understand these triggers even more.
What are the steps they take to meet their needs currently? Where are they looking for information? Generally there are 3 basic steps that lead to the final one of purchase:
Depending on your marketing objective, you may have to decide which stage you want to show up in for the consumer.
E.g. Last year I changed my phone. My pain point was that my then phone was slow and hanging, and my trigger was that I had to do a lot of concalls with many stakeholders, and my phone would just die in the middle of an important discussion, which was very frustrating and affected my work.
So to change my phone, I took the following steps:
-> I first searched online for options and selected a couple of phones to start with (awareness)
-> Read online reviews, asked my close network if there were any current users of the phones and what their experiences were. (research)
-> Went to the nearest store to check them out. Selected one (consideration).
-> Researched for reviews for that particular phone again online, just for double verification
-> Went to an electronics store where I have a loyalty program and would get a discount
-> Purchased it. (purchase).
Now I am not a smartphone marketer, so I cannot say for sure if my journey was the same as other customers, but there are definitely patterns that I would share with others. Some people may ask their Facebook network for reviews, I didn’t. But I still wanted to know reviews.
DECISION MAKING FACTORS
You need to understand which key factors could influence their decision. In my case of the smartphone, the key points were speed and efficiency, look and feel, size and weight, display, price, warranty. However, if I had been an avid video game player, my needs could have been slightly different. This is why knowing the demographics and lifestyle helps.
These are the factors that would stop someone from investing in your brand wanted even if they wanted it. In my previous example, I didn’t have my phone tied to a contract in Singapore so I could change it without a hassle, but for people who do, buying a new phone may incur an extra cost which they may not want to incur.
Knowing the potential blocking point helps you to create solutions to address it, or at least know that you could reach out to them when the block is gone later.
Now you need to build a buyer persona.
This is basically a summary of all the research you have done so far, which captures who your audience is, what she wants, and what influences her. You can download a sample one here, and feel free to customize it as per your TA.
Now that you know what your TA wants and what their regular journey could be, you know exactly what kind of information/ education your TA could be looking for, and you can build your brand promise and whole marketing strategy around it. You can fine tune your marketing mix (product, price, place, promotion) and create your communication.
You know what content to create, which type of marketing channel to use, what kind of content to share on what kind of media. And in social media, even what kind of social groups you should be present and communicate in.
You need to be where your target audience is.
This works even in a B2B setting. Even if the model seems to be more dependent on relationships, people need to know how successful and credible you are, if you are trustworthy, how much value you can provide, and for this they will go searching. The best thing you can do is establish how you can add value, and express that in a language they understand, through a channel they can access and trust, even if it be building your network right.
Now I hear startups say, this is all very good, but how do we understand the audience so much? A few steps for that could be:
Google trends. You can see what kind of searches people are doing, and how often. What are the driving needs, and which searches are more common relative to others.
Online forums. Go to the websites related to your brand and see what people are posting and commenting on forums. For e.g if you are a restaurant business in Singapore, try going to TripAdvisor, LonelyPlanet, HungryGowhere, Yelp, and any related websites to read what people are asking and reviewing. You will have an idea which kind of people are looking for what kind of information. You can try many search words to get diverse of information.
Available official data. See if there is any data on any Govt. or official websites. E.g. if you are a travel business in Singapore, the website of the Singapore Tourism Board has a lot of free information.
Network. Go to the places and events you think your target audience could be going to, and instead of selling directly, ask them their pain points and see what action they are taking now. Learn as you network.
Reach an extended network. This is why networking is also important. If your immediate network is not your audience, or you can’t have direct access to your potential audience, ask your close network if they know people who you think could be your TA.
Ask to be connected to them, or with their permission, send them a short survey (don’t spam them please, and not more than 5 questions). You are NOT selling at this point, you are only getting information. They could convert to leads later, but that is another story.