To Market Successfully, Your Customer Can't Be 'Everyone' (Op-Ed) Credit: Marketing Image via Shutterstock

Every business needs marketing, and it's almost always the last thing to get done.

In my last Op-Ed, I defined marketing as who, what, where, when, why and how your organization interacts with others in order to meet your business goals. It's part of what I call the Do-it-Yourself Under-Complicated Marketing Plan. I recommended you start by setting some of what I categorize as "SMART" goals. For the next step, it's important to define the "who."

No, your target is not 'everyone'

Think about the sneaker business. It's a pretty wide market. Practically everyone needs a pair, right? But the most successful sneaker companies know better. They focus on very specific targets.

Take a look at Nike's website. It's all about fitness, sports and winning. Converse, on the other hand, is about making a personal identity statement. Their Google ad says, "Shoes are Boring. Sneakers are Iconic." Who would have thought they'd make Chuck Taylor All Stars with a studded collar? Even if nearly everyone needs sneakers, these companies help us know exactly which sneaker fits our personal needs, whether we are uber-competitive or ultrafashionable.

Target even more than big-budget players like Nike

No matter what product you sell or service you deliver, more targeted marketing gives you a better return. Targeting a specific audience gets you in front of them more often, with messages that touch them emotionally. If you try to be everything to everyone, your message becomes vague and less impactful. Branding expert Todd Friedman writes:

"The more you can define not only the demographics — like age, gender and household income — but also the type of person (psychographics), including attitudes, tendencies, and preferences, the more you can directly speak to your audience. Owning a specific market's mind share is the key."

But who is your 'ideal' customer?

Here are two methods to identify your target.

First, create a fictional buyer whose needs your product meets perfectly.

In the last 10 years, it has been trendy to create "buyer personas." A buyer persona is a character who represents your target customer or client. Creating a fictional person named Suzie or Sammy with specific wants, needs and desires makes it easier to design marketing campaigns these ideal customers will respond to. They're typically created using a great deal of research and data about current customers. Some find this process valuable. But it costs time and money, which you may not have.

Second, think about your best clients, most profitable customers or most reliable donors.

Ask yourself:

  • Who has bought before and returned to buy again?
  • Which client has been the most profitable or referred their friends?
  • Which donor has given when you really needed them and brought others to the table?

Now look at these people and figure out who they are, so you can find more like them.

  • Are they male or female? How old? Married or single?
  • How educated are they? What do they do for a living?
  • What's their outlook on life — are they optimistic? Realistic?
  • Where do they get their news? What do they do for fun? What do they care about?
  • Why do they do business with you? How would they describe your company?

Janet Kyle Altman is the marketing partner at the accounting firm Kaufman, Rossin & Co.