Building a business for a specific market requires detailed research, as Ellevest learned.
- To reach a target audience, start by determining your target customer. Go into great detail about who your ideal customer is.
- Once you find your target market and a need for that market, develop a solution that best serves your target market.
- After creating a solution, develop a marketing strategy to build brand awareness and reach your target customer.
- Upon launching and marketing your solution, be willing to change your offerings based on customer feedback.
Every business owner dreams of carving out a niche in an industry and building a strong company. While these goals are admirable, it's difficult to consistently reach a target audience.
Plenty of businesses write businesses plans with their target market being a key focus of the plan. They scout out their target demographics and zero in on the needs of that market. They build a marketing strategy for their business and get to work. Unfortunately, most startups and small businesses fail to reach their target audience.
There are some businesses, however, that rise above the rest and successfully reach their target audience. When wondering how to reach your target audience, it's important to understand that there isn't one plan of attack to reach your target market. There are a few guiding principles that are critical for all businesses, though.
Ellevest, an investing platform designed specifically for women, reaches its target audience through a variety of methods. First and foremost, the business found a need and used customer feedback to create a meaningful solution.
Find and research a need
Charlie Kroll, the president and co-founder of Ellevest, knew that current investing platforms didn't serve women well. Kroll and his team, which includes co-founder Sallie Krawcheck, learned through experiences that women weren't well represented in the industry and investing platforms failed to account for the career path of women. Krawcheck served as the CEO of Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney and Citi Private Bank during her career, and she saw the flaws in current investing platforms.
Kroll and Krawcheck recognized a need. Seeing this need led the team to dive into the numbers surrounding female investing. The team found that women had feelings of dissatisfaction and mistrust stemming from previous experiences with investment advisors.
"We were looking at this data and realizing that not only was there an opportunity to build a new kind of financial services company that could actually do a good job for women but in the process do a really important thing for the world by putting more money into the hands of more women," Kroll said.
The team knew its potential customers needed a solution to make investing easier and more relevant to women.
Through detailed research, Ellevest found a target demographic in need of a solution. The company initially targeted women with higher incomes, but the platform works well for all women and has built a strong userbase across different demographics since its inception in 2014.
Small businesses should learn from this and create buyer personas. Find an area of need and zero in on who those customers are. What do those target customers want? Once you understand a need and exactly who your customers are, you can brainstorm ways to fix the need. Are there any ways to best attack the problem? What do our potential customers want?
Develop your solution
After finding a need within your target audience, it's time to develop your solution. This requires an understanding of the competition, the competition's flaws and the desires of your target audience. Ellevest leaned on some key points when developing its solution.
The team factored in differences between men and women that other financial investment platforms hadn't. Both lifespan and the gender pay gap were considered when Ellevest designed its solution.
"Most financial companies will treat men and women the same," Kroll said. "If you're going to live six to eight years longer and earn 20% less, it's pretty important to know those as you're planning out how much money you need to put aside for retirement."
Other companies ignored these basic differences that factor into investing decisions. While other companies may have recognized a need, they didn't build a solution capable of meeting the needs of the target demographic. Ellevest was different and developed a platform for women that catered to their lifespan and salary.
Ellevest's platform does more than just consider a few additional factors that other businesses don't. The recommended investments through the platform are customized to individuals based on their risk profiles and future goals. It's a thoughtfully designed platform for each user.
Kroll explained that other financial services build platforms designed to serve men. While this isn't always intentional, it's hard to tell there's an error in that thinking when most of the company's clients are men. Ellevest took a different approach by looking at data about women and using that to design a platform to best serve that demographic.
When you're building a small business, it's important to put time into researching the solution and developing a product or service that truly serves your target market.
Market your solution
After creating a solution, it's time to share it. This means developing a marketing strategy to get the word out about your business. It can be helpful to create social media accounts for reaching potential customers online.
Ellevest has created strong word-of-mouth recommendations by building a strong platform and being active across social channels. The company has more than 100,000 followers across Facebook and Twitter, and it holds more than 115,000 followers on Instagram alone. The business reaches well over 200,000 people routinely just through social media. Marketing is important for startups and small businesses, and Ellevest does it exceptionally well.
The company also generates headlines through media appearances and merchandise. Recently, the company released a reusable coffee mug poking fun at financial investors who say people should stop buying coffee and invest those $3 to $5 to achieve financial wellness. In January of this year, Krawcheck joined The Daily Show for a 10-minute segment on her business and the gender pay gap.
While a small business might not find itself on The Daily Show, pitching a new business launch to a local news station could result in a TV segment that puts your business in front of local customers. Your business can make merchandise for your store that plays off local or national trends.
Ellevest built a community of loyal followers by putting its employees out there frequently and making efforts to market its business. Your business doesn't need 200,000 social media followers to adequately cater to your target audience, but sharing engaging content through social media can help you better engage your customers.
The initial product or service launch should come with a plan to share your business with the world. Whether that's through local news coverage, social media campaigns, direct mail marketing or something else, it's important to plan for a launch. After launching, follow Ellevest's lead and keep up your marketing efforts. Pitch local news outlets when you're throwing events and find ways to put your business in the spotlight.
Ellevest also creates content regularly on its blog. You might consider using a blog or creating videos as another way to create content that matters to your customers. Marketing isn't all about selling, so creating relevant content that engages your audience can be a goal. You may find that writing blog posts helps you reach your ideal customer more frequently. Blogging helps Ellevest build its brand by making the company a thought leader on gender pay differences and investing.
There are ways to reach customers without having to spend on ads, and those are often some of the best ways for small businesses to grow their brand. It's also worth considering building out a marketing budget for digital marketing, ads and influencer marketing. Putting money into marketing campaigns can help your business reach customers and gain a following of loyal customers.
A great solution can't reach a target audience if those potential customers don't know it exists.
Change your solution
You want your first product or service launch to go well, and it's important to go to market with something you're proud to offer. However, expecting your first iteration of a product or service to be perfect is foolish. To truly please your target audience, you must be willing to change.
"We have a really research-driven culture," Kroll said. "We don't do anything without getting user input and feedback on it."
Ellevest's willingness to listen to its customers means the business is positioning itself for long-term success. The investing platform is designed with a very specific demographic in mind, and it's important that the business listen to the questions, concerns, and compliments of the users on the platform.
All small businesses should learn from Ellevest's customer feedback model. Let's say you're a small pizza shop in Boston. Consider putting out customer surveys to receive feedback on what people like and dislike about your shop. You may learn vital insights about your store's atmosphere, delivery services, pricing and the pizza's taste through a feedback survey. These can be used to guide your future decisions.
It can be intimidating to send out customer feedback surveys, but it's better to learn about a flaw and fix it than to remain ignorant and continue making a mistake.
The bottom line
Every business should have a target audience. The best way to effectively reach that target audience is to thoroughly research their needs, design a solution for them and then ask for feedback to constantly make that solution better.