The simple (er) way to define your target market. 

There is a tsunami of information out there about how to define your target market and create market segments.  Most of it involves detailed analysis and expensive research.  However, it doesn’t have to be so hard.  

To define your target market: get to know your target customer.  You don't need much research for this; you know who your target is because it is the person who needs whatever you are selling.  Understand them, and you will create an irresistible strategy.

The first step is to understand that you must focus on a target market

Recently I worked with a fledgling startup that was investing in importing coffee from Colombia to the United States.  Their first shipment of one and a half tons of coffee was on the way.  

The problem: nobody was buying.

Because they didn’t know who their customer was.

It took us about five minutes to identify their critical marketing mistake: they were working hard to sell, but they weren't selling to anybody. 

We figured this out by asking a straightforward question: "who was their target customer," their answer: "everybody."

They wanted to be “bigger than Starbucks”. 

Their goal was to supply all 550 million cups of coffee served every day in the U.S.

That is a lot of coffee.  Delivering all of that coffee to the entire country raises some serious logistical challenges.   

We have found that this happens all the time in small companies, they want to think big, so they go after a large target.  

The reality, though, is that the advantage a small company has is in being small, not big.  The company we were working with only had to sell a ton and a half of coffee, maybe 100,000 cups.  

So, they had the opportunity to focus on a narrow target.  

[Related: Advantages of Small Companies]

Selling to a small segment is easier than selling to a whole market.

The challenge we all face is that when we are selling a product (or a service, which is the same thing), we see the market as a whole: all of the people who buy or drink coffee.

We want to sell coffee to "coffee drinkers," and anybody who wants coffee is a potential customer. 

However, from a customer perspective, the market doesn't exist that way. There is no "coffee market."

There are no “coffee drinkers” in the U.S, even when they CALL themselves coffee drinkers. 

They all define coffee differently. 

Customers see differences in coffee. 

There is the coffee they like and the coffee they don’t like.  

Some want organic coffee, others want artisanal coffee, and a third group wants (yes, it is true), Folgers.

There is even the segment that loves Dunkin Donuts coffee (which somebody must explain to me).  

Then there is the café crowd that wants shots of flavored syrup, and non-fat almond milk blended iced macchiato specials.

The market, any market, and every market, ONLY exists as segments – groups of buyers who share a similar interest. 

So while the coffee market, taken together, consumes 550 million cups a day, but most of the cups have very little to do with one another.

Drinking Folgers is anathema to the artisanal crowd - there is no way to sell to both. 

Or, at the very least, it is costly, because you must teach both the Folgers crowd and the artisanal crowd to like the same thing.

If you try to do this, the true result is that any messaging designed to keep both Folgers and artisanal coffee drinkers happy will appeal to neither.   

Your message will be so bland and uninspiring that neither crowd will be excited to buy your product (or service). 

If you are selling to both segments at the same time, with the same message, you are selling to nobody. 

The intuition that pushes us to appeal to the broader market is wrong. 

Intuition says: sell to a huge market and get 1% of that market then get lots of sales. 

That intuition is wrong.  You will sell more and appeal to more people by focusing on a narrow segment. The greatest irony of marketing is that the smaller your segment, the larger your market.

The reason for this is simple.  When you appeal to a smaller segment, you can make a stronger more emotional connection.  You can talk about THEM, and they can see themselves in your marketing.

[Related: Reptilian Brain Marketing]

 There is an added benefit.  Marketing to a smaller segment is easier and less expensive.  

Start by defining your ideal customer

Identifying your target does not have to be an expensive exercise involving complex research.  You probably have a pretty good idea of who will be buying your product or service. 

That is where you want to focus.  

Your marketing should center around that customer, who they are and what their needs are.  

[Related: Why you need a compelling brand story, about your customer.]

Three steps to clarify your target market

1. Identify your perfect customer; get specific.You want this as narrow and concise as possible. You can always add another segment later, but if you are not selling to someone specific, you are selling to nobody.

2. Understand what is missing in your perfect customer’s life.Something is missing; otherwise there is no opportunity for you to sell. People only buy to make themselves complete, to fill in a missing piece. So, define the gap that you fill with your product.

3. Show how you make your perfect customer completethen create the content to support and market to your segment. 

We designed the EngageStory structure specifically to help you structure your brand to your target customer. 

The most important step you can take in building your marketing is to define your segment. You can sell to multiple segments, but realize that each one will need their own story, their specific strategy, and often their particular product. 

So, start with one, and work from there. 

Defining a segment changed the game for our coffee client

Our coffee customer stopped selling to the world and started selling to high-end coffee drinkers in their hometown.  They created packaging and messaging that appealed to that segment, even going so far as to emphasize being small and individual.  

Rather than end up with a container full of rotting beans, they presold the container before it arrived at a 20% premium. 

This is a lot better than selling hard to nobody.