Know Your Target Market

by Rich Harshaw

No matter how you advertise, there are going to be some percentage of people who see it or hear it who will NOT be prospects for what you're selling. You need to make sure that your message is directed for and targeted only to those who are qualified prospects.

You need to know exactly who it is that buys what you’re selling and then talk ONLY to those people. It's inevitable that no matter what medium you use for your advertisements, there are going to be some percentage of people who see it or hear it who will NOT be prospects for what you're selling. So make sure that your message is directed for and targeted only to those who are qualified prospects.


For instance, if you're in the market for a new car, there's a good chance you'll see all the TV commercials, hear all the radio commercials, and see all the newspaper ads for cars. If you're not in the market for a new car, however, chances are you won't see or hear those exact same ads. They’re still there; you just don’t notice them. You'll either tune them out mentally or physically change the channel or turn the page. So what's a car advertiser to do? Talk directly to people who are interested in buying cars instead of wasting time (getting their attention?). Some advertisers feel like they need to put something catchy, cute, weird, sexy, colorful or bold in their ads to make sure that every person on earth pays attention to the ad. Then, they figure, if everyone’s looking, then they’ve got a better chance at selling to more people. There’s a real trap in doing your advertising this way – a trap that you need to avoid. And here it is: when you try to speak to everybody, your message gets diluted to the point where it says nothing to anybody. You can't be all things to all people.

This is what I call the “Tigger” syndrome. I don’t know if you remember the cartoon Winnie the Pooh or not. I’ve got kids, so I’m well indoctrinated on the merits of Pooh and the Hundred Acre Woods. There’s a character that is a hyperactive tiger named Tigger. Tigger has a spring for a tail and his talent is bouncing. He’s the best bouncer of all, but his main goal in life is NOT to excel at bouncing, but rather to be liked by everyone else so he always tries to do what everyone else is doing so they’ll like him. Someone asks him if he can ice skate to which he replies, “That’s what TIGGERS do best!” and goes on to crash into a tree and ruin everyone’s fun. Someone asks him if he can climb trees to which he replies, “That’s what TIGGERS do best!” and then promptly gets stuck at the top of the tree. He does this time and time again until finally, demoralized, he realizes that his efforts are best spent and most appreciated when perfecting his own talent – bouncing.


Would you believe that there are Tiggers in the business world? Let me give you some examples. I was recently reviewing an ad that a video production company wrote to sell corporate videos. They were using a fax broadcast to send out their message, and quite frankly, the message was extremely confusing. They made about 4 different selling points, had 2 different offers, and 3 headlines scattered throughout a ONE-PAGE letter! This letter had a little bit of something for everyone in it. From previous conversations with the marketing director, I knew that their main selling advantage was low price. Now, I don’t usually like to promote low price as the main selling advantage but in this case, they really were lower – and it was mainly because the competitors had not lowered their prices over the last 5 years – even though technology had significantly reduced the costs involved with producing these videos. So really, the situation was that their price was normal, but the competitors’ prices were too high. Anyway, a different spin on “low price.” That’s what this TIGGER did best – LOW PRICE.

So I helped her analyze her situation: First, I explained that out of all the businesses on her fax broadcast list – about 30,000 – that there were probably only about 10% or so that would even be in the market at all for corporate videos. 20% max. That's maybe 5,000 companies. So first, she had to first get the idea out of her head that everyone was in her market. It’s not true. Next, I showed her that out of those 10 to 20%, they were all on different levels of readiness to buy. Some qualified prospects may not even realize that video is an option for them at this point. Some may have investigated it and found it to be too expensive. Some may have only thought about it. Some may be making videos now or have made some in the past with another production company. Some of those may be perfectly satisfied and some may be ready to find a new company to produce their video. There are a lot of different situations. But you can’t try to sell to all of them at once! You’ve got to make your message focused, like a laser beam, in order to effectively reach YOUR real target market.

One of our greatest all-time clients is a box company. Bet you can’t think of anything more mundane than cardboard boxes! This client runs one of the most exciting businesses I’ve ever been involved with. Here’s why. Earlier we talked about the inside reality and the outside perception. Well, this client, the box company, has one of the best inside realities I’ve ever seen. They have streamlined their production to such an extent that they can design, produce, and deliver custom boxes in four hours or less. I don’t know if four hours sounds like a lot of time to you or not, but let me give you an idea: their next fastest competitor can get the same type of custom order designed, produced, and delivered in about 2 and a half days! And that’s the next fastest one! Most of their competitors take one to two weeks to do that.

So you might be thinking, why would anyone need a box designed, produced, and delivered in four hours or less? Because if a company is manufacturing goods and doesn’t have any boxes at the end of the assembly line to put those goods in, it stalls the whole line and costs the company a ton of money. And it happens more often than you’d think. So this particular company’s ability to get boxes out quickly not only helps a company out when they get in a pinch, but it could actually save some purchasing agent’s job.

So what does this have to do with ‘knowing your target market’ and only talking to those people? When we first started consulting with this company, the owner mentioned to us that they could fill these short-notice, four-hour orders. He said they did it for their big customers when they got in a pinch. I asked him if they could do it any time for any customer... and hold the pricing to a reasonable level. He told me they could, but they hadn’t promoted it that way. Most customers didn’t even know that they could do it.

See where this is going? We told him to put the four-hour ability at the forefront of his marketing and promote it all the time in everything they did. His question was a fair one: “Well, not everyone needs four hour boxes. In fact, 90% of all companies won’t need that service at all in a given year. Why would we want to promote that?” Think about it. Why would they want to promote that? It comes back to knowing the target market. By promoting the four-hour service, they would let everyone know that they had created an absolute breakthrough in the box business. They would be saying something that purchasing agents would most definitely store in their mental banks... just in case they had the need someday.

So what we did was help them put together a series of oversized postcard mailers that were mailed out systematically every 3 weeks to a targeted list, along with some promotional products that were imprinted with their new logo, “Custom Boxes ON Your Dock In Just 4 Hours... Guaranteed.” The results? Extremely impactful. They went from doing one or two four-hour orders a month to doing as many as seven a day – many of those with new customers who were in a jam. Who do you think those customers ordered their regular, non-rush boxes from after our client bailed them out of a major jam? That’s right, our customer. That would explain how they went from doing $880,000 a month when we first met them to $1.7 million a month less than a year later and then up to $3 million a month – despite losing two major accounts to bankruptcies. They knew their target market and talked directly to them and communicated the exact message they needed to hear.

Okay, let me summarize: Identify what you’re selling and who will buy it, and then ONLY talk to those people. People who aren’t within that target will not buy regardless of what you say. To this end, it’s imperative that you don’t waste your precious dollars making general statements that get attention but don’t sell. Pinpoint your message. Pick out your prospects. Talk to them individually. And forget everyone else.

Rich Harshaw is the CEO of Dallas, Texas based Y2Marketing, a National Marketing consulting and Fulfillment Agency. Visit his website at

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