This is not an article about fishing. Grabbing a fish fillet from the frozen foods aisle at the supermarket is the closest I usually get to catching fish. I’m not one for long walks in nature, breathing clean air, soaking in sunshine, and all that hippy crap. I was born in the city, and by god – I will die in one.

But even someone brought up in the concrete jungle, such as myself knows there’s a fundamental principle in fishing. You catch fish with what fish likes, not what you like. This concept is equally important to both fishermen and business owners.

Define your target market and give them what they want.

If you want to catch a fish, you don’t dangle a new Rolex in front of its face. It will stare at the expensive watch for a second, open and close its mouth a few times, and quickly swim away. You can try the same exercise with your car keys, but the result will be equally fruitless. Fish doesn’t bite on what you like. It bites on what it likes. You need to use actual fish bait if you want to catch a fish. And different fishes like different bait.

In the same vein, you want to identify your target market. You want to know their wants and needs before you launch your business. This is a process that is constantly evolving, but you need to start somewhere. And biting into your own interests like a dog with a bone isn’t enough if you can’t fit an entire target market in there. It’s pretty arrogant to assume that just because you like something, people are automatically going to buy it.

Let’s move away from fish and get to the meat and potatoes of this problem (my favourite). How do you define your target market and figure out what you’re going to sell? There’s several ways you can go about this.

How to define your target market.

Depending on whether you’re a new business or you’ve been around the block a few times, there’s different ways to define your target market. Let’s start with the newbies, first.

How to define your target market if you’re just getting started.

So you’ve decided to dip your toes into the business world. “How hard can it be?”, you think to yourself while rolling up your sleeves. Even if you have to work your fingers to the bone, you’re certain you will get this business off the ground because that’s how you roll.

Except, you’re not really sure what the business is, yet.

What do you want to sell?

Why do you want to sell it?

Who’s going to buy it?

None of these questions have an answer at this stage. Like climbing a rollercoaster, you’ve been hyping yourself up until this point. But now that shit is getting real, things don’t look so rosey.

Don’t worry about it. We’re here to sort things out and make this whole thing a fun ride. Oh, there will be lots of dirty work, yes, but at least you’ll know where you’re going.

Start with your why.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, “Start with Why” has been seen over 50 million times. To this day, it’s one of the most controversial ideas in marketing. Is it profound? Is it dumb as a rock? The answer is “yes” to both, depending on whom you ask.

To me, “why” matters. I always try to work with clients whose business has a reason for existing beyond making money. That’s because I, myself have a reason to do this beyond making money.  I was honing my craft long before I started getting paid for my work. And it turned out, people actually needed what I could do. So the cheddar wasn’t far behind.

Start with your why. Make it clear to yourself – why are you in business? What is your motivation? What is it you’re trying to achieve? Once you’ve cleared those out, then you can also answer why anyone should even bother with your brand. And who those people would be. 

Check out the competition.

You probably already have a product in mind. Unless you’re making something totally new, that means you already have competition, too. So who are the people who are buying from them? Those are probably the same people you’d have to fight for.

Check out whom your competitors are targeting. Look at marketing, social media posts, subscribe to their newsletter, etc. But be careful – like the proverbial blind leading the blind, your competitors might have no idea what they’re doing. Still, looking at them can provide you with a lot of useful information.

Investigate your competitors’ reviews. 

Don’t forget to investigate the reviews. Just because people are engaging with the content, doesn’t mean they’re buying the products. Reviews show you a much clearer picture. See what customers like and hate. What do they complain about? What is that you can do better than your competition? Knowing this will give you a significant competitive advantage.

If you notice they don’t get many reviews, they’re probably not making that many sales. Which could mean they’re targeting the wrong people. Or their value proposition is not valuable enough. At any rate, this gives you something to work with.

Think about your product and what problem it solves.

Every business and every product solves a problem. Yes, even the Pet Rock. It was a fun prank gift with some entertainment value. Though, more realistically, it was a fad, powered by conformity, media attention and fear of missing out. But I digress – point is, any product you can think of solves some kind of problem. Even if that problem is abstract and not immediately apparent.

So think about your product. What kind of problems does it solve? What are the features of your product? How do we translate those features into benefits? Who would need those benefits? Make a list of people you think are most likely to buy your product based on the benefits.

Dig into the demographics and psychographics of your potential clientele.

Once you’ve done all of the above, it’s time to dig into the demographics and psychographics of your potential customers. Whom are you trying to serve? Make a profile based around:

  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Location;
  • Income level;
  • Education level;
  • Marital status;
  • Occupation.

Different people in these groups will probably have different interests and preferences. You can hardly market teenage clothes for the elderly. Or cheap handbags to people with a high income. You get the point.

After you’re done with the demographics, you should also think about their psychographic profile.

  • Interests;
  • Hobbies;
  • Values;
  • Lifestyle;
  • Behaviours;
  • Personality;
  • Attitudes.

Taking both demographics and psychographics into account, alongside analyzing your product and competition will give you a good leg to stand on in the beginning.

Do some research and identify the customer pain points. 

Once you have an idea of the demographic and the psychographic makeup of your target market, hit the web and start doing research into their pains. What problems are these people facing that your products can solve? Look for tendencies, patterns, and relate it to your business. 

Hit whatever place you can think of where your target market might be gathering – Reddit, Facebook groups, forums. Check out influencers they might be following. Read comments. Gather the raw data first, then try to break it down into a refined set of pain points, dreams, and values your potential customers might have.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work – it is. Especially if you do it right. 

Crunch the numbers.

So, you’ve done all of the above and you’ve kept your sanity. That’s a good first step towards your brand strategy. But now you need to answer some difficult questions and you need to be honest. Questions like:

Is my target market big enough to sustain a business?

  • Will people really benefit from my product?
  • Am I fulfilling an actual need on the market?
  • Is my idea specialized enough?
  • Do I understand my target market?
  • Can my target market afford my product?
  • Can I differentiate from my competition?
  • Can I reach my ideal customers?

These questions are not easy to answer. Especially not honestly. That’s why it’s important to do it, because otherwise you risk throwing yourself in the deep water without any idea how to swim. And contrary to popular belief, this is not a good way to learn how to swim. Once you hit the water, you will probably panic, start flapping around with all four of your limbs, get tired and then slowly sink like Leo in Titanic.

Be honest with yourself. It’s better to pivot (if you have to) than drown. And trust me – there’s no Oscar waiting for you at the bottom. Though it will be a great show for the fish.

How to define your target market if you’ve been around the block a few times.

Everything I’ve suggested above can be applied to older businesses, as well. However, with experience you have an advantage – you have your own data you can look into. You have customer reviews. You can talk to your existing customer base about what they like and dislike about your business. Furthermore, you can see who your business appeals to the most and figure out why. This offers so many possibilities.

Survey your current customer base.

Ask people what they like and dislike about your products. Why are they shopping with you? Have they tried your competitors (this one is a double-edged sword, so apply with caution)? Devise a questionnaire with very specific questions. The more concrete the questions, the clearer the answers. Don’t ask people, “Hey, do you like our business?”

I’d suggest you give your customers some kind of an incentive to fill out your questionnaire. It will be easier to get more people to do it. That being said, do not make the incentive too big, lest they start answering at random just to get the reward.

Note who is taking the time to answer. This will give you a wealth of information about your customers.

Look at your own reviews.

If people take the time to write a review, then you definitely need to check it out and pay attention. Especially if it contains criticism. I know – taking criticism feels like getting your tooth pulled with a rusty set of pliers. Too fuckin’ bad! That’s how you get better.

Naturally, you want to take criticism only when it makes sense and allows you to improve. Any moron can criticize; few people can do it right. But if something negative rears its ugly head again and again, then it’s a pretty clear signal you should fix it. Ignore customer reviews at your own peril.

While criticism can help you improve, positive reviews can help you define whom your brand or products most resonate with. Look at your best reviews and see who’s leaving them. What do these people have in common? Demographics, psychographics, you know the drill. The people who are raving about how awesome your brand or products are, are the most likely to be your ideal customer. You want to attract more of those.  

Conclusion

Defining your market is key to your success. It can be the difference between catching lots of fish and coming home empty-handed. You need to take everything into account if you want to even stand a chance in business. Give yourself the highest potential for success. Plan well ahead. And if it seems like it’s too much, hire someone to help you. Market research and defining a target market is crucial parts of a good brand strategy. I’m no fisherman, but getting customers with one of my strategies is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. 

Till next time.

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