Know your audience. Dissect their needs. – Part 3

9 Brilliant Marketing Strategies for Startups- Part 03

We kicked off this blog series, 9 Brilliant Marketing Strategies for Startups, with an astonishing industry stat that revealed most startups fail within the first 3 years because they didn’t Identify or Validate a Market Need.

Validating the needs of your audience is a critical step that should be completed at the initial stages of a company’s lifecycle and consistently thereafter. As technology changes, so do people. Technology offers new ways for people to receive and process information which ultimately affects buying behavior and consumer needs. Even if you successfully identified a Tier 1 market need when you built your product, are you monitoring any changes while you continue to engage with your market? In other words, are you able to pivot when needed. I had a recent conversation with a media content provider whose entire infrastructure and way of doing business was disrupted by technology which now offers digital means of consuming the same information. And then there is the popular Blockbuster video rental example. At the onset, Blockbuster was a highly valued resource for the community. But they ignored innovations in the industry that offered the same content but delivered in a much more convenient way.  Other competitors realized they could give movie-watchers a better experience by conveniently shipping movies and video games to their homes. Shortly after, there was a media giant who took advantage of the internet to provide an even more convenient way for consumers to access the content they wanted. No longer did you have to wait for someone to return your favorite movie before you could watch it. Everything was On Demand.

There are mission-critical benefits to thoroughly understanding your audience and dissecting their needs. It helps you build the right product roadmap to meet the needs of today and anticipate the needs of tomorrow. Companies that do this well can secure the trust and loyalty of their target audience and worry less when new competitors sprout. Apple has done this well by delivering a cutting-edge device that changed how we interact with our cell phones. But you don’t need the resources of Apple to do this well. It starts with a customer-centric attitude. Everything you build and deliver should take your customers’ perspective into consideration. This could mean a leveraging a formal client focus group, creating and using a customer advisory board, or simply having frequent meaningful conversation with key clients. This rich group of individuals have a vested interest in seeing you create a product or service that actually solves a problem or offer some kind of competitive advantage. Despite popular belief, many times this rich group of customers aren’t expecting anything in return.

Whether you are rolling out a new product or service, or simply want to stay engaged with your audience, there are certain behaviors and actions that should be continuously monitored, such as:

  • Has your customers’ corporate environment changed significantly? A re-org, for example, could change the way customers buy. Is the buying process more or less complex? There could be new influencers or end users that should be considered.
  • How do they consume information? If your audience has moved from print to digital, you have to change the way you engage. If a significant portion of your audience still relies on print, use Call to Actions in your print ads that point to digital resources while guaranteeing a memorable digital experience. Do they prefer blogs vs whitepapers vs podcasts?
  • Besides doing business with your company, what other options do your consumer have? This actually goes beyond a traditional competitor analysis to also include your client’s internal resources. If you offer mobile app development, are consumers starting to hire more internal engineers which could signal abandoning the need to outsource. And if so, why?
  • Are there any external factors that affects the way your client does business? The compliance and regulatory environment is about as volatile as the technology environment. Has the introduction of a new law or technology create a new opportunity or threat for your consumers? How can your service or product be adjusted to help?

If you don’t thoroughly understand your market, it is difficult (even impossible) to build a compelling product that people will pay for. It is difficult to determine how much to charge for your product. It is almost impossible to communicate to an audience that you know little about. So what do I mean by “knowing” your audience?  In addition to the basic demographics and profiles, you should understand what motivates your audience, what keeps them up at night, what do they enjoy doing. By understanding this, you can build your brand around your audience.

So, how do you execute this? Where does the insight lie? As you are building brand awareness, you have the advantage of digital cookie crumbs to provide valuable insight into what content resonates well with your audience, who is being attracted to your digital assets (such as your website) today and much more. A few tools to consider:

  • A readily available tool to help with this is Google Analytics. If you are unfamiliar with Google Analytics, there are several free tools that teach you how to use it based on your role. There are many paid learning sites like Udemy available. Google also offers free tools to help you get the most out of their analytics tool.
  • Social media has matured to be a valuable influencing and analytical tool. Even politicians are seeing the power – but I won’t go there.  Each social media platform offers different value. But all of them can offer insight into what is top of mind for your audience. Once used as a trivial afterthought, hashtags are now simulating machine learning capabilities that can enhance your campaigns and outreach efforts. Instagram uses hashtags very effectively.
  • Reputation monitoring tools such as Meltwater, Reddit and Quora can be used to understand your audience. What questions are they posing in these forums? These tools can also keep you engaged with industry influencers. Industry influencers like analysts and media who are actually shaping the thoughts of your buyers. So if you offer a product or service that is in line with industry influencers, it makes your company appear more credible and trustworthy which typically results in a shorter buying cycle and increased contract values. Monitoring influencers can also give you a preview of any threats that could compromise the way your customers consume your product/service.
  • If you have thousands of customers, another effective route is building your own customer community. I have seen millions of quarterly revenue go straight to the sales pipeline as a result of successful customer advocacy communities. They can be a company’s most credible listening channel. But since this blog is geared to startups and small businesses who typically don’t have thousands of customers, I will digress. But it’s never too early to start planting the seed.

My marketing mantra is “start with the customer and work backwards”. If you use this model for internal programs and product roadmaps, you can have the confidence in knowing you are creating value every step of the way – not to mention the economic savings of minimizing your Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) considering it costs at least 5x as much to secure as new customer compared to upselling/cross selling to an existing customer.  Although his audience was a bit different, I think Johnnie Taylor’s It’s Cheaper to Keep Her oldie but goodie was really on to something!  

In summary, it is critical to keep your pulse on your target market – not just within the first 3 years of operations, but every year thereafter. This is one of the many benefits of having a full time MARKETing expert on your team. It is important to have a function who is continuously monitoring changes in the market and bringing that insight back to leadership teams. But if you don’t quite have the resources to keep a marketing professional on your team, there are things you can do on your own. StartupGrind offers a informative post on the steps startups can take to validate their product/service meets a Tier 1 market need.

SMarketingATL partners with startups and small businesses across the US to serve as their dedicated marketing resource. Our goal is to help as many businesses as possible by offering timely insight that protects your investment. Free phone consultations are always available.

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