One of the biggest marketing challenges entrepreneurs face is the ability to step outside of their own mindset and slip into the mind of the buyer. The most successful marketers and business owners are able to set aside their own bias and perceptions and ask two questions: “Why should someone exchange their hard-earned dollars for what I have to sell?” and “Why should they choose my product over that of my competition?”

The harsh reality, however, is that most small business owners are simply unable to clearly and succinctly answer these questions. Therefore, they throw money at costly advertisements, direct mail, and other typical promotional efforts and hope for a response. The fact is, most small businesses can be successful spending limited marketing dollars if they know why a customer buys and how.

Years ago the vice president of marketing for a luxury cruise ship line told of his company’s marketing mistakes and the steps they took to turn the business around. The company produced fun-filled, tri-fold brochures depicting young men and women on the bowels of their luxury cruise ships, even though the majority of their customers were over 50, retired or semi-retired with expendable income. They changed their marketing message after research into why and how this market bought. They learned this market liked to read, spent a lot of time researching vacation getaways, and they relied heavily on the recommendations of friends and colleagues. The new company brochure became a magazine filled with information and photos of their target market – the over 50 crowd. The company had each customer who took a cruise complete a survey on what they liked about their cruise and asked who they knew that may also enjoy the cruise. The company then sent a personal letter to those named, along with a comment on what their friend liked about the cruise, and hand-wrote on every envelope – “Your friend, John Doe, asked us to send you this.” This marketing effort garnered a 1 in 10 response rate and grew their business exponentially.

In planning marketing budgets and activities, small business owners should start with what they already have at their disposal – their current client database. Identify common threads among their best customers. Find out why these customers are loyal to them – then ‘copy, paste, repeat’ – find more like them.

What are some common threads a business may look for? For business to business it may be company size in terms of number of employees or revenues, industry, location, and unique needs. Business to consumer commonalities may be demographic factors and lifestyle. Follow this with asking why? What prompted their purchase decision? What set us apart from the competition? Why do you continue to do business with us?

Armed with answers to these questions, the small business can now craft a message to a highly targeted group of like-minded customers. They can speak more ‘personally’ to that market’s needs and clearly communicate, not the features of their product or service, but the benefit the client derives from use of their offering.

(Source: Sharon Macaluso, Area Director, UGA SBDC in DeKalb)