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How to Market Your Startup to People Not Like You

Posted on the 22 April 2011 by Martin Zwilling @StartupPro

people_bubblesFace reality. As an entrepreneur, you should assume none of your customers is like you, yet I find that most entrepreneurs assume just the opposite. Customers don’t have your technical base, the passion, and interest in your solution. In fact, even if they did, they couldn’t find you in the clutter. An underrated portion of every startup effort must be about communication and marketing.

By habit, people market to customers like themselves, because they know what they like and need. The challenge is attracting customers not like you, since that isn’t so intuitive. Kelly McDonald, who runs a top ad agency, takes on this challenge in “How to Market to People Not Like You.” Her focus is on companies facing change, which of course includes every startup. Here are my key recommendations from her book:

  1. Get out of your marketing “comfort zone.” Go beyond the “spray and pray” approach to marketing (spray your message out there as widely as possible and pray it sticks). A better approach today is “narrowcasting” – learning as much as possible about your target audience, and communicating to them frequently, richly, and relevantly.

  2. Get to know the customer you’re not getting, but should be. Don’t guess, or let your own biases be your guide. Go online and read everything you can about the group you want to target. Attend events, meetings, and gatherings of your potential customer observe and talk to attendees. Don’t forget to ask them what they want and need.

  3. Tweak your product or service offerings. This process alone communicates validation that you are actively reaching out. It says “I see you, I value you, and I want you.” People will pay a premium for what want, so you need to accurately tune and relate your offering to their values, needs, and wants.

  4. Make sales and customer service friendly. Little things make a big difference, so you need to tune your operational readiness and support to these new customer segments. Maybe your shopping bags need handles, or your employee attire needs adjusting. Don’t forget showing respect for other cultures, values, languages, and priorities.

  5. Develop marketing messages based on their values. Make sure your message has relevance to your new customer target, and is authentic and sincere. Make sure it fits in with their life and lifestyle. As you move to new support new languages, don’t just translate, but “transcreate” (express the same meaning and nuances).

  6. Use technology to reach your prospects. Everyone must have a web site that is complete, inviting, and easy to use. Create and maintain your own database of targeted prospects, and don’t rely on generic email lists for marketing. Use social media, search engine optimization, blogging, and mobile media. These will beat word-of-mouth any day.

  7. Proactively deal with naysayers. As you expand your market, act to minimize negative feedback or backlash from core customers by explaining what you are doing, your motivation, and why it is good for all. Team members need to understand these things as well, and need to understand exactly what you expect of them.

An obvious place to look for customers not like you is in the generational segments outside your experience. You personally can’t be in all five of the core segments – Matures, Baby Boomers, Gen X (thirties), Gen Y (twenties), Gen Z (tween). Each has different interests, spending habits, and priorities. Focus on the most important one first, and broaden carefully.


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