It’s been my experience that business owners experience considerable stress over marketing. It is a most crucial activity and one few owners have much direct experience with. So you read the books and you try various kinds of campaigns and hope for the uptick in revenue. What I have sometimes noted is the lack of underlying information which should drive the effort. So let’s talk about markets and how to reach them.

Up to a few years ago most businesses sold, either directly or indirectly, to someone they had contact with. Whether it was selling finished manufactured goods to a distributor or selling electrical hardware to local electricians, your business had some contact with the buyer. Today, many – or even all – of your customers may be accessing your business on line and your website is your contact with them. This is a vastly different world and one which requires new strategies for closing a sale.

Below are some of the considerations for your marketing:

Your Customers are Smarter

Not actually smarter, of course, but vastly better informed about the product – knowledge gained across many websites, not just yours. The customer for 6” widgets can research them from manufacturers in the US and across the globe; evaluate retailers, their apparent knowledge of and experience with widgets; compare their prices and shipping costs.

Brick and mortar retail stores complain that customers research products in their stores then buy on line. Online retailers bemoan the difficulty of keeping a customer on their site long enough to interact with them.

You Need a Niche

You can’t be all things to all people even in a narrow industry. If you are a $500,000 per year retail women’s clothing store you simply cannot compete with Macy’s (Macy’s place in today’s retail space is a discussion for another time) and you shouldn’t try. You can’t win. What you can do is create a specialty position in your market. Perhaps you carry only bridal and evening dresses and offer custom tailoring on site. Maybe you create a range of mix and match pieces by a local designers. Possibly you target an age group and specific style. Whatever it is, you will have less merchandise available at higher prices than large stores and your location may not be as advantageous as an anchor store at large mall. You’ll have to give the customer something to get them in the door.

That “something” is key to your success. I try to investigate independent businesses which seem to be doing well and here are a few of the things I have seen in this particular type of business:

Social Come On: What you see from the front of the store is two lush sofas facing across a four foot square coffee table laden with clothing catalogues. Coffee and tea is available customers as they flip through the books which feature the store’s clothes in other fabrics, colors and sizes. The store produces the catalogues from manufacturer’s photos. It broadens your selection without the investment in inventory.

A Look: Some of you may be old enough to recall when Banana Republic was an independent chain (then called Banana Republic Travel & Safari Clothing Company) which specialized in clothing and accessories sourced from around the world. It was unique in the mall space at the time. (It has since been purchased by Gap and the clothing now has nothing whatever to do with the name of the store.). Find a specific look which is not widely available in your area and feature it, with the understanding that you may need to shift as tastes change.

Flaunt It: Fashion shows have long been a staple of fundraising. You don‘t have to be Neiman Marcus to have your clothes featured in a show, you just may not get the biggest organizations. Talk with local non-profits who have boards and volunteer groups and propose a benefit luncheon or cocktails with a fashion show. Typically the women associated with the organization model (although you will need a few of your own). They set up the event and sell the tickets, you take responsibility for writing and rehearsing the show. Disclosure: It’s a lot of work, but you get your name out in a group who can usually afford to buy.


Knowing Your Target Market is More Important Than Ever Before

In the past people patronized a business primarily because it was local. Even if they had options in other nearby towns, they were not likely to exercise those options to buy sox or even printing services. They bought local because it was both convenient and good for their town. In today’s world you can order sox from Seattle, upload a file and send it to a printer in Atlanta, and complete both purchases within minutes without leaving your desk.

Similarly, your customer may be twelve blocks away or twelve time zones away. From your perspective those customers are equally important and likely share characteristics. You need to know what those characteristics are and how to mine that data to increase sales.

Start with your own customers and mine all the data you have or can get to learn about who they are, where they are, what they buy, what they read, what social platforms they use. They are the basis of your marketing going forward for two reasons:

  1. They are the customers which are easiest to attract, are most likely to buy, and cost you far less than attracting new customers.
  2. Your new customers will likely be much like your current customers, so understanding how to access your current customer base will tell you how to expand that base to similar people.

Once you know who they are and how to reach them, begin designing targeted appeals through social media, professional associations, email or whatever methods your research directed. Personalize the marketing, request input, offer chat rooms, whatever it takes to keep your customers involved with your business.

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