Targeting your Customers

If you’re a local entrepreneur getting ready to improve or start up your own business, there is one word you need to know above all others: WHO.

Many business owners start with an idea for a product or service they “just know” will sell like hot cakes. They convince themselves, but do no research. Others get caught in the daily process of marketing their product or service.

All aspects of the “marketing plan” are addressed, even the kind of furniture to have in one’s office, or the brand of telephone. All these are important in the grand scheme of things, but if they have not yet figured out “who” they are going to sell to, they may have an excellent plan being implemented against the wrong target or worse, none at all. They must first determine who their target group will be, then using a rifle, not a shotgun, direct their messages and other marketing tactics directly at this specific target group.

“Who” answers the most critical questions you need to ask.


Who is the market for your proposed product or service? What are their needs and wants? Does your product or service meet those needs? Does it provide a solution to their problem, or a relief from their pain? Do they recognize the intrinsic value of your product or service? Would they consider this product or service a “need to have” or a “nice to have”? Do these people have the money to buy such a product or service? Are there enough of them wanting to buy?

How do you get the answers to these questions? Conduct informal research. Talk to people in this target group. Identify the groups or organizations that cater to people with the demographics, hobbies, ethnicity, or location that you’re investigating. Find them (for free) in the Thomson-Gale Associations directories at the local library. Use Canadian Advertising Rates and Data to track publications that target this same group, and/or visit magazine retailers and find the pertinent magazines that appeal. Are they plentiful, full of ads? Who are those paying advertisers?

Go to the major search engines, and not just Google. Try, Dogpile, Yahoo, and Copernic, too. Ask Wikipedia for clues. Now, go to Overture to determine how many people searched for that same key word last month. Relate that to the number of Google websites for that same keyword. Next, relate that demand-supply ratio to your situation in Victoria. Make sure there are enough target group members living locally to justify your efforts and expense.

Once you have answered the questions that relate to the “who,” you are then able to answer other equally important questions that relate to the name of the company, website, pricing, media buying, copy, graphics, business cards, and all the other smaller, less important decisions. These less important questions naturally “flow” from the answer to the first and most important one: “who” will be my customers and are there enough of them to justify assuming the risk of adding or launching this product or service? The answers to “who” will facilitate your targeting.

Richard Hobbs and his son Matt are financial advisers at the downtown Victoria office of Investors Group. Richard stepped down from being the director there to go into partnership with his son. The Hobbses wanted to differentiate themselves, but they also wanted to pick a target that really needed the kind of services they could and wanted to provide. This father and son team chose to target to and specialize in providing investment services to women.

Richard and Matt did their homework. They researched the market, went on-line, and spent untold hours learning what women wanted in the context of financial advice, planning, protection, and wealth management. Additionally, in conjunction with three female colleagues, they had two women-only focus-group discussions conducted on their behalf. Richard and Matt wanted to learn what the major problems were concerning financial planning, advisers, and the practice itself… as seen by women. Then, they quantified the size of the market in terms of the potential number of female, financial-planning clients in the greater Victoria area. They decided this was the target group for them.

Richard says, “By conducting our own proprietary research, we discovered that women are very much under-served in the financial-services industry. Moreover, they are very curious about and desire ‘financial education.’ The traditional view that the male is the predominant decision-maker is no longer true. Matt and I have built our own niche providing very special financial services for women. I think we are among a precious few who have taken this focused view of targeting. If they decide to bring along their spouse, that’s fine too.”

At the Victoria law firm of Hutchison Oss-Cech Marlatt, some of the targeting is a function of “when.” For example, when and if an accident occurs, people may need an accident or brain injury lawyer, like partner, Lorenzo Oss-Cech, but not until something happens. However, this firm also deliberately targets small businesses and high-tech firms on Vancouver Island by specializing in intellectual property and technology law.

Caroline Bergeron is probably the only lawyer on Vancouver Island who has completed the prestigious Professional Specialization Certificate in International Intellectual Property Law and is practicing in this area. She is able to use this targeted niche to make contact with business owners who initially need help in this legal specialty. Moreover, between Caroline and Lorenzo, in addition to English, they speak French, Spanish, and Italian, which is also “smart targeting.”
Sanci Solbakken, a CA with KPMG’s Victoria office, targets practitioners, investment advisers, and professional athletes in her practice. These high net-worth individuals need both accounting and tax advice. So, she volunteers for several non-profit organizations, gives speeches, and conducts specialty workshops for groups of doctors, dentists, lawyers, and pro athletes. Naturally, if they like what they see, they might give her a call for an initial discussion.

Christine Jenkins, of Bellingham, WA, targets women in Victoria. She is the corporate sales and marketing manager for the Best Western Lakeway Inn and Conference Center there. She targets potential visitors to Bellingham from both Victoria and Vancouver with a variety of tactics, such as a women’s-only “Girlfriends Chocolate Escape” package. Christine emphasizes that marketers must speak to their target (e.g. women) in a way they can understand. “Women value people over things,” she says. “‘People first’ resonates with women customers. Women are not driven by envy the same way men are. They respond with empathy. Women don’t buy brands. They join them.”
Targeting is made possible only by asking and answering the most important question in your marketing plan. Before you ask and answer what, where, when, why, and how, you must determine the ideal target of your marketing efforts. Forget about the Field of Dreams: just because you build it, does not mean they will come. First, you must ask WHO.