It’s a much-spouted theory that start-ups are doomed and any business that’s been around more than a couple of years is probably going to start feeding itself to a dark pit of extravagance and hedonism as it expands. Let’s assume that’s a given, why not?
The actually truth lies somewhere less dramatic, but only just: 29 percent of businesses that start today will be around in 10 years. The number one reason those companies fail is incompetence — and I wouldn’t argue against that stat. What I would argue, though, is that the true root of most business failures that aren’t related to too little start-up funding or freak accidents is specifically not giving a second thought to who makes up their customer base.
The First Commandment of Business: Know Thine Audience
Businesses everywhere make this same mistake, and they make it every day. They have no idea who their customers are, so when they call me because they want to go online in the hopes of getting more attention, they can’t really identify their audience.
“Who is your audience?”
“I don’t know: the Internet?!”
Before you set out your shingle, stock your online shop or even dream of your future business, you’ve got to figure out who your customer base is — and that’s exactly who your audience should be. You’ve got to get this right, because the Internet isn’t a little fish bowl on your desk — it’s the motherfucking ocean. If you have no idea who your audience is, you’re never going to pick the right lures and fishing spots to reel them in.
Not all audiences or demographics are going to respond to the same type of marketing, and many will be receptive to specific styles of writing on your blog. Although the casual voice dominates web marketing, there are some folks out there who still prefer to be addressed in formal English. You have to know that right away — otherwise you can kiss your online customers goodbye.
There are two main ways to identify your target audience and therefore, your target market. First, you can decide who you want to target — that’s the easiest for a lot of products and services that aren’t really made for one group or another. You can decide to market your free-range organic eggs to middle aged grandmothers. Decide who you like, if you can, but cast that net carefully — after all, every demographic group has a few people that will undoubtedly want your product, but you need more than a few sales to stay afloat.
What I mean is that if you’re selling adventure vacations on the Colorado River to octogenarians, you might want to reconsider what you’re doing with your life.
The other way people identify their target markets is to look around them. Who is already buying the product or service you’re selling? Check out the competition when you’re just breaking into the market. If you’ve managed to build a thriving business by pure dumb luck, survey your buyers — ask them who they are. Are they males between the ages of 20 to 50? Do they make above $25,000 a year? Are they of a specific nationality or belong to a cultural or ethnic group?
These things do matter. Your vegan followers are going to be repulsed by your brand new lambskin purses in the same way that your middle-aged Jewish male is going to go berserk over your new Nazi-themed hams.
So What? Screw ‘Em!
If I’ve ever seen a single statement that marks the day a person has decided to drive their business into the ground, it’s these four words when uttered in relation to their target market: “So what? Screw ‘em!”
Perhaps you’ve forgotten that your business doesn’t exist in a bubble of endless cash flow, where the only opinion that matters is yours. You absolutely don’t have to be all things to all people (and eventually we’ll get around to why that’s not a great idea anyway), but you must strive to be the ultimate resource for your target audience. In short, if you piss them off, they’re going to leave you high and dry.
Knowing your audience means understanding their needs and wants. Knowing them means you can find them in the endless sea of the Internet. Knowing them also means growing your business. So, the next time I ask you who your target audience or demographic is, I want you to tell me something like this: nurses at major hospitals, aged 40 to 60; new fathers aged 20 to 45; or families who make more than $50,000 a year.