Marketing is a rigorous knowledge area that is discussed in undergraduate classes and practiced as a critical skill in the real world. Tens of thousands of hours are allocated in studying, designing, and executing marketing methods while billions of dollars have already been spent by organizations to conduct marketing campaigns that attempt to make the brands they carry very attractive to their target audience. Even then, there are still marketing professionals who fail to grasp the fundamental tenets of the practice and end up piloting campaigns that fail at delivering their intended outcomes. This is largely because these practitioners unwittingly skip some steps that are critical to the marketing process. In particular, these marketers fail at defining their target audience properly.
In a B2B environment, this failure is easy to commit and can be very costly. Without properly defining your target audience, you can very easily end up marketing your products and services to just about everyone. This may be an effective strategy, but only in scenarios where resources are unlimited. As all corporate professionals know, however, different departments and projects always fiercely compete for limited organizational resources and that makes an ill-defined target audience an extremely poor basis upon which to design and execute a marketing campaign.
For example, manufacturers of computer graphics engines can easily fall into the trap of showcasing the unique benefits of their hardware in terms of enhancing consumer experiences. This is well and good, as everyone is captivated by rich multimedia. However, the product’s net effect on consumers is only a secondary factor in the case of this B2B scenario. It is ultimately more important for the graphics engine maker to create and establish clear and unique value for computer manufacturers (and maybe for some major software companies whose products require advanced graphics engines). After all, computer manufacturers are the direct customers of chip makers.
While it may work in some cases, directly marketing to end consumers not only wastes limited resources but also erodes the efficacy of the marketing message. If your marketing message, mantra, or callout is not precisely attuned with the sensibility of your target market, then your audience will have a difficult time appreciating the value you offer.
To get all these in perspective, let’s start by defining what marketing is. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines it as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” This definition is comprehensive and is noteworthy for citing the different players that are constantly engaged by marketing professionals. The first two of these players are customers and clients, which are synonymous with the practice’s target audience.
That said, organizations can only attain marketing objectives in the light of how successful they are–especially within a competitive terrain–in anticipating, meeting, and satisfying their target audience. For marketing to be truly effective, therefore, all its processes must consider the needs and aspirations of the target audience.
In a sense, the critical objectives of marketing are 1) to create and establish differentiation; and 2) to build the differentiated value upon the needs of the target audience. Creating and establishing differentiation means making your service or product stand out from other similar offerings available. The more different and effective your product or service is compared to those of your competitors, the better your chances of succeeding in the field. Some gurus even go as far as stating that a company need not even offer the best price or conduct the most expensive campaigns yet still end up winning, simply by having a fundamentally differentiated product that satisfies the needs or wants of the target audience.
The last clause should give a clue on how to attain the intended outcomes. It is important that the target audience can easily distinguish your product from among other brands that deliver similar benefits. But that is not enough. The differentiation or value your product generates should also be one that the target audience actually wants. For example, you can introduce an energy-efficient and affordable three-wheeled prototype to automotive manufacturers but if your target B2B customer does not want or is not yet ready to adopt the unique value you offer, then your product will really have a difficult time succeeding. If on the other hand, you have designed a highly reliable hybrid engine that can easily be bolted on most vehicles, then it is likely that your product will have some early adopters.
Engaging the target audience
The challenge with many B2B organizations is that they never even bother to precisely identify their target audience. As a result, they end up marketing to everyone in the supply chain, including consumers and sources of raw materials. The fact is, the vast majority of players in your own ecosystem don’t really care about your product or service. Given the tight reins on your organizational budget, there is no compelling reason to directly engage them even if you wanted to or there is some fringe benefit in doing so. The sound tactical approach is to focus your momentum on the players that matter most to your company.
If you have yet to define your target audience, then that’s a real showstopper. There’s a way to go around it, even then. Start by describing the existing market your company is currently servicing. You can then identify the traits or describe the nature of the ideal target audience for your product or service. To get this translated in a practical context, you can even opt to conduct a social media campaign that seeks to attract the ideal target audience for your brand. You need to do this eventually, anyway, because sticking it out with a customer demographic that does not subscribe to or purchase your offerings will just spell the end for your business.
To further help you refine the process, construct a clear idea of what you are selling as well as the value it helps create for your customers. How are your offerings packaged? What benefits do customers get when they acquire the product or service? For example, you can say, “I sell different types of zippers.” You can then expand by saying, “our zippers are found in clothes, furniture, industrial equipment, luggage, and sports equipment. Some of our zippers are engraved with the trademarks of the manufacturers of consumer products we engage.”
Now that makes the process of defining your product and your target audience really interesting, doesn’t it? Proceed by listing the main reasons why your customers buy your product. It could be an inherent product trait such as durability or a stylish design. It can also be a selling feature such as white-labeling that allows your customers to imbue the product with their own branding. It can also be because of transactional aspects such as low pricing, volume discounts, or credit extensions that your company offers to its clientele. Note that the reasons your target audience buys your product tell something about the problems your product is trying to solve. Keep these in mind, especially when you are remaking existing products, conceptualizing new ones, or strategizing on how to market either. Whatever the reasons are, list them and weigh their respective importance or contribution to your bottom line.
The B2B approach to audience targeting
Companies that directly engage end-consumers generally use demographics (age, gender, income bracket, educational attainment, location, etc.) to create useful maps or profiles of their target audience. For B2B companies, on the other hand, characteristics such as industry size, industry conditions, number of employees, annual revenue levels, credit experience, and geographic location are very critical components of the customer profile.
It is also advisable to consult industry research studies to glean more insights that can help you market your products or services to your target audience. There are both free and page reports that are available online. You can also acquire social media listening platforms that generate often-used keywords or phrases per industry. This is something you can use to have a top-level view of which needs or issues different players in your industry are discussing more often and which players are likely to adopt your solutions.
To conclude, having a precise idea of your intended audience equips your company for success. This is because a well-defined target market will help you 1) determine whether there is a sufficient number of potential customers (demand) that will help sustain your operations; 2) configure your offerings to better meet the expectations of your clients; 3) customize or streamline promotions and campaigns to deliver optimum returns; 4) improve cost efficiency by focusing resources on customer groups that can give value to your business; and 5) align your brand message–including your taglines and corporate mantra–to meaningfully attract the people or organizations who are the most likely to adopt your product or service. Remember, having a target audience will only limit your market, not your business. On the contrary, delivering your message across to a small number of the right listeners is far better than broadcasting it to a larger but apathetic audience.