A lot of business owners ask me about effective marketing, in terms of cost and result. I often get the sense that they want me to offer a one-size-fits-all formula. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.
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When figuring out your marketing plan, you shouldn’t just find a list of tips and employ all of them, or blindly try what worked for someone else. Here, I outline a four-step process for discovering what will work best for your business.
1. Define your target audience. What is the smallest, most specific group of strangers that wants your product? This is an imagination exercise and the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. For instance, let’s say I’m in the business of producing ice cubes. One target audience would be germ-phobic people who like buying diet cola out of vending machines in the workplace, but hate drinking out of cans, so they pour the soda into a cup that they bring from home. Pretty precise, right? That’s how you need to think.
2. Determine when your customers want your product. This is critical and easy to mess up. Nobody wants a product all of the time. Throughout the day, consumers’ desires change. Personally, I don’t want food when I’m not hungry. I don’t want to sleep when I’m not tired. I don’t want to replace my car when mine is working just fine. When I’m searching for cheap flights to France, I am not particularly interested in buying a French press.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of asking, What are people Googling when they want to buy? Instead they should first ask, When people want to buy, are they even sitting at a computer? In the ice cubes example, my potential customers want to buy my ice cubes during the moments between getting the can of soda out of the machine and pouring it in their cup. That’s when you’ll want to reach them.
3. Be at the right place, at the right time. So how do you get there when consumers want your product or service? All other moments and ways of getting to them will never compare to marketing that finds its way to this magic instant in time. In the ice cubes example, if I’m a cash-strapped entrepreneur I will use guerilla-marketing tactics and post signs on the soda machines at local businesses.
Or, if I’m looking to invest a little cash, I could consider vendor advertising, a vending machine partnership or try to produce and give away cups with an antibacterial handle that have a branded message on it. Again, there will be tons of possible examples, pick just one — the one you think will be the most effective.
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4. Expand the idea. If you aren’t super excited about your idea, go back a few steps, or even start over. Once you are totally satisfied, think about any minor tweaks that would still hit your target audience perfectly, but would cast a wider net. This is essentially unwinding the super-narrow focus you defined originally.
This process works well for busy entrepreneurs because you can do it as a sit-down exercise or as something you think about when you have just a few minutes. You can also make many of your interactions a jump-start to the process. After every sale, ask: Who were they? What were they doing? How can we get to others like them?
This story originally appeared on Young Entrepreneur