The Rocky and Bullwinkle Effect: Why You Should Consider Marketing to Multiple Audiences

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Common small-business advice is often centered around finding a niche to market to instead of trying to serve to many customers. Perhaps the real question is whether your small-business sales will ever skyrocket if your marketing scheme is too narrowly focused to a very specific audience.

Choosing the right message often requires you to target two or more audiences with very different interests.

If this seems like an impossible goal, jump into the Way Back Machine and look at Rocky and Bullwinkle. Children loved this cartoon show, but their parents happily watched, too. The cartoons spoke to them because of their underlying adult themes referring to the Cold War (remember Boris and Natasha?) and even Fractured Fairy Tales. This is often the case in children’s entertainment -- see Disney movies, the Muppets and the Simpson’s as examples. If cartoon writers can hold the interest of two diverse sets of viewers week after week, then advertising to multiple audiences is worth exploring.

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Here are the basic principles:

Begin by identifying everyone in your target audience.

This first step forms the basis for everything else that you do in your marketing campaign. Do it thoroughly and your marketing campaign can help boost your sales. Do it haphazardly and you may find that the best product ever invented will not meet your sales goals.

Here's an example that shows what can go wrong by failing to identify all of the people in your product's audience. According to a New York Times article, the inventor of Cow Wow developed cereal-flavored milk based on his childhood memories of enjoying the last slurp of milk in his cereal bowl. It seems logical that his initial marketing scheme targeted children, but he may have been off base.

Because product consumers are not always the ones who actually make the purchase, your target audience is often not only from one group. In this case, children may pester their moms to buy the milk, but mothers control the purse strings -- and they're very good at saying "no!" Priced higher than other similarly-packaged milks, Cow Wow did not fly off of store shelves. Perhaps if mothers walked into the store knowing that Cow Wow is low-fat and organic, they might have been willing to pay the extra 20 cents and put it in their carts.

The story doesn't stop there, though. When a Cow Wow distributor placed the product in a college food court, sales took off. Even before that, Jimmy Kimmel discovered the product and attracted an older audience by extolling Cow Wow's virtues on late-night TV -- a magnet for millennial viewers. No one could have predicted this accidental advertising, but if Kimmel recognized the product's older audience, perhaps the company should have seen it, too.

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Package the product for the right audience.

Back in the '80s, store shelves became loaded with generic products with utilitarian black-and-white labels targeted at the lower-income consumer, but how many of these products do you see today? Generic products still exist, but they now sport store brand names, pictures and all of the components of the more expensive name brands. In other words, packaging matters -- especially if you want to attract middle- and upper-income customers as well.

Unless buyers are shopping for a specific brand, they typically choose one product over another based on the packaging and the higher income customers want even a store brand to connote something higher-end. Back to the milk example, a cartoon cow on a drink box with a straw may draw in kids and their moms. If you want to attract millennials, however, put a screw top on the carton and cool shades on the cow.

Recognize that media matters.

Another important facet of marketing is that consumers differ in the way they consume content. They do not always watch the same TV shows, read the same magazines or spend time on the same websites, social platforms and apps. For example, household do-it-yourselfers may make a mental note of the products advertised on home improvement shows, but they may not be tempted to buy a product until their spouses want the latest and greatest improvements that they saw on Pinterest.

This means that you may have to choose an array of media and use customized messaging for each one. You have to meet two goals: establish a need and then, make the sale. Your media mix has to create a synergy between everyone who is ultimately involved in the buying decision.

Keep in mind that you need to address the above points even if you retain an advertising agency to handle your product messaging. In fact, good agencies will probably force you to think long and hard about your target audience if you haven't already done so. Regardless of who handles your marketing tasks, remember that the best product and slickest advertising in the world mean nothing if the right people don't see it.

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