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What the 2012 Presidential Election Can Teach Startups About Finding a Niche Unlike in a presidential election where candidates look to ply their message to anyone and everyone, the best way to market a cash-strapped startup is to be direct.

By Kevin Hiser Edited by Dan Bova

Dave Granlund

Unlike the presidential candidates who can afford to sling mud from coast to coast, cash-strapped startups ought to seek a more directed approach to marketing.

This year, political action committees, candidates and political parties will spend an estimated $9.8 billion in advertising — the most expensive campaign in U.S. history, according to estimates from Borrell Associates Inc.

I live in the swing state of Ohio. Here, I've seen/heard/read countless ads from both parties. Although it's natural for a presidential candidate to want to reach everyone in the country with his message, I'm forced to wonder how much of that money is simply wasted. The candidates, it would seem, are trying to reach voters that share their worldview; voters that disagree with their worldview and voters that frankly don't know what worldview they have.

Related: 4 Steps to Creating Buzz on a Shoestring Budget

And though I could talk all day about wasted government spending, I'll get to the point. If you're attempting to market a startup and you don't have bottomless funds, it might help to first consider what not to do. (See aforementioned example.) Now, here's what you should do:

1. Be selective. You can't be all things to all people. While most products and services will provide value to multiple customer types and industries it is imperative that you identify whom your ideal customers are and say no to everyone else.

An example of selecting an ideal customer is WilliamPaid. The company allows renters to pay their rent online regardless of payment type. They have two ideal customers: renters and the landlords. From a technical standpoint, there is no reason that they could not accept payments for car loans, medical bills, utilities, etc. For whatever reason, they have chosen to focus on renters and landlords for now.

Related: How to Humanize Your Brand and Build Social-Media Buzz

2. Understand customers' worldview. Seth Godin, in his book, All Marketers are Liars, defines worldview as: "A set of rules, values, beliefs and biases people bring to a situation." Everyone that looks at your company has a different worldview and you need to understand those that matter. Consider the different people involved in the buying decision at your ideal customer company or household. Do you believe they all have the same biases, beliefs and values? Determine who matters, and what traits or offerings your company possesses that are of value to them.

3. Create a targeted message. Armed with the knowledge of who your ideal customer is and the understanding of their worldview, you can begin building a message that speaks specifically to them while staying true to the purpose of the company. Back to my earlier example: WilliamPaid has to understand and engage two primary worldviews. First, the perspective of a renter, addressing topics such as building credit, reducing late fees and paying with any form of payment. Second, the perspective of a landlord, who must address topics such as providing a better experience for renters, reducing the hassles of rent collection and reducing costs associated with collecting rent.

Being focused on a single customer type makes it easy for someone to tell a friend what WilliamPaid does after a few seconds of reading their website. If you did not know anything about Microsoft, would it be easy for you to tell a friend what they do in a sentence or two?

Related: Three Ways to Get the Media to Pay Attention to Your Young Company

4. Stay focused on those who care. Don't waste time trying to convince a customer that neither wants nor needs your products or services. Instead, focus on those who get it and want to actively pursue/spread the word about what you're offering. I am not saying to ignore all sales training that recommends looking for latent pain and being the first to help them see a solution. What I am saying is understand the difference between someone that really wants to explore the latent pain and solution vs. someone who is politely saying "no" but will let you spin your wheels anyway.

5. Repeat. At this point, hopefully your cash flow has ticked up and you have more time on your hands, consider broadening you ideal customer base but only to a degree. Again, you still can't be all things to all people.

How have you targeted your marketing efforts to be more efficient? Let us know in the comment section.

Kevin Hiser

President of QStart Labs

Kevin Hiser is the president of QStart Labs, a web development and startup advisory-services firm Columbus, Ohio. There, he and his team assist in the launch of 10 or more startups each year. Hiser is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and is always willing to take time to share thoughts and advice over a beer or coffee, so feel free to contact him anytime you want to bounce ideas around. And follow him on Twitter @khiser0001.

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