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Building Buzz in a New Market Ready to grow your business? Follow this step-by-step approach to winning new customers.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Are you ready to put your business on a fast growth track? Now's a great time to invest in programs to grow your business in 2006. After all, to successfully stay ahead of inflation, you must incrementally increase sales year after year, and anything less than a strong growth curve may actually signal stagnation, or worse--a slow decline.

Just start with this step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Choose the Best Way to Grow
Begin by deciding which growth strategy is right for your company. For example, you may choose to offer new or improved products or services (called line extensions) to segmented groups drawn from your current target audience. Products with new features can grab the attention of lapsed customers and revitalize sagging market share--just so long as the new products and services don't cannibalize sales of your old ones until you're ready to phase them out.

You can see good examples of successful line extensions by visiting any supermarket or drugstore. Boca Foods Company , for example, which once sold primarily soy burgers, now sells meatless lasagna, sausage links and chicken patties. And you won't find just one type of shaving cream or razor from major manufacturers such as Gillette , which went from selling disposable blade refills to marketing disposable razors. Instead, you'll find a wide variety of line extensions that appeal to slightly different segments of the target audience--as well as meet the changing needs of a wide range of customers.

If offering line extensions isn't right for your business, another smart growth strategy would be to target a new niche market. You can offer these new customers your present product or service, a specially enhanced and relaunched version of what you currently provide, or even something entirely new. Imagine you offer customized software solutions exclusively to law firms. You might find a way to make alterations to your product and service mix that would appeal to medical practices, for example. Or you might create a new type of software solution to take on a very different niche market, such as restaurants.

Step 2: Answer Three Questions
To effectively prepare to approach a new market, you'll need to answer several important questions:

  • What similar products or services does this target market buy now?
    Every new product or service entry into an established market niche must take market share away from something else. That makes it essential to understand who your new competitors will be. Put yourself in your prospective customers' shoes and look at their wide range of buying options. Identify your potential competitors and learn everything you can about their products and services. This is the smart way to get the information you need in order to effectively position against them.
  • How will your new product or service add value for the customer?
    When you introduce a product or service to any market, you must differentiate from the vast field of competition. Decide how your new offering will stand apart as a better value. Special features or offers, such as convenient free delivery or 24-hour customer service (provided they're not already offered by your competitors) will be perceived as value-added perks that'll help induce customers to make the switch.
  • Which audience segments will be most receptive to what you offer?
    Just as you've observed in the drugstore with all the various modifications of razors, certain features will appeal to specific target audience subgroups. Learn everything you can about who your best prospects will be and what they might want from you. It's often smart to enter a new product category by aiming at a relatively narrow target audience. For example, the software consulting firm I've mentioned might decide to target restaurants, but only those that are privately owned, with seating capacities of 250 or less, in three major markets.

Step 3: Identify Your Potential Sales Channels
Companies that add line extensions have the advantage of established sales channels. In other words, it's likely that your new products or services will be distributed and sold in the same way as the existing ones, even though they may target different audience subgroups. On the other hand, approaching an entirely new market for a product may require you to create relationships with new distributors. It doesn't matter whether you introduce a product or service--you'll need to create an in-depth marketing program that begins by educating your new prospects and successfully moves them through the sales cycle.

Decide whether you'll sell through sales reps, retail outlets or directly. Then, with this information in mind, you'll be ready to create an effective marketing program to tackle your new market.

Step 4: Craft Your Message
Your marketing campaign will require a sound creative theme or message. Consider the hot buttons and special needs of your specific target audience members. What unique benefits and features will your product or service provide to them? Factor in what you know about your competition and focus on the benefits (key selling points) that'll help you position against them. Above all, your creative message should communicate how what you offer will add value above and beyond what's currently available in the marketplace. This distinction--a vital means of differentiation--should become an integral part of the creative message.

Using this information, write a brief, one-paragraph creative platform. This simple document will be essential to the development of all your marketing materials, from brochures and ads to press releases.

Steps 5 Through 8

Step 5: Scale Your Campaign
This step is important for entrepreneurs that sell directly to other businesses or consumers. Marketing in its many forms exists solely to support sales. Before embarking on any promotional campaign, decide exactly how your company will support the leads and sales generated and scale your marketing program accordingly. For example, if you have a three-person sales team and each of these individuals can handle approximately 20 leads a week, engaging in a campaign that would throw 40 leads per week in their path would be disastrous, resulting in frustrated prospects and bad word-of-mouth--two elements that could immediately torpedo your efforts. Plus, overreaching also involves overspending, so decide in advance exactly what you want to see happen and create a marketing campaign scaled to meet that goal.

Step 6: Create Pre-Rollout Buzz
Numerous new product and service offerings get off to a flying start thanks to efforts that build interest and excitement prior to and during a rollout. Depending on what you market, you may benefit from sharing information early with "influentials" or "influencers." Influentials are considered experts in their particular arenas, whether that encompasses digital cameras or cosmetics. They may include product reviewers, bloggers or influential teens (members of the "in group"), just to name a few. Influencers are often professionals with direct access to your prospects who are capable of making referrals, or they may be consumers who help guide decisions for others (such as the way middle-aged children of senior parents are often called upon to help choose the best healthcare or nursing home options).

Some forward-thinking companies now use their websites as gathering places for influential "community" members. You can form an advisory group, or merely identify an important set of core customers (influencers), to receive information and invitations to participate in the development of new products or ideas. This is bound to build excitement and get buzz rolling.

Step 7: Win Favorable Press
Suppose you want to introduce your product or service to a new national market but don't have the deep pockets it takes to buy advertising on that level. Solid media relations will let you place stories in well-targeted media. Even with a local story, media relations can jumpstart any product or service introduction or help you introduce your existing product to a new market niche. The key is to tailor your stories to the needs of the specific media you target. A press release concerning how a new product expansion will benefit the business community is a natural fit for the business section of the local newspaper, for example, while information about the innovative nature of the new technology the product uses will best fit the needs of tech websites or trade/industry publications.

Create a media relations list, taking into consideration the different types of stories you hope to generate. Next, create specific releases to meet the needs of the individual media outlets. Send your releases and follow-up by telephone and have a full press kit handy to send to journalists who are interested in learning more.

Step 8: Place Your Advertising
The smartest advertising buys are ones that allow you to reach your most qualified prospects in the right context or, better yet, when they're in a position to buy what you sell. Putting your message in the proper context lets you communicate with your prospects when they're in precisely the right frame of mind. Suppose you invented a new type of home insulation that you were marketing directly to consumers. A successful media placement would put your ad on a webpage where consumers are reading articles about home insulation and energy savings. You'd reach an audience that was highly qualified and actively interested in what you were selling.

Where will your best prospects get information on what you plan to market? From pay-per-click advertising on search engines and traditional print and broadcast media opportunities to the newest place-based media, there are numerous ways to reach literally every market niche. For superior results, come up with a mix of media that reach qualified prospects in the right context at the right time and your promotional campaign will effectively tackle that new market.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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