Why marketing to everyone could cost you your business

Shop window with handwritten sign sellotaped to it. The sign says "Sorry we are now closed". The implication is that by marketing to everyone your business will close

In the UK 60% of small businesses fail within the first 3 years. Why? Because they don’t make enough money. And how do businesses make money? Through their marketing activities. Want your business to fly? Stop marketing to everyone. 

One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is aiming their marketing at everyone.  Most don’t even think about it. When you ask them who their business is for they kind of shrug their shoulders, gesture vaguely and say ‘everyone’.

In this piece I’m going to outline why marketing for everyone is a dreadful idea and how it could cost you your business. I’m not a complete sadist, so I’ll also tell you what you should be doing instead.

Marketing to ‘everyone’

For small business owners who are marketer, financial director, operations director, HR, facilities director and administrator all at the same time, marketing can seem like a confusing and daunting task.

Most give little thought to who they’re targeting when they put a post on Instagram or create an advert for Twitter. 

Thousands of small business owners mistakenly believe the most effective way to get new customers is to reach out to as many people as possible. They cast the net far and wide to ‘get their name out there’  and ‘tell everyone’.

The reality is the exact opposite. 

The harsh truth is this: most people don’t want or need your product or service. You see, there is no product or service on this whole planet which is for everyone. Not one. So spending precious time and money marketing at ’everyone’ is the fastest route to failure.

We’re anyone

As Seth Godin says, when a business markets to everyone, what they’re saying is: “you can pick anyone, and we’re anyone”. Not exactly a roaring endorsement is it?

Think about yourself as a customer for a moment. Not a customer of your own business, but just a general customer. 

Imagine you are getting married and you need a caterer. You search online and find these adverts. Which would you pick to cater your wedding?

Advertisement titled "Caterers for you" The image is of a meat and cheese board with crackers and garnish. Underneath the copy reads" Let us take care of your catering needs! Weddings. Corporate Events. Parties. No event too big or small. Call us today on 08001234567, visit our Facebook page or caterers4u.com. This advert is marketing to everyone.
The advert is an image of cheese rounds which have been placed on top of each other to resemble a tiered wedding cake. The cheese style cake is decorated with grapes and figs. The headline of the advert reads "your wedding cuisine is our passion" and underneath the image it reads "Click here or call 0800123455 and speak to our experts". This advert is not marketing to everyone.

You’ll go for the one which specialises in weddings of course. As a customer, you have one problem – you need someone to cater your wedding. You’re looking for one solution – a wedding caterer.

Now I’m sure the process of catering for a wedding is similar to that for a corporate event or party. But, right now, in this moment, you are looking for a wedding caterer. 

The business which lists all the catering they offer has not solved your problem. In fact, they’ve probably created more problems for you because now you’re left wondering, “well CAN they do my wedding as I want it? I don’t want my wedding to feel like a corporate event so will these people even get it right? “

Solve one problem

As a customer you want you want one (1) solution to your one (1) problem. The ‘shopping list, we do everything’ style of advertising  is confusing.

As April Dunford, the goddess of positioning, says “The broader you focus, the more difficult it is to connect with prospects and convince them that your solution is the best one for them above all others.”

If you reach out to a wide audience and try to solve lots of their problems at once your prospects will be confused. They won’t know when to use you and how good you are at doing what they want, so they’re likely to ignore you in favour of someone else.

The facts speak for themselves. Targeting a group of people to solve their single problem will demystify your marketing making it crystal clear. 

Niche, not neglect

By focusing on one niche of people it doesn’t mean you neglect other needs you can help your customer with. It does mean you concentrate all your efforts on this one group and get yourself a fantastic reputation.

A close friend of mine works in legal services. He recently engaged with a group of lawyers who specialise in conveyancing for dental practices. When a dentist wants to buy or sell their practice, they call these lawyers. Bloody hell! What a tiny, specific niche! Impossible to make money there, surely? 

Nope, not at all! This practice is massive. They’ve been going for years and employ 50 people. Why? Because they direct all their efforts towards one specific group of people, one niche. They market their services to dentists looking to buy or sell their practice. So when a dentist wants that service, who they gonna they call? No, not ghostbusters, these lawyers.

Over time, they become known for conveyancing in the dentistry world. They create adverts and promotion solely around this one core element. They gain a reputation among dentists for doing this one specific thing. More and more dentists contact them. Their business grows and grows.

In reality, they do provide other services for their clients. Once the practice is bought, the dentists might need new contracts for their staff, so they call their trusted solicitors. These solicitors don’t neglect their customers so they’ll provide some other legal services too. 

They market themselves as conveyancers, they get most of their revenue from conveyancing, but they are not neglecting other needs their customers may have within their specific area.

So niching your customer base doesn’t mean you neglect other needs which you can service.  It means you focus all your marketing on your core competency and you become known for it. This is a very effective customer centric approach. And your customers will love you for it.

Get you some customers who luuuuurve you

Whatever your small business produces, there will be a group of people who will absolutely love it. It will change their lives. The’ll think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. They’ll use the product or service as much as possible. They’ll tell their friends about it. When you create new versions or upgrades, they’ll buy them too.

This group of people are the ones small business owners want to be talking to. 

Instead of ‘telling everyone’ about your business, make sure you’re speaking directly to those people who will absolutely love it. In marketing speak these people are often called the ‘target audience’, ’prospects’ or ‘avatar’. Personally, I like to call them your tribe.

If your marketing is ‘everything for everybody’ what kind of message are you sending? Target a very specific tribe for the win. Marketing to everyone is one of the biggest mistakes any small business can make. It’s a fast route to failure. 

Niche down or pack up and go home. Save yourself the agony of a long slow painful death. Find out who your tribe is. Focus all your marketing at them. It’s the single most effective marketing strategy there is. You’ll save yourself both time and money. The difference between success and failure boils down to one thing: marketing to your tribe.

In conclusion, all marketing experts recommend narrowing your focus to a small group. It’s great advice. Follow it. 

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