So I was going home for Christmas 2015 (and enjoying yet another one of my #TransCanadaPunRun events – that totally needs to be a trending hashtag, guys) when all of a sudden, as I’m walking down the hallway of the Calgary Airport, some woman yells out, “Sir! Do you need a credit card?”
(I’ve done the same Christmas flight route for about 6 or 7 years now, and without fail, I can count on getting offered a credit card at the Calgary Airport EVERY. DAMN. TIME.)
I’ve never said yes, and I’ve never shown interest. But I’ve definitely seen people getting credit cards at that kiosk, so that woman has to be doing something right. (My bet is that since she’s in one of Canada’s busiest airports, there are so many people walking past that if she keeps yelling, eventually someone will get a freaking credit card.)
This is direct marketing. And the people who do it can find success – I once heard somebody say that you could strap an order form to a dog’s back, and if he went to enough houses, eventually he’d make a sale – but it’s not all that efficient.
First of all, my bank treats me very well, thank you very much, and if I’m going to get a new credit card, I’m going to get it through my current bank. And secondly, I’m a firm believer that for most people, one credit card is more than enough. (There’s a case to be made for a separate card for business purposes, plus one for emergencies, but beyond that, credit cards are a trap. Even Admiral Ackbar agrees.)
So clearly, I’m not this woman’s ideal customer. I don’t need another credit card, and I’m happy enough with my current lender, so I’m in no rush to open a new card. I’ve also done the airport thing enough times that I just want to get where I’m going and be left alone, as opposed to the airport newbies who prefer to wander a bit before their flight.
See, the mistake this woman is making is that she just randomly calls people out as they walk by and ask if they want a credit card. Her target market is “everyone.”
And like I said earlier, that kind of marketing CAN work – but it often doesn’t, especially if you’re running a small business. The more effective, more efficient, and less expensive approach? Targeting.
The issue that most business owners run into, though, is that they think they need to target everyone. The intuitive line of thought would be that by targeting only certain people, you’re limiting your message – but what most business owners don’t understand is that you want to limit your message.
What’s the problem with targeting everyone? If it works for other people it’ll work for you, right? Well actually…not so fast. Here are just a few reasons why I would strongly urge you to get a target market. (And no, “Everyone” doesn’t count.)
Different people are different. (Shocking, I know.)
So why doesn’t “everyone” work as a target market? Well first of all, people are wonderfully unique and different. No two people you will ever meet are exactly the same. They may share certain traits or values, but at the end of the day, everyone on the planet is unique. And although “Different people are different” may sound like a tautology, there are nuances that business owners need to understand.
Let’s talk about my credit card example. I was raised to believe that credit cards are a necessary evil. Sure, some of them offer fun and interesting rewards, but at the end of the day, a credit card company is still a business – and the primary function of any business is to make money.
And if the credit card company is out to make money, that means they’re out to take money from me. How do they do this? Interest rates and annual fees.
The other big reason why I’m so very against credit cards is because I’ve heard far too many horror stories about people getting themselves into terrible debt by using credit cards irresponsibly.
The reason I only have one credit card is because I know, from my years as a financial writer, how awful credit card debt is. Seriously, you guys. Credit card debt can mess. You. Up.
So for me, credit card companies are about as evil as Satan kicking a puppy while cutting veteran benefits and dissing Firefly. That’s why if you offer me a credit card, my response will be, “I already have one of those, thanks.”
But let’s take someone else for example. Let’s talk about a man named….Bob. Bob is a compulsive deal-seeker. He’s always looking to gain an edge in life, no matter the cost. Bob wants free flights and free meals and free cars and a free house. So if you offer Bob a credit card, he’s probably going to ask about reward systems and points. And at the end of the day, if he likes what he hears – if you offer him enough free flights – Bob is going to sign up right on the spot.
Clearly, these airport credit card people are looking to sell to the Bobs of the world, not the Mikes. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when you just start indiscriminately shouting your offers for the whole world to hear, you’re joining a worldwide chorus of “Look at me!” advertising that people have long ago learned to drown out.
The fact of the matter is this: We like people who are like us. We are drawn to people who share our values. Psychologists have studied this, and what they’ve found is that people are FAR more likely to rate a stranger as likeable if they perceive that stranger as similar to themselves.
And if you can pinpoint the people who are most likely to respond to your message, you’ll boost your response rate.
It’s like the difference between hunting with a shotgun and hunting with a rifle. With a shotgun, you can scatter buckshot in a wide spread and try to take out half a dozen grouse all at once – but there’s a good chance that you’ll miss most of them.
Whereas if you’re hunting those same grouse with a rifle, then you have a much better chance of bagging one, because you can take precise aim right for its heart instead of just firing wildly and seeing what happens.
And in this case, when you shoot that shotgun blast, most of the people in the line of fire know how to dodge your ammunition. When you simply put something out into the world, people know they’re being marketed to – and they tune out. Because when people see 5000 different ads every single day, they quickly learn to tune out what isn’t immediately relevant to them.
Could you imagine if you actually paid attention to every single ad you saw for your whole life? You’d go crazy from overstimulation. That’s why people learn to ignore things that aren’t relevant to them – it’s an evolved psychological mechanism designed to preserve one’s sanity.
One way that people do this?
Whenever they see anything in an ad that isn’t directly relevant to or true about them, they tune out.
That’s why I strongly caution writers to avoid gendering their brand messaging unless they’re aiming for a gendered demographic. I once had a writer working under me who submitted some copy about fashion trends that only addressed women’s fashion, when the client was a general fashion outlet. The piece talked all about high-heeled shoes and dresses and umbrellas, but said nothing of suits, ties, or belts.
So I sent the piece back to the writer, with edit requests to add copy about suits and belts in order to draw in male readers, because the store was trying to appeal to both genders.
So if you try to include everyone in your marketing, you’re inadvertently going to say something that turns off some people – and if what you say is going to turn people off either way, it’s better to do it deliberately. It’s better to target.
It’s better to be a sniper.
A sniper is slow, methodical, and deadly. A sniper doesn’t just blindly fire his weapon off into the night and hope something good happens. He surveys his target for days. Weeks, even. He learns his target’s regular movements. He learns his target’s patterns and habits. He chooses a place to shoot from that offers a clear vantage point and little wind resistance. He carefully selects the bullet best designed to hit the target. And then when it comes time to take the shot, he slowly breathes in, carefully takes aim…and fires off a single round. Because a single round is all he needs. He’s done his homework, and he knows that bullet is going to get the job done.
And in business, it pays to be a sniper. A sniper doesn’t need to buy nearly as much ammunition as a shotgun hunter, which makes the sniper lean. A sniper knows that he’s going to make the kill, whereas the shotgun hunter has to simply hope.
What does that look like in marketing?
It looks like complex buyer persona profiles that are so thorough that they might as well be talking about an individual person. It looks like buyer profiles that actually delve into the why – the psychological processes at work in the buyer’s mind – instead of just relying on shallow psychographics.
It looks like a laser-focused message aimed straight at your ideal buyer’s head.
Because when you’re speaking directly to the people who desperately want what you sell, the people whose beliefs are already aligned with yours, you don’t just win the sale – you win a repeat customer. You win the game that is business.
And that’s worth far more than the value of just one sale.