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The Skinny on Finding Those Elusive Customers

by Renee Fellows

Renee Fellows

June 6, 2006— It’s a marketing jungle out there. Finding the right customers in the right place at the right time can be taken to the level of an art form. If you’re a small business owner, do you really have the time to devote tireless hours investigating, planning and implementing a high level plan to attract the right customer for your product or service? It doesn’t need to be as complicated as that if you take a few lessons from higher up in the marketing food chain and perhaps be willing to step outside your comfort zone a bit.

There are several schools of thought on target marketing – or the act of pinpointing your ideal potential customer(s) and then strategically reaching out to them via marketing tactics such as advertising, public relations and the Internet. One school believes that guerilla marketing tactics are the best way to approach the marketing plan with several tools in the arsenal such as networking, word of mouth advertising and referrals.

Another school is more conservative in their approach and uses tried and true methods of market research, testing and strategic implementation of a well-built plan. Whose concept is more effective? I believe that a solid plan uses all of the above mentioned tactics and relies on thinking a little outside the box of traditional marketing strategy.

Standing out from the crowd


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I recently attended a national scrapbooking convention where all of the traditional hobby vendors were present. Companies like Epson, Fiskars (makers of fine cutting products), Making Memories, as well as producers of embellishments, paper, and adhesives along with the latest newcomers to enter the market were in attendance. But one company stood out from the crowd – Skinny Cow Low Fat Ice Cream treats. I must confess, they were the uncontested hit of the convention as they gave away (yes, for FREE), Skinny Cow ice cream bars in three different flavors. And, not only did they give away a ton of ice cream, they were a major sponsor of the event and had their logo placed on all entry ways, banners and promotional materials.

From their booth inside the show, the company passed out a special mini booklet about scrapbooking that included free Skinny Cow Croppin’ stickers, a $1 off coupon for a future purchase, and a free incentive offer with the purchase of three packages of ice cream treats – a scrapbooking supply organizer. Bear in mind that thousands, yes, I said thousands, of scrapbookers (mostly women between the ages of 18-55, middle class income with children) attended the convention and there was nary a woman there that wasn’t licking an ice cream bar as she shopped from booth to booth. I’m not sure about your house, but in a majority of homes, the weekly grocery purchasing decisions are made by whom? That’s right, the mom. This was an absolutely brilliant marketing moo-ve on the part of Skinny Cow. By positioning themselves directly in front of the market they were trying to capture, they single-handedly succeeded in engaging and gaining the attention of their perfect market in a single afternoon.

What this little story relays is that you can’t always rely on previous marketing tactics when a new opportunity may present itself. To be truly effective you must think outside the box and be willing to try new things to capture your market in places you might not always consider. Once you’ve located a new habitat for your perfect market, then go back to your stockpile of marketing weaponry and evaluate what may work to speak to them. Concentrate on ways to build tie-ins – those crafty co-marketing efforts between an event or product and your business. Skinny Cow tied their product to planning the perfect Scrapbooking Crop Party, an event where scrapbookers get together and work on new pages for hours at a time. What better place for munchies and delectable low-fat ice cream treats?

Hollywood is another great advocate for working the tie-in to the ultimate degree. Movie trailers feature exciting footage of your favorite star being hurled across the screen where in the background you see a Volkswagen Jetta as the getaway car. Companies pay millions to have their laptops, chocolate bars, and vehicles play a role in the 90-minute film you paid $9 per person to see. While you may not have the marketing dollars the big boys have, you can still play the same game if you’re shrewd. Talk with business associates that promote complimentary products or services and consider bundling your business with theirs to make an attractive package. Customers love to have one-stop-shopping and you’ll receive the additional advertising and marketing bump of teamed up resources.

Where to begin

So, now you’re probably wondering, ‘How do I get my business in front of the right audience on a shoe-string budget?’ A little leg work goes a long way and is no further than your local library. Inside you’ll discover numerous resources to help narrow your target market and hone in on where they live. To better understand their external environment or the geographic and economic conditions of your target try the Statistical Abstract of the United States via and printed census materials. Here you can research economic conditions by region, state, city or town via tables and other data.

While the information included is highly valuable, remember that we’re now in 2006 and that the census data collected in 2000 is now nearly seven years outdated, so plan for slight population trends and shifts. For demographic information (i.e., where your target market lives), try which has reconfigured census data and provides free and paid products in more user-friendly datasets. For psychographic data (how your target lives, e.g., do they own a dog, drive a motorcycle or like gardening) check out the Lifestyle Market Analyst which can provide deep insight into new trends you may not have previously considered.

Go forth and market!

Now that you’re armed with the necessary research, you’re ready to start using it to your advantage. While you may not have the budget to give away large quantities of your product or pay the expense a trade show booth can run, you may not need to. Thanks to the Internet, you can still capture your audience and experiment with marketing efforts in a more cost-effective way. Many show producers will sell their registration list in advance of the show. These are usually considerably less money and can provide you with an instant link to the registered attendees – a gold mine in marketing. Talk with the event coordinator and see if this is an option. They will more than likely direct you to a third party vendor who handles the electronic database for the show where you can then zero-in on your specific demographic profile.

Once you’ve purchased the list, try designing an eye-catching e-mail promotion that offers some type of affordable yet attractive incentive. For technical trade shows, white papers written on a new trend or product are usually a good draw. If you are planning on splurging and having a booth at the show, create a theme for the email that will coordinate with your booth and offer a prize or special drawing for a larger ticket item (digital cameras and iPods are great). Ask recipients to bring the email ad to your booth (be sure to provide your booth number and contact info so they can find you!) to register for your drawing. For one client show in Orlando , we used a baseball theme in keeping with the start of Spring Training in Florida . All of the booth’s workers were dressed in baseball team attire and had company branded baseballs as a giveaway. Attendees arrived in our booth with the advance email we sent them asking to hear about our newest product launch and to register for our digital camera. We were the hit of the show (no pun intended)!

If trade shows are completely out of your budget, investigate industry-specific publications where your target market might be reading. For Skinny Cow, a large part of their demographic happens to scrapbook and the largest scrapbook publication in the country is Creating Keepsakes magazine. With a readership of over 3.6 million annually, the magazine is widely-read and offers push advertising to their members whom have opted-in for special offers and product alerts via email. With a catchy design and offer, you can attract thousands in your own geographic area or even nationally. The same is true for those interested in performance vehicles, cooking, distance running or a litany of other specialized areas of interest.

So take a lesson from Skinny Cow and several other national companies as you build your own survival plan for the jungle. Do your research (or hire someone to do it for you) and train yourself and your staff to consider places you never thought possible to find your next great target market. By thinking outside traditional avenues, you can bring your product or service to a new level and capture a segment of the market while your competition is maintaining the status quo.

If you would like to know more about creating a marketing effort that can get your business noticed, contact Renee Fellows at ClearPoint Marketing Communications by calling (603) 434-9433 or email her at


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