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Stop Selling So Hard to Nobody…Do This Instead

Jeff Loehr

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Recently I talked to a fledgling startup that is investing in importing coffee from Colombia to the United States.  Their first shipment of one and a half tons of coffee was in the works.  But sales and interest were not.

Their biggest marketing challenge: they were working hard to sell but they weren’t actually selling to anybody. They needed to define their market to sell anything

The first part of defining your market is: brand and marketing start with the customer

When I asked them who they wanted to sell to their answer was: “everybody”.

They wanted to be “bigger than Starbucks” and supply all of the 550 million cups of coffee served every day in the U.S.

There are some serious logistical hurdles to overcome not to mention the fact that a ton and a half of coffee might serve about 100,000 cups.  So, serving 550 million daily cups was, let’s say, unlikely to happen quickly.

The reality was that they only had to sell the ton and a half they had floating on the water.  But by defining their market as the 550 million cups served daily they fell into trap marketers fall for: defining their market by what they were selling.

In this case, coffee.

Further, they assumed that selling coffee to a small fraction of the market would be easy.  They figured they had a superior product and coffee is… coffee.

But that is not how customers see the market – they are looking for something specific.

Which leads us to the second part of defining your market: selling to everybody is the same as selling to nobody.

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to look at a market and see it as a whole.

We want to sell our product to anybody who consumes something similar, we essentially want to sell “coffee” to “coffee drinkers”.

Anybody who wants coffee is a potential customer.

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But from a customer perspective, the market doesn’t exist that way.  There is no “coffee market”.

Customers are very specific.

There is the coffee they like and the coffee they don’t like.  Some want organic coffee, others want artisanal coffee and a third group wants (yes, it is true), Folgers.

There is even the segment that loves Dunkin Donuts coffee (which somebody must explain to me).  And then there is the café crowd that wants shots of flavored syrup and non-fat almond milk blended iced macchiato specials.

The market, any market, and every market, ONLY exists as segments – groups of buyers who share a similar interest.

In the coffee market, taken together all of these make up the 550 million cups a day, but most of the cups have very little to do with one another.

Drinking Folgers is anathema to the artisanal crowd so there is no way to sell to both.

If you try to keep both Folgers and artisanal coffee drinkers happy, if you are selling to both segments at the same time, you are selling to nobody.

The intuition that pushes us to appeal to the broader market is wrong. 

Unexpectedly, the narrower you define your segment the larger your market actually is.

And, by the way, marketing to a niche is easier and costs less.

Which leads us to the solution:

Defining your market effectively it is a question of focus:

1.     Define your market and who you are going to sell to.  You want this as narrow and concise as possible.  You can always add another segment later but if you are not talking to a segment now you are talking to nobody.

2.     Understand what is missing in your segment’s life.  Something is missing otherwise there is no opportunity for you to sell.  So define the gap that you fill with your product.

3.     Show how you will fill that gap and create the materials to market to your segment.

We think the BrandStory structure is incredibly useful in structuring your brand for your segment because it forces you to put the customer first.

But whether you use our format or your own, the most important step you can take is to focus on a relevant segment.  You can sell to multiple segments, but realize that each one will need their own story their own strategy and often their own product.

Our coffee customer stopped selling to the world and started selling to high-end coffee drinkers in their hometown.

They presold the container before it arrived at a 20% premium.

This is a lot better than selling hard to nobody.  

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