As a longtime marketing strategist and founder of Venture Drive Consulting, Mark Kotzer has amassed over 20 years working with what he terms “scrappy entrepreneurs.” From helping small business owners craft a vision and business model, to product launches and sales development, the Seattle-based Kotzer—whose clients have included Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser—has carved a niche for himself as a go-to-resource for companies seeking to advance to the next stage. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian caught up with Kotzer to discuss how entrepreneurs can better know their customers without being invasive and how that market intelligence can be used to boost sales.
ID: What’s the best way for entrepreneurs to know their target demo or audience?
MK: Part of that is going to be derived from the thought processes you put forth when you first started your business. Hopefully, the company will have created a business plan or a branding strategy that they will keep updated at times. One of the things I’ve found with companies is that they think about who their target audience is before they open and then not again. It may be prudent for companies to revisit who their customers are at least once a year. Part of that is going to be driven by who is actually buying the types of products being sold in your store. I strongly recommend that businesses focus on or identify the top 5 percent of their customers. That’s going to give you a much more meaningful indicator of who your target customer should be. You will have lots of people who are “lookers” but not “bookers.”
MK: The pros are that if you treat the information well, your customers are going to view you as not just a retailer but as a real resource. They’re going to look at you as someone whom they can count on for good advice or to help them solve a problem. Through the loyalty or trust they develop in you over time, they’ll become less price-sensitive and more brand-loyal. And that’s ultimately what the retailer wants. If you’re able to demonstrate through the information you provide on your website and through the quality of service and attention that you provide in-store, customers are going to reward you with their business and be a much greater referral vehicle as well. It’s that stickiness factor that you want.
ID: And the cons?
MK: If you become too aggressive with the information. It’s a relationship that needs to build over time. With all the information at your fingertips nowadays—particularly if you’re online—retailers can go overboard if they’re too overt or too direct. Saying things like, “We understand what you like or what you’ve purchased in the past” can feel too forward. It needs to be clear to the customer why you’re sharing that information. Also, if you’re asking them to share lots of information during a website registration or before they make a purchase, they’ll more likely enter incorrect information or discontinue that effort.
The other part of that is once they share [personal data] you’ve got to be judicious in how you use that. Look at it more in the aggregate and understand how that information can be better utilized to support the customers’ needs over time as opposed to being too direct. It’s a subtlety of the tone aspect that needs to be conveyed.
ID: So much current online advertising rests on behavioral targeting. What are your thoughts about this practice?
MK: For the small business owner it’s somewhat less of an issue. When you think of behavioral targeting, you think of the ads found on websites. I find it creates a lot of clutter and is a distraction. From the standpoint of a retailer, having ads on a website is a real negative. When people visit your website, that is a reflection of your brand. If you’re trying to be a trusted resource and you have ads that are popping up that are not related to your company—but are related to the specific visitor—then the customer will wonder what else you know about him or her and why do you know it? Retailers have to consider the overall impression their site will create and if there is any value to having ads there. Quite frankly, if the ads are not done well, they can even be competitive to the site itself. It can spur customers to leave your site because something popped up that interested them.
ID: What’s your best advice for entrepreneurs who want to know their audience without infringing on their privacy?
MK: Start out small and don’t be overly ambitious. Some entrepreneurs will insist that they have to be on Foursquare or other social media sites. And then they end up not doing anything particularly well. Whether it’s a frequent customer program—a punch card of some type if you’re a brick-and-mortar store or a loyalty program on your website—really focus on how you can best serve those people who clearly have demonstrated a repeated interest in your product. Build on that loyalty by providing incentives for them to purchase more. And over a period of time, give them opportunities to request more information from your business and share more information about themselves.
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