Marketing to Customers (Who Aren’t You)

Growing your business is an exciting challenge.  It’s a time when you’re ready to take on new customers, and you feel like you’re ready for that “next step”.

Of course, if you’ve been only working with a few close clients or through word-of-mouth, you may find it difficult marketing and networking with people outside your social circle.  That’s understandable; it’s easier and more comfortable working with people with whom you have a lot in common.

However, diversity amongst customers is necessary to really expand your business, and is a great way to avoid having all your “eggs in one basket”.  But even mega corporations fall victim to major mistakes when it comes to marketing to a diverse audience.  Here are some “do”s and “don’t”s for reaching customers who are nothing like you.

Do your research.

There is an enduring (if slightly ridiculous) urban legend about General Motors expanding into international sales.  The legend goes that attempts to market the Chevy Nova in South American countries met with failure because no va in Spanish means “doesn’t go”.

According to popular web aggregator of urban legends Snopes.com, this tale is a myth.  And, upon further inspection, that makes sense.  After all, even in the ’70s, surely GM would have had someone fluent enough in Spanish to alert higher-ups about the possible translation issue?  Besides, even if the Nova legend were true, we savvy businesspeople of the 21st century surely know better now.

Enter, Twitter.  Though most Americans have a passing colloquial knowledge of Spanish now, in the digital era, technology has created a communications gap that spans generations instead of nationalities.

Now, there have too been too many Twitter scandals to ennumerate, but a recent marketing disaster illustrates just how bad it can be when a company tries to hitch onto a trend they haven’t fully researched.  When the #whyIstayed hashtag began trending, with former victims of domestic violence listing the reasons why they didn’t immediately leave abusive partners, pizza company Digiorno tweeted, “#whyIstayed You had pizza.”

Of course, Digiorno did not mean to make light of domestic abuse, and immediately issued an apology with the explanation that they hadn’t read what the hashtag was about before posting.  So failure to perform roughly 30 seconds of research resulted in a marketing disaster.

Don’t be needlessly specific in your marketing.

Companies often seem to think they need to change their message in order to reach a new audience.  Here they enter a minefield of marketing hazards, frequently falling prey to tropes and stereotypes, alienating the people whom they’d wished to include.

We have Bic to thank for the most hilarious trainwreck in unnecessarily-pointed marketing.  When Bic came out with a line of “For Her” pens, they were flooded with sarcastic Amazon reviews.  Customers rightly (and very snarkily) questioned why men and women would require distinct writing utensils.  Bic’s attempt at marketing toward a specific audience had unintentionally come across as condescending and ridiculous.

Whoever the customers you’re trying to reach are, your company hasn’t changed.  So instead of changing the message about the benefits and values of your brand, change your marketing channels.  Advertise in different channels, or across different platforms.  If you use physical signage or flyers, try different locations.  Just whatever you do…

Do be genuine.

Think back to your favorite high school teacher.  You’re probably thinking of someone who inspired you; someone who took an honest interest in your goals and success.

Now think back to that high school teacher who wanted desperately to be liked by their students.  Who tried too hard to be cool by talking and acting like a teenage and, as a result, was respected by no one.

So frequently when companies try to market outside of their comfort zone, they follow the cringe-inducing pattern of the second example, awkwardly squeezing into ill-fitting jargon and trends.  I will never forget a local tv ad, infamous in our area, for its inclusion of a senior citizen quoting, “Whoop, there it is!”

The ad was for a furniture retailer, and I doubt they attracted any new young customers through that awkward reference to an outdated rap song.  They would have been better served by providing something relevant and of value, for instance, payment plans for customers without established credit.

When you look at it closely, marketing to a diverse set of customers really isn’t that different from how you market to anyone.  By keeping the focus on your brand and the value you provide, you can maintain integrity and avoid any awkward pitfalls.

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