Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sell to Your Customers

I was thinking about this when I saw the new design of a local newspaper.

When I worked at The Miami Herald, we had two separate "redesigns" aimed at making the paper more appealing to younger readers... or to be more accurate, non-readers. Neither effort was successful, but sitting through some of the focus groups was a trip. If we'd listened to them, among other things, we'd have abandoned the broadsheet format and turned into a tabloid, but there was no chance the Herald would have done that. "Tabloid" has become synonymous with sleeze so, uh-uh!

But I've always felt that newspapers should not only try to hold onto their current readers ("retention"), but also market to people who are likely to be interested in the actual content of the paper. Radical, I know!
(Don't get me started...)
Marketing to people who don't want your product

The cost of acquiring new customers is far greater than the cost of retaining current ones. So why do some companies put nearly all of their marketing efforts into trying to attract new customers, and almost none into retaining the ones they already have and selling them complementary products and services?

Turnover — "churn" — is a problem in any business, and gaining new customers is a must, but some companies put too much effort into marketing to people who are not interested in their product.

Newspapers are a good example. People can get their news online whenever they like, so newspaper readership is in decline. A few years ago, one major-market newspaper conducted a series of focus groups and identified young females who didn't read a daily newspaper as their target. They initiated a marketing campaign focusing on the paper's "utility," which they defined as its value as a resource for making choices about shopping, entertainment, and other diversions. The function of the newspaper as a source of actual news was a distant second in the campaign.

They ran TV and radio spots, but it was hardly a saturation effort. The result: Circulation actually went down.

But if they had, instead, focused on the real reasons that people use their product — to stay informed or follow favorite sports teams; because it's a nice way to start the day or a good tool to acclimate to a new city — they might have had a chance. They would have been playing to their strengths. But to pursue people who didn't give a rat's ass about the things that a newspaper actually provides was a losing strategy.

If your product is failing in the marketplace, try to fix it. And while you are doing that, make sure you hold on to your current customers. Duh!

There's no point in spending ad dollars to go after a share of prospective customers' brains, especially in this time-starved, attention-deficit, instant-gratification environment, if your product is not good to go.

On the other hand, testing in low-risk and inexpensive situations is smart. You need to do that continuously, in fact. It will help you define your product and refine your message. But whatever you are marketing, don't waste your time and dollars trying to sell ice to Inuits. Or snowshoes to surfers.

Originally appeared on

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