When Uber first entered the saturated world of on-demand food delivery, it wasn’t easy. Especially considering how crowded the space already is (consider Seamless, Postmates, Grubhub, and now Amazon). Still, UberEats took off, offering its menus in 120 markets around the world in just three years; it even earned more than Uber’s original ride-sharing platform.
Uber makes it look easy, right? But starting a business or transitioning into an already packed industry can be difficult, regardless of whether the company is a well-known conglomerate or a brand-new startup. To begin, business leaders should learn who their customers are — even before marketing. You’ll never attract an audience if you don’t know who your target is (or what their needs are).
That’s just the beginning. Squeezing your company into a tightly packed space also requires some flexibility. You’ll need to show customers you’re different — but not so different that you’re a shock to the system. If you’re subtle enough with your moves, customers will be delighted by your ability to meet their needs where legacy companies missed out.
If you’re a startup eager to stand out in a crowded industry, follow these tips to avoid being crowded out:
1. Hit the books. Again, you can’t go after a certain target market without knowing whom you’re targeting: What do your customers want or need? How do they communicate?
Your customers can either be your biggest warriors or your toughest detractors, so know who will be using your product or service the most. Afterward, identify problems you can solve for those customers (and which customers are most likely to be interested in your startup’s solutions).
Once you’ve studied your primary consumers, you can’t stop researching. Begin secondary research by segmenting customers and researching specific behaviors. This will provide better insights into the types of channels to use when communicating with customers, as well as the best contact times. Such personalization is a major component of customer relationship management, which is why StockBrokers.com gave Scottrade the “Best Overall Client Experience” title for five years in a row. The company’s stellar customer service, based on personalization, merited the accolade every year.
2. Keep track of news and linguistic trends. While this might sound like a continuation of research, some components involved in tracking news trends differ. First, noting industry trends, economic growth, and business shifts — whether good or bad — will keep you apprised of customer needs and keep you nimble when the market is fickle. Second, you’re not just looking for customer insights; you’re also looking for inspiration for the direction of your startup, so don’t lose sight of news from other companies, regardless of their size.
As you read more, pay attention to new terms that may surface (or old ones you haven’t seen in a while). Add them to word clouds to monitor how your industry is changing and to discern new SEO terms to use in digital marketing efforts. Finally, word clouds can also provide a clearer idea of what widespread feedback (from both employees and customers) can mean.
3. Listen to your customers. Just like any important relationship, make sure you’re not talking at your customers. In fact, CustomShow contributor Justin Croxton suggests that entrepreneurs limit discussions about themselves to just 10 percent of a conversation, focusing the other 90 percent on resolving customer issues. Directing the conversation to customer issues demonstrates your proficiency in the industry.
Speak regularly with your customers, turn their success stories into content or case studies, and (if you’re business-to-business) demonstrate how their own companies can help others in social or blog content.
4. Express curiosity in your customers’ passion. You want people to see you for more than your business card, and so do your customers. Verse yourself on their work and discuss it, even when it’s not applicable to your industry. At the very least, it shows you care about them and not the money in their pockets.
For example, Marketplace Homes did this when it first shifted into the real estate space, a $155 billion industry, and focused on new construction in Detroit, the founders’ home city. It quickly homed in on a smaller target audience made up of sellers who wanted to swap out their homes for bigger ones: an audience of just thousands of people, rather than millions. It thus sold the most new homes to “move-up” buyers in Detroit because it listened to its customers desires and moved in to meet their needs when the competition didn’t.
Industries that already seem saturated can come across as untouchable, but by zeroing in on trends and customer relationships, you can squeeze into any space and carve out a corner. Use these four moves to show customers you’re more than just another blip on the screen — you’re here, and you’re here to stay.
For nearly 30 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. For 24 of those years, he has owned and run an agency. Additionally, Drew leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability through agency owner peer networks, consulting, workshops, and more.