On a sunny day last week, I walked through the historic Sydney suburb of Glebe for no other purpose than to enjoy a cafe lunch and browse 2nd hand book stores.
What I was to discover, however, was startling proof of “The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma”.
This is a social-psychological phenomena that plagues innocent business owners – sowing the seeds of self-doubt and financial disaster.
Want to know what it is?
Unisex (isn’t the answer)
On my stroll, I walked past an interesting kind of store.
A sign (you can see it on the left) lured me towards the store’s proudly displayed merchandise.
Unisex is an interesting idea simply because male/female differentiation is one of the more traditional demographic gaps.
Today, more and more businesses are discovering that increasing the gender focus of their products is a valuable move. Coca-Cola, for example, recently made the decision to market Diet-Coke to women, while reserving Coke-Zero for a high octane, testosterone driven campaign for young guys.
However, there are plenty of things in the world that benefit from being unisex.
Wine (luxury or otherwise), travel and real estate seem like great examples of industries where gender is irrelevant and unmeasured. They’re unisex by default.
So what was so unusual about this cheap, “NEW” item of undetermined gender?
The sign was attached to a rack of shirts
This store was the kind of budget clothing outlet that hocks off un-branded beach clothes to passing student travellers.
Shirts (T-shirts especially) have always been potentially unisex, but no one ever advertises them as such.
The store owner meant well in this scenario and the basic logic is simple: If you advertise shirts to both men and women, you should double the chance of a sale.
When you try to appeal to anyone, you end up alienating everyone.
As you may be able to see from the photo below, the shirts are unusual… but there wasn’t anything wrong with them.
What is wrong is how full the rack was. Clearly the shirts were not moving out the door.
I can’t help but think that the store owner would have been more successful if he had put a sign up that said:
“Crazy hippy beach shirts – $5”
… because that would grab the attention of every free-thinker headed to the beach!
What does this mean for your business?
I got an email from a client yesterday, asking my advice on a proposed re-brand and new focus for her business.
As a financial advisor, she was considering the one of the following options:
1. Focus entirely on working with female business owners as a specialist advisor
2. Go after women in business, newly graduated students, young professional couples and families
Friends told her that she’d be very brave to go for option one’s niche focus. Others thought she’d be stupid to “limit” herself.
I cant help but wonder if the T-Shirt store guy was afraid of the “limitation” too.
At the heart of it, many entrepreneurs have a powerful fear of “potential loss” tickling the back of their brain. The thought of all those customers outside of your target market, who won’t buy from you,Â is kind of scary right???
Reality check: Be scared if you’re not in a niche
Internet marketing folks have known this truth for a while – but the lesson is just as relevant for today’s real world, brick-and-mortar entrepreneur:
By trying to target the “Mass Market” you put yourself in competition with the biggest brands in your industry. These are the corporates that have multi-million dollar ad budgets. You will not win.
The world (or even my client’s city) does not want or need another financial advisor – but an expert on helping female entrepreneurs plan their financial life might be useful.
I ended the email dialogue by challenging my client to target only entrepreneur mothers! This would take her niche to a whole other level – and give her an excuse to market to any number of coffee groups and day-care centres.
Besides, if she does a good job and word spreads… I’m positive it wouldn’t be a problem to work with the occasional non-entrepreneurial mum (or even… *gasp*… a dad).
It isn’t so much about the day to day reality of doing business – it’s about the story you are telling and the message it sends.
Let’s face it – occasionally some guys buy girl’s t-shirts (it’s actually a fringe fashion in some parts)… and women often buy small sized men’s clothes.
Let your prospect customers know who they are and why you’re right from them. Success only happens when you overcome the fears that prevent this.
What kind of message is your business sending?
Could you overcome your fear and target a more specific group of customers?
Let me know what you think – by leaving a comment (scroll down)