As an advertising consultant, the first thing I ask clients is “Who is your target market?” Many times the response I get it is “Um, well…everyone I suppose?” When I hear that line I immediately know that there’s a hell of a lot of work to do.

Not being able to specify your target market is a cardinal sin, and underestimating the importance of knowing your target market is bad for your business. The reason is that no brand can possibly be all things to all people. You can’t construct an advertising campaign that will cater to everyone, because everyone is different. The companies that prosper are those that have clearly identified a target market and know how to seamlessly communicate with that market.

In 1996, the Victoria University Students Union was lobbying to have a wider variety of food available in the University food court. They weren’t gaining much ground as the University cafeteria held a firm monopoly. Along came a company called Hell Pizza, which set up its first store right next door. Hell Pizza’s entire branding was tailored towards students; the sinister name, the controversial menu titles, the whole shebang. Only days after opening, it became a sanctuary for hungry students wanting to get away from the campus and enjoy some exotic pizza. So it wasn’t long till the store had a cult-like following among these students. Today Hell Pizza has over 80 outlets across the country and the company’s target market has not changed. Furthermore, the company has not tried to broaden its target market because it’s already got a good thing going. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

All too often, I have seen business owners get caught up in self-indulgent thinking, where they forget that people just aren’t interested in their business as much as they are. Recently a client of mine expressed interest in advertising his product across a two-page spread in the Listener. His initial approach was to show a picture of his product accompanied with a list of its benefits. He brought along a copy of his plan to our first meeting, and frankly, it was a mess. The text convoluted the ad and was a strain to look at. The ad didn’t demand attention; it expected attention. It is hard enough getting people to read short and sweet ads, let alone screeds of text from top to bottom. Fortunately, the client was persuaded to take a different approach. Together we simplified things with an attention-grabbing headline, and we provided a link for readers to find specific information should they wish to.

An advertisement isn’t an opportunity to lecture consumers about your business. All the elements of an ad must be instantly engaging and interesting. Ideally you want to grab the consumer’s attention in a way that seems like a coincidence. Think of your advertising like flirting – if you come on too strong, it’s usually a major turnoff. Your advertisement is a lure, a piece of bait that’s supposed to make consumers curious and excited about your business. Ideally it’ll make them want to independently do their own research into your business.

Before putting pen to paper, business owners must do some intensive market research. Identify your target market and then find out everything you can about them; their likes and dislikes, their dialect, their values and so on. The more you know about your consumers, the more equipped you will be to communicate with them effectively and sell your product or service to them. And when it comes to designing an ad campaign, make sure to always put yourself in your consumers’ shoes and speak to them the way they want to be spoken to. Then and only then, do you stand a real chance of winning them over.