The Broader Your Target, The Smaller Your Market

Stop working so hard selling to nobody

Recently I worked with a fledgling startup that was investing in importing coffee from Colombia to the United States.  Their first shipment of one and a half tons of coffee was on the way.  

But, nobody was buying.

Because they didn’t know who their customer was.

Your Brand, Your Marketing Should Start With The Customer

You think that you know this. Everybody says focus on the customer, everybody thinks they focus on the customer.

Except that you probably don’t. Most people don’t, you think you are talking about the customer but really you are contorting statements about yourself to make them look like they are customer focused.

But they aren’t.


It took us about five minutes to identify the biggest marketing challenge facing our coffee entrepreneurs: they were working hard to sell but they weren’t actually selling to anybody.

When I asked who their customer was, their answer was: “everybody”.

They wanted to be “bigger than Starbucks”. Their goal was to supply all 550 million cups of coffee served every day in the U.S.

There are some serious logistical hurdles to overcome not to mention the fact that a ton and a half of coffee might serve about 100,000 cups.  So, serving 550 million daily cups was, lets say, unlikely to happen soon.

But ignoring all of that they had a huge marketing issue: by trying to sell to everybody they weren’t selling to anybody. 

I see this as the definition of not knowing your customer. Sellers, entrepreneurs, look at a market as a whole. 

We want to sell our product to anybody who consumes something similar, we essentially want to sell “coffee” to “coffee drinkers”. 

Anybody who wants coffee is a potential customer. 

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But from a customer perspective, the market doesn’t exist that way.  There is no “coffee market”.

There are no “coffee drinkers” in the U.S, even when they CALL themselves coffee drinkers. They all define coffee differently.

Customers see differences in coffee. 

There is the coffee they like and the coffee they don’t like. 

Some want organic coffee, others want artisanal coffee and a third group wants (yes, it is true), Folgers. 

There is even the segment that loves Dunkin Donuts coffee (which somebody must explain to me).  And then there is the café crowd that wants shots of flavored syrup and non-fat almond milk blended iced macchiato specials. 

The market, any market and every market, ONLY exists as segments – groups of buyers who share a similar interest. 



The coffee market, taken together, consumes 550 million cups a day, but most of the cups have very little to do with one another.

Drinking Folgers is anathema to the artisanal crowd - there is no way to sell to both. 

The end result is that to keep both Folgers and artisanal coffee drinkers happy, if you are selling to both segments at the same time, with the same message, you are selling to nobody. 

The intuition that pushes us to appeal to the broader market is wrong. 

You will sell more and appeal to more people by focusing on a narrow segment.  The greatest irony of marketing is that the smaller your segment the larger your market.

(Okay, there is a point where this is ridiculous and not true - but I suspect you are pretty far from that point).

And, by the way, it is easier and costs less. 

Which begs the question how?

In the end it is a question of focus and definition:

1.     Identify your perfect customer, get specific.  You want this as narrow and concise as possible.  You can always add another segment later but if you are not selling to someone specific, you are selling to nobody.

2.     Understand what is missing in your perfect customer’s life.  Something is missing otherwise there is no opportunity for you to sell.  People only buy to make themselves complete, to fill in a missing piece. So define the gap that you fill with your product.

3.     Show how you make your perfect customer complete then create the materials to market to your segment. 

We designed the EngageStory structure specifically to help you structure your brand to your target customer.

And the most important step you can take is to define your segment.  You can sell to multiple segments, but realize that each one will need their own story, their own strategy, and often their own product. 

Our coffee customer stopped selling to the world and started selling to high-end coffee drinkers in their hometown. 

They presold the container before it arrived at a 20% premium. 

This is a lot better than selling hard to nobody.