The Signs.com Small Business Guide to Vertical Marketing
by Nelson James
Some aspects of opening a small business come naturally to entrepreneurs: they’re passionate about their product or services and they love talking to customers and clients. But entrepreneurs aren’t always adept at marketing their services or thinking about how to focus their energy in ways that generate a profit. Our small business guide to vertical marketing will help you create and implement a plan. We’ll also give you a marketing plan example so you can see how our ideas work in the real world.
Before you jump in and start throwing money at marketing, you need to do a little research to figure out who your target customers are, where you can find them and how to create an effective message. The first thing to do is identify your vertical markets.
What is Vertical Marketing?
In the most basic sense, there are two kinds of markets: horizontal markets and vertical markets. These two terms simply refer to the types of customers you’re looking for.
Huge national chain stores like Walmart have horizontal markets. They market to everyone, because they carry a wide variety of products; such a wide variety that anyone might need at least some of the items Walmart has on its shelves. If you’re a consumer with a pulse and a few dollars in your wallet, you are Walmart’s market. So, the company directs its advertising to everyone—the general public.
Small businesses can’t compete with Walmart. They don’t have the buying power, or the square footage to stock in millions of products. So, they do better carrying more specialized products, and therefore, benefit more from vertical markets.
Vertical markets are very specific, narrow markets. Some businesses specialize in just one vertical market; others have several. Let’s look at a case study that we’ll use throughout this article to show you how to apply these ideas:
Where to Find your Customers
When you’re focusing on specific vertical markets, you don’t just throw marketing materials out into the world randomly; you have to go where the customers are. So the next step, after identifying your vertical markets, is to find your customers, so that you can be effective with your marketing techniques.
Narrow Vertical Marketing Can Produce Specific Results
While a company’s vertical markets might encompass a small percentage of the general American population, that percentage may still represent a large number of people. There may be ways in which you can narrow your vertical and advertise directly to a very small sub-set of potential customers. You might do this for a number of reasons. Here are three:
1) Other companies are broadly advertising to all potential customers, so you can speak directly to challenges faced by a more narrow audience, and gain an advantage.
2) Perhaps you enjoy working with some kinds of clients more than others. These clients may be a sub-set of a larger vertical market.
3) Some clients may be more lucrative than others. If you can gain a larger amount of lucrative clients, you can make a higher profit.
Tell a Story
What will you say to your customer, once you know who he is and where to find him? More than ever, it’s important to avoid blatant promotional advertising. Don’t waste time and money telling your customer how great you are. Instead, tell a story that captures his attention… and his imagination.
To be effective at this technique, you really need to be able to get into your customer’s head. What are his desires? His problems? His motivations? If you can’t readily connect with him, find some people like him and ask them.
There are many great books available that break down how to write such a story for your company. We like these:
It’s Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business by Bob Burg and John David Mann
Components of Your Vertical Marketing Plan
The components of your vertical marketing plan won’t be any different than any other marketing plan—but they’ll be tailored specifically to the vertical market you’ve chosen. The actual marketing pieces you develop will depend on your type of business, but might include:
- A web site
- A company blog
- Direct mail: Letters or postcards
Unless you’re a crack designer and a stellar writer, you might want to hire help creating these pieces. After all, they are often the first contact with your company that prospective customers have—they form the first impression. You’ll want these marketing pieces to tell your story, look professional and be eye-catching.
Making Signage Work for Your Vertical Marketing Plan
What will your sign say? That will depend on its purpose. If your goal is simply to alert students of your services, your sign might have your company’s logo, a bit of text that tells some aspect of your story, and contact info.
The design team at Signs.com has a lot to say about fonts. This article will give you some very specific advice about which fonts to use, and which to absolutely, positively NEVER use. In short: choose an easily readable, basic font.
Some colors work better than others. If your company already has a logo and other materials in particular colors, it’s good to stick to those so that everything is cohesive. If you’re creating your materials from scratch, here are the color combinations that have proven most effective:
We’ve written a comprehensive article about Effectively Using Design Elements; check it out.
Vertical Marketing with a Purpose
The whole idea behind vertical marketing is that you are spending your marketing dollars to find customers who are interested in your products or services, which will be profitable for your business. Identify your vertical markets, write specifically tailored stories for each of them, and create marketing pieces (including signage!) that have narrowly-focused purposes.
Have you identified your vertical markets? If so, how will you create a marketing campaign for each? Tell us here!
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