How to Find Your Target Market Online
Copyright 2006 Donna Gunter Are you fishing where the fish are? This may seem to be a question with an obvious answer, but I'm constantly amazed at how many business owners are looking for their target market in all the wrong places. Worse yet is the business owner whose target market is "everybody". Do you know how tough it is to market to everybody? The reality is that not everyone needs your product and service, nor is it a good match for every single person on this earth. The first issue to resolve is determining who comprises your target market. Are they male or female? What age group? What industry? What socio-economic group? Until you narrow your focus and select a smaller niche market, much of your marketing effort will be in vain. Once you've got a target market in mind, you need to know more about them. Here are the questions that I ask clients about their target market: Where do they hang out on- and off-line? What do they read? To what groups and associations (real and virtual, personal and professional) do they belong? How much money do they make? Can they easily afford your product or service? There are some great research tools available online for you to research your target market. Here are 7 that I recommend:
1. Professional associations: American Society of Association Executives, http://www.asaenet.org, is a great place to start, as most of the executives of the reputable associations belong to this organization. To do your search, go the Gateway of Associations, currently found here: http://www.asaecenter.org/Directories/AssociationSearch.cfm?navItemNumber=16581 Once you're in the Gateway, you can look up associations by keyword or by location. Once you've found the appropriate association(s), check out the association website and see if you should belong, and determine if the group has a local chapter that might meet in your area. If your initial search in this directory leads you to a local chapter, you should be able to backtrack and find the website of the national office. A second place to locate associations is Gale's Encyclopedia of Associations. This multi-volume encyclopedia is present in the reference section of all major libraries, and due to the expense, you will probably want to pay a visit to your local library to use this resource. Some libraries subscribe to GaleNet, the online database, http://www.galenet.com and can issue you a username and password so that you can use it as well. A third option is to do an online search for "industry" (you fill in your target industry here) + "professional association". Using quotation marks will result in the best search.
2. Trade and consumer publications: Once you've found the appropriate association to which your target market belongs, each association will probably have a professional membership publication and/or newsletter. You might be able to subscribe to the publication without joining the association. Gebbie Press (http://www.gebbieinc.com) publishes a media directory in which you can obtain a newspaper and trade and consumer magazine directory. Bacon's (http://www.bacons.com) also publishes a number of media directories, including Newspaper/Magazine Directory and Radio/TV/Cable Directory, among others. As with the Gale's Directory, you'll probably have to pay a visit to your local library to use this resource, as it's rather expensive to purchase.
3. Online discussion forums/lists: I've had a number of clients tell me that they have gotten subscribers to their newsletter and signed up clients based on their participation in online discussion lists or forums. Scott Stratten maintains a great list of good business-oriented discussion forums at http://www.un-marketing.com/index.php?p=u. Many professional associations run their own discussion lists and forums. And, there's always the Yahoo Groups Directory, http://groups.yahoo.com, Google Groups, http://groups.google.com/, Forum Haven, http://forumhaven.com, and another comprehensive list at QuintCareers.com, http://www.quintcareers.com/Internet_networking_sources.html.
4. Online networking: Some virtual groups exist for the sole purpose of networking. A number of ones that are better known, like Friendster and MySpace, are primarily social in nature. The business-oriented ones often have "networks", as Ryze calls them, that bring people together centered around a common goal or interest. In many cases, you can create your own network. Scott Allen has a comprehensive listing of online networking groups http://thevirtualhandshake.com/directory.html and has co-written a great book on the subject with David Teten, The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online.
5. Blogs: Not only is creating your own blog a great way to market your business, but commenting on other blogs read by your target market is also a smart move. With so many blogs online, it might be tough to find the ones that are the ones read by your target market or are on a topic of interest to your target market. You can start with Google Blog Search, http://blogsearch.google.com/ , Feedster, http://www.feedster, and a directory of blog submission sites published by Robin Goode at http://www.masternewmedia.org/rss/top55/, which will be helpful as well in your blog search.
6. Ezines: Reading (and submitting articles to) ezines read by your target market will give you a great overview of typical issues and problems faced by your target market. Here's a listing of the most popular directories, http://ezines.nettop20.com/.
7. Income: Knowing how much money your target market makes will aid you in determining how to price your product or service. For help, consult Salary.com, http://www.salary.com where you can get pay ranges for specific geographic locations. More detailed reports are available for a fee. Doing your target market research ahead of time will save you a great deal of grief and headache. Targeting your market and marketing your plan will help you get more clients online.