It may sound like a marketer’s dream scenario: efforts have proven to be so successful it appears a company has completely saturated their target audience. While it may be a good problem to have, it still may be a problem. Hitting a marketing plateau is an opportunity for companies in any industry to reevaluate, re-energize and come to the table with new ideas for better understanding existing customers and engaging new audiences.

Look for the plateau before it happens.

A marketing plateau won’t come out of nowhere. Marketers will start to see the numbers of new customers slow, and the cost of new customer acquisitions rise. Some companies will try to deny that it’s happening by spending more. If a new customer used to cost $2.50 to acquire and that number is now $5, they will simply double their budget to keep the growth chart trending the direction they want. Other companies will resort to discounting. However, either approach is untenable even for companies with the deepest of pockets.

Re-energize your existing audience with a fresh point of view.

When customer growth begins to slow, that is the time to start investigating why it’s happening and be prepared to pivot your strategy before you’ve completely plateaued. More often than not, it’s not happening simply because there are no more customers in a company’s target market. The opportunities within the audience may have splintered or matured in unexpected ways. It’s really easy to feel like you know everything about the customers you have been selling to for years, but here’s a shocking bit of news: people change. A target audience will evolve with time. What mattered to them two years ago could be trivial now. What they thought was cool may now make them cringe. You have to begin to look at them with fresh eyes.

The challenge is getting enough distance to look at an audience with a fresh point of view. The most obvious way is to reach outside your company. If you have a current marketing partner, ask them to come back with a brutally honest assessment of your market situation and dig deep into the audience. This means going beyond the customer’s relationship with your product. Marketing leaders need to fully understand their customer’s culture. What are they saying? How are they saying it? What do they watch? What don’t they watch? Who inspires them? Who repulses them? What gives them confidence, and what makes them afraid?

Answering these sorts of questions will reveal new ways to present a product to customers, along with new mediums in which to reach them. An emotional connection with a customer is essential, and the only way to make it is to truly understand their culture.

Another way to get these cultural insights is to form a shadow committee. Choose people within your company who represent the audience. Give them the freedom to be honest by bringing in someone from outside the company to run the workshop. Companies like Gucci have had great success with this tactic. They were falling short with their essential Millennial market. By giving a voice to people inside the company, those people felt empowered, and it gave the company ideas and insights to be more relevant.

Identify new audiences to target.

If a company has truly saturated a market and is looking to expand, the best advice for finding that group is to look at the problems your product or service solves. Does it organize more logically, smell better, rinse more cleanly, cause less harm to the environment, run faster, etc.? Perhaps there is an attribute of the product or service you’re selling that correlates with another industry or subset of the population you hadn’t even considered.

Also, challenge yourself to think about the emotional needs your product satisfies. Many brands have thrived without a single technical advantage over their competition. Think about basketball shoes for instance. Have you ever purchased a pair because of something you read in Consumer Reports? These brands have to survive by aligning with an audience’s emotional desire, whether it’s determination, a need for equality, aspiration to be unique, positive affirmation, or exclusivity. 

Once you lay out the problems that your product solves practically and emotionally, you can start to see how that can apply to an audience you’ve never tried to reach before. Then it’s a matter of demographic analysis to explore the size of the audience and whether they have the appropriate purchasing power. You may have those tools in house, but if not, you can reach out to a marketing partner who has the resources to make that projection for you.

Understanding culture is key regardless of who you target.

No matter whether your market is a new one or an old one, it all starts by understanding their culture. Once you understand it, you need to internalize it. Communicate it throughout your organization with tangible examples of how you will reach out to these customers. Show how you can extend this cultural understanding down to even the smallest touchpoint. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fast food company or a SaaS, there are always opportunities to surprise and delight your audience whether it’s a message on a napkin or tiny animation in a dialogue box. It’s the sum of everything you do that will win over the heart (and the wallet) of your customer.

Brian Harris is the Executive Creative Director at Bradley and Montgomery (BaM), an independent creative agency.

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