Wyoming Business Tips for Aug. 8

August 2, 2010

A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center, part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By James Drever, WyomingEntrepreneur.biz business adviser

"What is the fundamental marketing information all businesses should know, but often do not?" Megan, Rawlins

Because owners often focus only on their products and day-to-day running of their business, they lose sight of the customers they wish to serve. Sometimes, a business with the best intentions makes assumptions of what their customers want without actually knowing. This haphazard approach omitting market research is a gamble businesses don't need to make.

Twice in the last half century we have seen the American automobile industry struggle for survival because it has lost focus on what really is important to the identified market. Instead they have focused on what American car makers perceived as product qualities important to customers. The auto industry as a whole is very good at understanding who their customers are and targeting them, but when it blunders, those mistakes are obvious to many stakeholders, including investors and even tax payers if they end up supporting businesses.

Taking the time to learn what your customers' problems and needs are is an important first step. There are many methods, each more appropriate to certain markets or customers. These may range from surveys to focus groups or simply talking to existing and potential clients.

The next natural step is prioritizing customer needs in terms of both perceived value and ability to economically meet those needs. If it will draw important resources and the customer will only casually notice the benefit it may not be worth your while.

On the other hand, you might recognize that with only a slight modification to product/service, you can substantially impact a customer's life or business. As you discover opportunities, remember to seek other new opportunities as well as threats, such as a competitor being able to imitate or even improve upon what you were able to provide to customers.

This brings us to the next and equally important tip: Know yourself. How are you positioned in comparison to direct and indirect competition? Sometimes there is a significant difference between what an organization perceives itself as when compared to what customers perceive. Discovering this gap is important because it may reveal important unique selling positions that can be leveraged, but also because it can reveal weaknesses that need to be addressed and avoided in the overall marketing message.

Bringing self-identity and market understanding together allows firms to capitalize on their products/services and their reputation. Toyota and other Japanese car manufacturers were known since the 1970s for producing reliable and affordable compact cars. In the 1990s, nearly simultaneously, they realized the market desire for quality luxury cars. At the time Jaguar, a number of German manufacturers and others were known for luxury, not reliability. Knowing how customers perceived them, the Japanese manufacturers recognized they could not use their existing brand names because they were not perceived by customers as luxurious.

So they developed new brands, such as Lexus, Infinity and Acura. With these new brands the Japanese manufacturers successfully entered the luxury car market with quality products customers demanded and with new identities the customers could perceive with quality, reliability and luxury.

Honestly recognizing yourself through your own and others eyes and understanding unbiased market potential can help your business focus on reaching new heights.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail wsbdc@uwyo.edu or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, Wyo. 82071-3922.

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