While traditional media has amplified the communications of businesses since the 15th century, today’s marketing efforts reach millions of potential customers without the physical and financial constraints of old mediums. Technological advances have increased the size of almost every market and made many industries more accessible to smaller businesses. For creative entrepreneurs, effectively using digital tools and methods is one of the ways they can innovate and disrupt established markets.

“With regards to the size of [startups], digital marketing plays an important role in establishing initial brand awareness and generating sales.” – Bernard Moshabane

Marketing success (i.e. generating sales and building brand awareness) begins with understanding a potential customer’s needs and problems. At this stage, startups have a strong advantage because of their access to fresh information and (likely) close ties to the market they choose to operate in, e.g. UntilUntilGroup choosing the events space or IRunJhb finding a space in local streetwear culture. In both cases, the entrepreneurs already understood the customer experience and the culture they were going into.

For businesses looking to dive into unknown markets, there are a variety of useful methods that can help you understand the unique context of a potential customer’s life. Regardless of where you’re coming from, there are 3 things you can always look out for when gathering your research.

  • Problem Size & Definition

A viable customer segment is one where enough people have a similar problem and are willing to pay for its solution. Most businesses use surveys, interviews, observations and several other research methods to uncover this information, and other details about a potential customers’ needs.

  • Competitors

Once the key problems are established, it’s important to think about how your solution will be better than whatever’s already in the market. A key part of many business’ marketing is outlining what’s so different or special about their brand/ products (e.g. secret ingredients, ethical practices, locally-made).

  • Sampling

Many businesses giveaway samples and special offers to get feedback from as many potential customers as possible. This information can be used to improve the products or customer experience.

The marketing departments of businesses are constantly gathering new information and insights from the market – and using this to help businesses improve their offerings. In addition to the points above, studying current & past customers can paint a clearer picture of the target market.

Speaking to your market

The more popular side of marketing involves communicating a brand, product or valuable piece of content with customers, potential customers and/ or the public. While word-of-mouth can bring many new customers, social media and other communication strategies play a major role in how brands/ products are received in the market.

This is the stage where creative content, engaging stories and great user experiences truly shine. While every business handles their communications differently – here are 3 things we should always think about when we “speak into” the market.

  • Who are our target customers?

In addition to understanding their potential customers’ needs, businesses have to speak in a language these customers will understand, on platforms they have access to, while touching on issues that are relevant to the customers’ busy lives (i.e. How can ‘Business Y’ serve 25 – 30 y/o single fathers in a particular suburb?) 

At this stage, businesses may create a customer profile to organize their data into a model customer. This profile will specify the demographics, preferred communication platforms and lifestyle needs that are prevalent within a market.

  • What is the purpose of this content?

Since most potential customers already live on digital media platforms, content is one of the key ways to build brand awareness and add more sales to your bottom line. Content should be created for a specific purpose, with results that can be measured (especially if you want to see what works and what doesn’t).

  • Are we sure this is the one?

Once a specific goal has been set for your content (e.g. “Gain more followers” or “Drive online sales for product A) it is helpful to test it with customers and study what works and what doesn’t. How do customers react to the content? Does it produce the desired outcome?

Crafting great content is an ongoing process where businesses usually get better over time. While many entrepreneurs may insist on handling this part themselves, hiring a professional to do this can often prove more effective for brands in the long run.


In summary, marketing involves understanding a potential customer’s problems and using this understanding to craft a valuable solution. The needs and truths gathered in the ‘marketing research’ stage are echoed throughout the communication, content and future product development of the business.

For a deeper dive into brand interactions, Bernard hinted at a Public Relations masterclass that may be in the near future. Follow him @Bernard_anu and stay tuned to @hivejoburg for more business things, as they happen.

Written by: Lungelo Hlela (I am Multeemedia) // Images taken by: @dayphotolife 

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Lungelo Hlela is a Digital Copywriter based in Johannesburg, South Africa. When he’s not writing for brands, most of his work includes themes about social issues, history and popular culture. Follow him @lungelosam for more of his existentialist ramblings and romantic ideals.

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