We are only defined by our performance
Define target group - This is how we found a grateful target group
Defining a grateful target group is the dream of many entrepreneurs, because it promises pleasure in business, meaning in one's own actions and attractive sales. In this article we describe in detail as a case study the path our company Webgeist has taken to reach a grateful target group.
The Mewes strategy as a guide for strategy development
In order to find our target group, we had significant support from the Mewes community. The Mewes strategy with its 4 principles and 7 phases is a useful guide to find a grateful target group and the right corporate strategy for your company. And if you are stuck on your own, there is the helpful Mewes Community consisting of other entrepreneurs and experienced consultants in the strategy forum.
But the best way to understand the Mewes strategy is when you can experience it through entrepreneurial stories. The theory is one thing, business practice is something else. Only the published entrepreneurial stories are all too often freed from all the wrong paths that a founder takes to become a successful entrepreneur. When reading the success stories in books or the strategy journal, it always seemed to me that everything came together like clockwork. But my practical experience has always been: This is not the case! That's why it's important to me to show authentically that a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs can eventually have a happy ending. Perhaps you will learn something from our path at Webgeist in order to avoid unnecessary diversions in your company development.
We bring this entrepreneurial experience with us
My name is Richard Sirch, Marketing Director at the German Strategy Forum e.V. My wife Lisa and I own the B2B marketing agency Webgeist, a small and highly specialized family company from Munich.
I have been gaining entrepreneurial experience since 2001. I started part-time with an online music magazine (2001 with 30 volunteer employees), later I continued my full-time work as an SEO freelancer (2013 with 2 employees), followed by the key fire content editorial team (2015 with 8 employees) and finally the Agency Webgeist (2016 with currently 3 employees).
Strategy development is chaotic at the beginning
What I missed when developing a strategy with Mewes at the beginning was the information that as an entrepreneur I don't necessarily have to fight my way from phase 1 to phase 7. Especially when at some point it just can't go any further. Starting with the strengths in particular has led us to internal resistance. Our strengths were loved by a stress-producing but affluent target group for whom we definitely didn't want to work anymore. More on that later.
We could not go to phase 1, i.e. the concentration on strengths, for emotional reasons. If we take the risk of self-employment, we want to combine performance with calling and turnover. To do something just for the money, we had done that day in and day out with our old company and still hit the wall. Or actually because of that.
After phase 1, the strengths, was not an option, we had always fired phase 5, the innovation strategy, with new approaches for a long time, but we didn't find a green branch. Nobody understood what we were doing exactly.
Starting with the innovation strategy, that's what a lot of startups do. These startups think: “We'll find some target group who wants to buy this totally innovative, but unfortunately completely cerebral product. As long as our startup learns more about possible target groups and its own product, we will burn the investors' money. If we are not successful, then we were ahead of our time. "
Only, we at Webgeist are not a startup, but a service provider and we had no investors either. More precisely, we started like a phoenix from the ashes of the old company. It was a big mistake that we initially focused on innovation. Nowadays I would start with any phase from area 1 to 4, but no longer with phases 5 to 7.
Our problem: we knew exactly what we could do. And we knew exactly what we didn't want. But we didn't know how to get our performance on the road.
That was around the time I joined the Strategy Forum. I was looking for an exchange of experiences with other entrepreneurs. Why should I make every mistake myself? I could also learn from the wealth of experience from other entrepreneurs.
As experienced online marketers, we had 1,000 ideas about which problems should be addressed and how. Solving a bottleneck can solve many problems in one fell swoop, but most entrepreneurs do not know it. It is therefore unfortunately not at all credible when someone thinks they can cope with many problems at the same time.
Right from the start, we asked for feedback from everyone who did not escape quickly enough. We worked on the various Mewes phases, depending on the knowledge we received from the feedback from customers and business friends.
What sounds like chaos, however, gave us an extremely fast and focused learning phase. Four years later, we at Webgeist are strategically very well positioned, even if we did not follow the strategic spiral meticulously.
What do I mean by strategic success?
- We help a small, wealthy target group that is relaxed and grateful.
- We like our customers very much and are close to almost every customer.
- We offer a manageable range of three core services (marketing analysis, strateginar, club).
- We don't have to optimize any processes because we don't have any processes. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but standardized offers make life a lot easier.
- Customers coach us on their own and many help us young entrepreneurs where they can.
- We also get so much support from people who are neither customers nor suppliers, but rather ... fans ?! I can't think of a better term, at least I would say that they are a bit more than pure business friends.
The 7 phases of the Mewes strategy
Since the development of Webgeist is easier to follow in a structured way, I have described our path so far in the 7 phases of the Mewes strategy.
Phase 1) Current situation and strengths potential
In 2016, the text company Schlüsselfeuer, which I founded together with a journalist and which had grown to 8 employees within 1 ½ years, broke up.
My wife Lisa was enthusiastic about the idea of building her own company and brand. She used to lead other brands from the background to success as a customer advisor in various advertising agencies. Therefore, the step to work as marketing manager for her own company was an obvious one for her.
But it quickly became clear that my business partner and I had completely different business philosophies. One made the other. At some point the air was out. Lisa and I then stood in front of a pile of broken glass and unfortunately we pulled the rip cord too late, so that we no longer had any great leeway.
What to do? We carried out an analysis of our existing customers: who recommended us the most? Where did we enjoy it? Where was the sales good?
And the result was always search engine optimization (= SEO = Search Engine Optimization) and strategy consulting. And that, even though the company Taste Fire actually wrote editorial texts for websites, shops and print newspapers and only offered search engine optimization, among other things.
Even during my solo self-employment as an SEO consultant, I created the word combination "Webgeist", the best of web and entrepreneurial spirit, for my blog. After this existing customer analysis, the term web spirit seemed very appropriate to us as a new company name, as it stands for our favorite topics SEO and positioning strategy.
Our strengths were objectively obvious:
- Lisa holds a degree in communications from the Bavarian Academy for Advertising and Marketing. Since 2002 she has cross-industry professional experience in advertising and online marketing.
- I am a multiple founder, SEO expert and consultant for digital change management (methods, structures, processes and customer behavior), which I learned from various e-commerce and online platforms. In short, practical experience in setting up online business concepts since 2001.
But our greatest strength at the time was also our greatest weakness. We are both strong in search engine optimization and conversion optimization for e-commerce platforms with end customer business. Lisa is more of the visual type, I am the analytical type. Only back in 2016, neither of us had any fun working in e-commerce anymore.
In terms of competence, of course, we are exactly the right people for e-commerce and agency business in general.
It's just that
- the e-commerce world turns too fast, is often designed to maximize profits and has a high employee turnover.
- In the agency business, interns are sometimes billed as fully trained consultants. But that's still better than when non-transparent monthly flat rates are billed for no service at all.
- In the agency business, there is often no technical know-how at all, except for sales and project management. The service usually comes from a few marketing all-rounders (a little bit of everything), a pack of trainees and interns as well as sub-service providers. This is also the official definition of the term agency: business mediation activities. In any case, the agency's price-performance ratio is often not right.
The fixation in e-commerce on the optimization of point numbers to achieve high sales targets symbolizes the problem. We are not like that. We're very ambitious, but not stupid. We want to focus on the wishes of the customers, not the wishes of the investors. We love business as long as it doesn't come at the expense of others.
In the beginning, we always called ourselves “marketing consultancy” and never “agency” in order not to be associated with current agency practices.
There are some black sheep in search engine optimization selling services that customers don't understand. In these cases, these measures either do nothing or are considerably harmful. That is why we have tried to avoid the term "search engine optimization" or the abbreviation "SEO" as much as possible so as not to be noticed in this neighborhood.
At first, however, we didn't know that our customers, in turn, knew absolutely nothing about these practices.
Since we stopped blocking ourselves and called ourselves an "agency" and offered "search engine optimization", everyone suddenly understood what we were doing.
When we founded the company, we really often stood in each other's way and wore ourselves off on little things.
Phase 2) Most promising business area
The most promising business area has always been clear. It is the sales-oriented search engine optimization.
Classic search engine optimization typically means pumping as many visitors as possible, ie “traffic”, to the website. In addition, to win as many “1st place positions” as possible. The fact that real people with problems and needs google for solutions and that this is not just faceless “traffic” is typically overlooked. This shift in perception may be due to the fact that online marketers have absolutely no contact with buyers. Instead, they optimize the number of visitors in ever higher areas while they stare into large screens with music on their ears. Whether it makes sense, the question is not asked. The main thing is higher, faster, further.
Why is a lot of traffic bad? A lot of effort is made to generate as much traffic as possible. It's really expensive. The result of a lot of traffic is of course a lot of inquiries. But there are a lot of unsuitable prospects here who were bought at a high price and ultimately only steal time. The question is whether you want the phone to ring all the time and maybe only two out of ten inquiries are good.
Our path is fundamentally different, we are focused on interaction, because interaction can generate sales. Our SEO approach is quality instead of quantity. We mainly generate qualified inquiries via Google.
In 2001 I founded a private online music magazine called NecroWeb with up to 30 volunteers, which has grown into a portal. My wife Lisa was also there almost from the start. It was about all kinds of alternative music styles from rock and metal to Gothic, Middle Ages and industrial music, so very niche. The interaction of visitors with the magazine can best be understood with an example: For a festival with 20,000 visitors, we made an Excel planner available as a pocket calendar via our platform, which was 6,000 downloads. And that despite the fact that the festival has boycotted this external offer. This pocket calendar was so popular that every year Google used the imaginary term pocket calendar as a search suggestion for this festival. But otherwise we also had a lot of small successes. As with the flyer distribute the happy reaction, hey, I was already with you on the website. Or a band that had complained that we were better found, like their official band website. A handwritten letter from a young fan came with the request to send us the print magazine (we were only ever available digitally).
In 2013 I started my own business as an on-page search engine optimizer and looked after international platforms. In the first year I had a turnover of € 80,000, so I was quite successful for starting my own business.
The question arose: How can we at Webgeist use what we are obviously good at - i.e. sales-oriented, sustainable search engine optimization and positioning based on data - for a value-oriented, wealthy target group? In short, what is the most promising business area?
Many thought we came from technology and programming. But we are marketers through and through. That means we can activate a target group well, but we cannot program.
Hoping to find a language that is really non-technical, we started to coined the terms “online positioning” and “your website works for you”. Slowly we picked up speed, even if still not everyone understood what we were doing. In any case, this external presentation was more interesting than the usual flat “Google Place 1 promises” and brought us new customers.
Phase 3) Most promising target group
Recognizing the most promising target group was not easy, because we only knew about e-commerce and hardly any other companies. We therefore researched company statistics, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and publicly available surveys.
We defined increasingly sophisticated customer profiles and lost ourselves more and more in strategic subtleties. If our marketing persona had been a computer, we could have gone to the moon with it, it was so ingenious.
Gunter Steidinger helped. I see Gunter as a kind of mentor. And I'm happy to be a participant in his Black Forest-Bodensee Strategy Center, as far as time allows. Even if that means 300 km one way for face-to-face appointments.
I asked Gunter: “The goal of the Mewes strategy is to become the market leader. To become a market leader, I have to be able to somehow measure whether I am a market leader. Is it necessary for a target group to be countable? ”And his answer was impressively simple:“ The target group only needs to be described one quality better than that of the competition. Then you are the only one and automatically the market leader. This is what many management consultants do wrong: They define so many characteristics of the target group until they get so bogged down that they can no longer reach anyone. "
So we rowed back a lot and rethought our target group. Our most promising target group are B2B service providers, this is a fantasy term, so it hits exactly who we want to reach. We are a business-to-business service provider ourselves, we use our tools and methods successfully ourselves. With our approach, we help companies that are similar to our own, but come from different industries. Established service providers also live a strong customer orientation, otherwise these companies would not have existed for 10 years or more.
The companies from our target group ideally have two to 20 employees, because experience has shown that all other sizes are eliminated:
- Self-employed people with less than two employees usually do everything themselves, including marketing and the website.
- Companies with more than 20 employees almost certainly have a permanent marketing employee who is afraid for his job if an agency is too good.
Phase 4) bottleneck analysis
Owners of established service companies with two to 20 employees are chronically under water because they are far too involved in the operational business. You have money but no time. You have an understanding of benefit rather than profit maximization. You are ready to submit. That is our target group.
We only recognized the real bottleneck after we finally decided on this favorite target group. Then everything went very quickly.
The real bottleneck
For many years, entrepreneurs have been tweaking the positioning strategy again and again in order to reach more corporate customers. However, the strategy work has no resonance with its target group, since relevant methods such as strategy tableau, strategy map or business model canvas contain no or hardly any marketing. A maximum of "cooperations" are specifically described for gaining reach. And this single channel is not enough for acquiring new customers.
But it is not the task of strategy work to generate the reach, but to work out a unique positioning and business model. There is marketing and sales for reach. This is a different construction site.
Symptoms of the bottleneck
- Our target group is dissatisfied with the old website because it no longer fits the current strategic direction. After all, they are constantly tweaking their strategy, the website cannot keep up.
- Marketing measures were tried out selectively, but never followed through. So there has never been a learning curve in marketing. Therefore, there are only interested parties via recommendations and cooperation. That is not enough in the long term.
- Our target person is an entrepreneur aged 50+. This / r also wants to slowly withdraw and not be constantly active. The sales activities wear out and are exhausting alongside day-to-day business. That is why they want a certain degree of automation and preliminary qualification of the contacts. As a bonus, that would even make the company more attractive to a possible successor.
Phase 5) innovation strategy
Our innovation strategy is tailored to the needs and level of knowledge of the target group.
Our typical customer wants to bring their own strategy onto the road. In the form of a long-term marketing channel that is measurable, understandable and, above all, not time-consuming. He / she would like to have an external marketing agency that takes care of everything. And, if necessary, actively follow suit. Our target group is thrilled when it escapes the strategy hamster wheel and easily wins new prospects.
Our approach to these needs is to dock with the strategy with marketing. I like to imagine two pieces of the puzzle that interlock.
Our customers' strategy is already good and does not need to be improved any further. Instead, prospects should be won through marketing. The strategy can only be continuously improved with the response from the target group.
So at Webgeist, the ideal process goes like this:
- The prospect books the marketing analysis and is excited about what he or she has got for the little money.
- The customer then books the strateginar, which is a kind of coaching via zoom with integrated implementation. The crux of the matter is that this format can be accommodated very well in day-to-day business. There are 7 steps with 2 hours each. These meetings in Zoom typically take place on a weekly basis. Even our busy target group manages to accommodate this manageable series of appointments in their calendar.
- Through the Strateginar, the customer understands how their own target group moves in the Google world and realizes that he or she quickly reaches the limits when optimizing the website.
- The customer books the marketing support, which we call the Webgeist Club.
- The customer can optionally create a new or additional company website that is geared towards a single target group, the favorite customer, or it optimizes the existing website.
- The website wins qualified prospects because it is found in the right niche in Google search.
- Then it is measured and optimized in order to continuously improve the request rate.
Phase 6) cooperation strategy
Cooperation with others is now working well. We use these two variants:
- The common format is cooperation with other specialists. Because we reject all orders that have nothing to do with our core competency, search engine optimization or B2B marketing. To this end, we continuously establish contact with reliable experts from other specialist areas who have a strategic background. Finding good people, however, is not that easy.
- The other option is the barter deal, which is basically a barter deal with no money flowing. It is seldom that both parties need something from the other at precisely that moment.
Phase 7) Constant basic need
The constant basic need describes why a business model will still work in the future. This consideration is intended to prevent customers from relying on a technology that will no longer exist at some point.
So that we at Webgeist don't put everything on one horse with search engine optimization for the current market leader Google, which may no longer exist in the future, we have kept open which search technology is used. There will always be B2B service providers who want to be found. Our marketing approach is predominantly strategic in nature, so we are not totally dependent if there should be a comparable search provider such as Google in the future.
Basic needs of the target group
The constant basic need of our target group is financial security - but the acquisition stagnates, existing customers are crumbling away.
We have narrowed down two other motives that play a role:
Lack of time - Our target group chronically has little time and is very quick to hand in something if something turns out to be time-consuming (money is not the bottleneck).
Lack of competence - Lack of knowledge about relevant marketing channels, customer needs, expected marketing response and marketing costs. Because so far the marketing has not been satisfactory: every time something was commissioned, the agency briefing was insufficient due to a lack of know-how and / or incompetent service providers were selected. The target group therefore needs a central marketing support that controls all important processes so that the PS can be put on the road.
We had two major strategic levers. We pulled the first lever ourselves. The second lever was a coincidence that was perfect for our strategic direction.
The first lever
When we decided on a sub-target group whose needs we can understand very well, our Gordian knot came undone. The growing company Webgeist grew out of self-employment and is continuously developing into a B2B brand with its own B2B service provider community.
The second lever
From a business perspective, the increasing digitization caused by the Corona Lockdowns is a fortunate coincidence for us. We were actually way ahead of our time because our customers couldn't keep up digitally. As a result of the lockdowns, our predominantly non-digital target group aged 50+ was instantly digitized. Our customers now use video conferencing and tools with confidence, which was previously unthinkable. We no longer have to play missionaries for digital collaboration.
If you are facing similar challenges, I can recommend Robert T. Kiyosaki's motivational quote: F.O.C.U.S. - Follow One Course Until Successful.
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