rows of green seats
rows of green seats
#DigitalMarketing #TargetAudience

Defining Your Target Audience

Paul Kiernan

You cannot target everyone however, you can sell to everyone.

 For marketers, defining your target audience is one of the most important things you can do. Now, you may get all excited and love your product and/or service so much that you’ll say my target audience is EVERYONE. That’s nice, love the enthusiasm, but that’s not really the right answer.

Your target audience is not, nor can it be, everyone. You cannot target everyone however, you can sell to everyone.

When dealing with your target audience your rule of thumb is going to be: specificity. You need to have a specific group to target, one that you can clearly identify and thoroughly understand. The more you know and understand your target audience the more you’ll recognize and understand your particular niche in the market and the better chance you’ll have at dominating that niche.

Your target market is going to be the specific group of people you want to reach with your marketing message. People most likely to buy your product or use your services. They’ll have some common characteristics like demographics or behavior.

So, how do you identify and target that special group? One of the best ways is to conduct audience research.

Audience research

Here we are going to list several tips for doing good, useful, audience research which will ultimately lead to you creating a target audience statement. Once you’ve done the research and created your target market statement, you’re not done. Once you’ve created this statement, you’ll need to recheck it, tweak it and update it as your product, service, as your business evolves.

Who's with us

A great first step on this journey of discovery is to find out who is already using your products or services. This is going to help you understand some of the defining characteristics of your current and potential customer base. Once you have this information you can use it to go after more people who fall within the same guidelines.

Gather whatever information you have about your existing customers and set it into a database. You can then use this database as a starting point and track trends and averages with it.

When gathering additional information here are some points you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Data points to consider:

Age. When looking at age, you don’t have to be super-specific. For example, you don’t need to know if the average age of your customer is 23 or 24. What you do need to know is the decade of life they’re in, 20s, 30s, etc or their generation. Knowing what generation they are: Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and the like, will give you a good overview of what their likes, dislikes, wants and needs are going to be.

Location and timezone. Where in the world are they? This is going to help you understand things about the geographic areas and how to target those areas. It also helps you to figure out what hours are most important for your customer service reps to be active and when it’s best for your sales reps to be online.

Language. Not all of your customers are going to speak the same language. Don’t make that assumption. Also, don’t make the assumption that they speak the dominant language of a region. Not taking language into account, or making false assumptions about language, can be problematic. There is a story about Chevy selling their “Nova” to Spanish-speaking markets and it sold poorly. Apparently, “Nova” in Spanish translates to: “Doesn’t go".

This is an example cited in many, many books and articles on marketing and target audiences. It’s an interesting story and it should make you think about the importance of language in your marketing. It should also make you more aware of doing basic research. You see, even though it’s a good story and a lesson to be learned … it’s not true. Nope, it’s completely apocryphal. And yet, despite its dubious authenticity, it does make you stop and think, particularly about language, when putting your target audience statement together.

Spending power and patterns. How much money do your current customers have to spend? How do they approach purchases in your price category? Are they impulse buyers, thoughtful buyers? Are there specific financial concerns you have to address? Is there any financial assistance you need to supply to your current customer base? Understanding the financial habits and resources of your target audience is going to help you focus your target statement down.

Interests. This is good information to know because it’s personal and gives you a clear insight into their daily lives which in turn you can use to see if and how you fit into that life. What do they like to do? What TV shows, movies, sporting events do they watch? Do they watch anything, maybe they are readers? What other businesses do they spend money and time with?  Do they exercise and if so, how often? This kind of information, again, goes a long way to specifying who your target audience is going to be.

Stage of life. Where are they in their lives? Are they college students, newlyweds, new parents, parents of teens, retirees? Where they are in their life journey is valuable information that can give you an insight to spending habits and possible future choices.

Now What

So, you’ve gathered information about your current customers and you have a good idea of who you’re dealing with, but is it granular enough? How deep and specific can you get? What more can you do?

Website and social media analytics

Right about now you’re probably wondering where you’ll find all this audience research information. Well, most of this information you may already have from your past interactions with your current customers. However, social media analytics are a good way to fill in the gaps that you might find in your customer analysis.

Social media analytics can also help you to understand who is interacting with your social accounts and this will help you narrow and specify your target market. Spend some time looking at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Snapchat analytic guides.

What's your competition up to?

Once you know who is currently interacting with your business, look at who is engaging the competition.

Looking at your competition is going to answer some serious questions for you such as: are your competitors going after the same market segments as you? Are they reaching segments you never thought of? How are they positioning themselves?

In reality, you’re not going to get a lot of fine detail here, no detailed audience research. However, you’ll get a general idea of the approach your competition is taking and if it’s allowing them to create engagement online.

This is also going to let you know which markets the competition is targeting and if their methods are effective. If so, steal when you can.

Be clear about the benefits of your product or service

To reiterate, creating a target market is going to involve specificity and this is very true when it comes to clarity concerning the benefits of your product or service. One way to pinpoint who you’re targeting is to be clear and precise about the benefits of what you offer. The benefits of your product or service will naturally streamline who your target is when marketing.

It’s important to be clear here, you have to know and understand the difference between “features” and “benefits”. 

You can list a vast array of features however what really makes people buy is the benefits of your product or service. Here’s a shorthand; features are what your product or service does. Benefits are how your product or service makes life easier and better.

Your target audience is going to be culled nicely when you start to list the benefits of your product or brand. Who are the ones whose lives will be made better by your product? Certainly not everyone. When you start to list the benefits of your product you’ll see a demographic emerge. Being specific about the benefits will help you a great deal when it comes to creating that target audience.

If you’re unsure of how your product or service benefits your customers … ask them. You might find that people are using your products or services in a creative manner, one that perhaps even you didn’t think of. This information could open you up to a larger target market.

Send out an email customer survey. This could uncover all kinds of great insights and unexplored avenues. You can also garner information by asking quick, fun questions on your social media sites. The more specific you are about the benefits of your product or service, the better your questions will be and the more informative the answers.

The target market statement

Everything has been building to this point. All the information you have gathered, all the data, answers to questions, all lead to creating a simple, clear statement defining your target audience.

In the seminal text Kellogg on Marketing, you will find examples of good target market statements. One that is featured is that of Zipcar, the car-sharing service. The first part of their brand positioning statement actually defines their target market:

“To urban-dwelling, techno-savvy consumers who worry about the environment that further generations will inherit …”

They’re not targeting everyone who drives a car or would have a need for a car. They’re not targeting every city dweller out there. Their target is very specific:

  • Live in an urban area
  • Have a certain degree of education
  • Comfortable with technology
  • Are concerned about the environment

When you create your target market statement, incorporate the most important demographic and behavioral characteristics your research has yielded. Distill it down to a statement such as:

“Our target market is (gender) age (age range) who live in (place or type of place) and like to (activity).”

This, of course, is just a guideline. don’t take it as gospel. When putting your actual statement together, you decide which elements are most important. Maybe gender doesn’t matter to your business, maybe their activities don’t matter. You decide. However, the point is to keep it streamlined and tight. Specific. The more specific you are, the better off you’re going to be in the long run. One simple statement that you can use for all your marketing efforts.

Put it to work

You’ve collected your data, you’ve defined the benefits of your product or service, you’ve written your target market statement, now what? Now, you take that statement for a test drive.

Test social ads on your target market. Create social ads specifically targeting the exact market you just so arduously defined. 

When creating these ads ask yourself some of the following questions: Does your language speak to the exact market you’ve defined? Does it use the right voice? Do the chosen visuals make sense and relate to your target market? If the answer is no to any of these, rethink, specify and rewrite

Social tools

Next, you’ll want to start using social tools to reach out to your defined target audience. Which social tools should you use? Take a look at demographics for each social platform and see which ones will best allow you to best reach your target demographics.

Once you’ve decided on platforms, get deep and granular. Use the information you’ve gathered and employed to create your target audience as an enhancement to targeting that audience with your ads.

Track the performance of your ads and measure results. Once you have a baseline, you can use A/B testing to learn more about which target options work best. Then tweak and test again.

It's never really done

You’ve put time, effort, energy, and passion into creating this target audience, this specific group you’re going to market toward, but you’re never really done.

With the results from your social tests you’re going to have some information you didn’t have before. Be sure you incorporate everything you’ve learned and revisit your target market statement on a regular basis.

When you make your return visits to the statement, be sure that you look at it objectively. Be honest with yourself. Is it still accurate? Ask yourself: does it still describe your most valuable potential customers? 

Over time, your products or services are going to naturally evolve which means your audience is going to change as well. So, your ongoing job is to keep your target market statement relevant and up to date.

Simple truth

The truth is, this article is a suggestion. There is no one right way to create a target audience statement. If you’re just starting out, this is a good set of guidelines to follow. If you’ve been in the business some time and you’re doing a brand refresh, this is also a good pillar to lean on. But, no one knows your business better than you do. If you’re looking for a panacea to fix all your business problems, then maybe the problem is deeper than a target audience statement.

As always, be careful with best practices advice and this is the way to do it advice, there is never one answer, never only one view and never just one path to follow. Trust your instincts, most likely they have gotten you this far. Talk to others in the business, gather information from as many places as possible and then make choices that are right for you and for your business.