How to Define Your Target Audience

advertisingPromoting your business to anyone and everyone is not an effective marketing strategy. To efficiently drive sales and increase brand awareness, you must focus on your target audience. But who is your target audience, exactly? How do you know if your marketing will appeal to them?

Consumer research is a vital step that can help you find the answers you need. Below, three experts share questions you can ask to help identify your target audience, assess buyer behavior, and optimize your marketing strategy. Their suggestions go beyond the basics — and some of their ideas may surprise you. Read on to find out more.

Be Specific and Dig Deep

Marketers often sort consumers into groups like “males 18-34,” “boomer women,” “millennials,” or “moms with kids under the age 10.” But according to Steve Radick, vice president at Pittsburgh-based integrated marketing firm Brunner, these blanket categories are no longer sufficient.

“For today’s marketer, the old marketing bulls-eye now has 10 more smaller circles added dead in the middle, and now our customers expect us to hit that target,” Radick explains.

Marketers must be much more precise when mapping out their target audience, Radick says, or they risk “enormous inefficiencies” and “long-term brand damage.” To home in, ask a variety of pointed, strategic questions.

For instance, consider whether your current audience aligns with your target audience. “Are you trying to break into a new market?” Radick asks. “If so, will you alienate your existing audience in doing so? That might be okay, but make sure you ask the question and have an answer.”

In addition, find out if your target audience responds strongly to social issues, and think about whether your brand should take a stand. “For years, brands were loath to alienate any portion of their audience, but many now realize that the loyalists can often outweigh the detractors, and then some,” says Radick.

You should know what challenges your target audience faces and how your brand can help solve them. It’s also important to understand how your audience thinks about your product category. “For example, if you’re a food brand, does your target audience only shop what’s on their list?” Radick asks. “How often do they buy groceries? When are they most receptive to new food ideas?”

Exploring these questions can help you understand when, where, and how to best market to your target audience.

Get Fresh Insights

David Smith, co-founder and creative director of Chapel Hill-based advertising and branding agency Immortology, believes that asking creative questions can elicit deeper consumer insights.

“Fresh, effective, and meaningfully differentiated marketing only comes about when you see things in a new, surprising light,” he says. “Whatever your questions, you need to come up with fresher ways to ask them.”

According to Smith, instead of asking, “What do you most dislike about our product?” you should ask, “If our product was a person and it died today, what would the obituary say was the cause of death?”

Instead of asking, “How can we improve our product?” ask, “If we hired you to create [the ultimate vacuum cleaner, detergent, software, etc.], what would it do that no [vacuum cleaner, detergent, software, etc] yet invented does?”

Asking the same-old questions will only give you the same-old answers, Smith says. By using surprising questions like these, you can generate actionable insights that inspire new marketing ideas.

Take the Customer’s Point of View

No matter what questions you ask, always consider the customer's perspective.

“The key questions are the ones that are asked from the customers’ point of view,” says Tom Geary, co-founder and creative director of School of Thought in San Francisco. “That may be obvious, but it’s almost always ignored.”

Marketers have a tendency to insulate themselves and ignore customers' actual experiences. “It’s rare that client marketers can actually distance themselves and step from the cheerleader section to the sidelines,” Geary notes.

To truly understand your customer base, you must take an objective point of view. You have to be willing to look dispassionately at your brand, your product, your product category, and your target audience.

“I guess the key question is the one you ask yourself: Will our audience care about this offering or communication?” Geary says.

Find Out More

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Sarah Schmidt
Marketing Writer/Editor

Topics: Market Research Strategy Advertising Marketing How To's