Any good marketer you hire to help grow your business will start by asking you, “Who is your target market?” If you’re like most business owners, you may be tempted to say, “Well… Everybody!” After all, you’re not going to turn down a sale from anyone, so why risk leaving someone out?
But when you try to reach everyone in your advertisements, you won’t actually engage anyone. That’s why marketers should always dig deeper to help you define the exact demographic of the people most likely to buy your product or service.
Even if your brand could be used by just about anyone, establishing your target market as those most likely to buy will allow you to develop marketing messages that resonate with that group to drive sales.
Take Apple for example. When selling the Mac computer, they could’ve said, “Just about anyone can use a computer! We’ll market to everyone who uses a computer.” But that’s not what they did. Remember their famous “I’m a Mac” commercials? Here’s a quick reminder (and a good laugh).
Apple wasn’t afraid to advertise directly to their target audience, even if it seemed like they were isolating those outside that group. And clarifying the target audience for this commercial didn’t cause Apple to miss out on sales from businessmen in suits—but it did lead people who saw themselves as “a Mac” rather than “a PC” to show up and buy their computers in droves.
“Target audience” isn’t just a marketing buzzword, and it’s not a strategy reserved for big companies like Apple. Read on to learn how you can use audience research and market segmentation in your own business to clarify your marketing, drive sales, and grow your business.
Why You Need to Define Your Target Audience
Before we go any further, we need to clarify the difference between a target market and a target audience. Your target market describes anyone likely to buy your product or service. This could be fairly broad (“millennials”) or extremely specific (“C-suite executives for SaaS companies generating at least $1 million in sales each year”). Your target audience, on the other hand, describes a specific segment of that group you’ll be “targeting” in a particular ad or marketing campaign.
Think back to the Apple commercial. The target audience for that commercial is a very particular type of person—young, trendy, and outside the traditional corporate world. Of course, Apple’s target market actually expands beyond that particular demographic. By using market segmentation, however, Apple can produce other commercials or ad campaigns to target other segments of their target market.
Before you ever market your product or service, whether that’s through an expensive commercial or a short tweet, you should always start by defining whom you’re trying to reach. In the age of digital marketing, your audience is being advertised to all day long. If you want to stand out from the white noise of advertisers, you’ll need to craft a message that really resonates with the people most likely to buy. And you can’t do that until you actually define that group (your target market) and plan content that resonates with specific segments of that group (your target audience).
How to Define Your Target Audience in 3 Steps
Conducting audience research takes some time, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you can define the target audience for any business in just three steps.
Step 1: Start with your product or service.
You probably know your product or service inside and out, but take a step back and consider some of the big-picture questions surrounding what you offer. Record your answers to questions like these:
- What does your product/service do?
- What problem does it solve?
- Who has that problem and why?
- Who would find your solution beneficial and why?
Step 2: Look at your current customers.
Examining your product or service will give you a good starting point for considering whom you should target in your advertising, but some further audience research is still a good idea. You may be surprised to find you’re already having some success with groups you haven’t intentionally targeted, or you may find the audiences you’ve tried to reach aren’t the ones actually making the purchases. To find out, you need to answer questions like these:
- Who are your current customers?
- How do they find you? (Learn how to answer this question in this blog post.)
- Why do they buy from you?
- What problems are you helping them solve?
Step 3: Create buyer personas.
The first two steps allow you to figure out which demographics make up your target market. Now, creating buyer personas will allow you to organize the information you’ve uncovered. Plus, buyer personas use market segmentation to divide your target market into more specific groups—groups which can then serve as your target audience for ads and campaigns. (Click here for our simple, step-by-step process for developing buyer personas.)
As you get specific about your target audience, don’t be afraid to define who is not in your target audience as well. Apple did this explicitly by creating a character named “PC” in their commercial. You don’t have to define those outside your target audience in your actual marketing messages, but identifying those unlikely to purchase from you will save you from investing time or money in campaigns unlikely to get you results.
Why to Improve Your Audience Research Over Time
Defining your target audience isn’t a “one-and-done” task for marketers. Your customers are real people, and real people evolve and change over time. If you want to continue engaging your target market, you have to stay up-to-date on how they’re changing and what will resonate with them as they change.
Marketing messages that successfully engage teenagers today look and sound radically different than those that worked 10 years ago. The same could be said for business executives, single adults, and nearly every other possible target audience. If you don’t keep up with how your customers are changing, your competitors will—and you’ll be left behind.
Take Bose for example. Author Jon Acuff, formerly employed by the audio equipment company, puts it this way:
Bose was ahead of the game in the race to luxury headphones. We were—I was part of that team. But then all of a sudden consumers started to go, ‘Hey, we care about not just how they sound but how they look, the colors, the aesthetic.’ … We ignored that. You know who didn’t ignore it? Dr. Dre and Beats. They ate our lunch in a multibillion-dollar industry.
If you want to rise to the top of your industry and stay there, you have to continually improve your audience research. Make it a point to regularly revisit your buyer personas and re-survey your customers, then use those new insights to refine your marketing and connect with your target audience even as they evolve.
Defining and studying your target audience takes time and an ongoing commitment to understanding and serving your customers. But when you get this right, you’ll ultimately save time and resources by investing in marketing campaigns that actually work. On the other hand, if you shortcut this process and decide to market to anyone and everyone, you’ll end up throwing away money on campaigns that are neither compelling nor profitable.
We want to help you define and engage your target audience, so we’ve created a resource to get you started. Our customer survey template includes everything you need to ask your customers to truly understand their goals, motivations, and pain points—and it’s free!
With this customer survey template, you can survey your customers via email, website forms, or personal conversations to understand what drives them. From there, you can define your target audience and develop compelling campaigns to engage your target market and drive sales. You can even save this resource to reuse down the road as you continually refine your audience research and stay at the top of your industry. Click below to access your free customer survey template now.