Defining your target audience is essential to the success of your marketing efforts.
But I’ll take it a step further. Even if you have no intention of marketing, before you set up your business, you need to know who your target audience is and what that audience wants.
It’s not just about creating a product or service that you think fills a gap in the market. You need to understand why. What pain points does your business solve? What research have you done? What data have you collected to back up your theories? Without this key information, you can’t be sure you’re adequately targeting the right audience.
So let’s review the definition for a target audience.
What is a target audience?
A target audience is the niche group of people most likely to buy your product or service—aka potential customers.
Defining a target audience is a crucial phase in your marketing strategy. It’s the foundation on which your marketing is built. Target audiences determine the message or content you create and the media channels you advertise in, so getting this wrong can massively affect your marketing efforts.
Here’s a few examples of a target audience.
One of Zoom’s target audiences is small businesses and large enterprises with a global workforce. But during the pandemic, the brand saw the need to assist educators. So they pivoted and expanded their target audience. Now Zoom also targets education customers (e.g., schools) and healthcare educators (e.g., telemedicine).
Target audience vs. target market - is it the same?
There’s a ton of confusion surrounding the question, “What is a target audience and how does it differ from your target market?” Many marketers use them interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Your target audience is a niche or narrow version of your target market. So your target market is the broad group of people whom your business serves.
For example, my target market is small business owners and entrepreneurs investing in marketing.
My target audience is business owners struggling to build out a marketing plan and successfully implement it to get results. As you can see, I’ve chosen a very specific audience.
Why you need to define your target audience
Correctly defining your target audience impacts every marketing campaign you create, the social media channels you choose to advertise in, the blog posts you write, and the content you deliver to your audience.
There are two common roadblocks to business success:
1. Targeting everyone doesn't work.
So many business owners make the mistake of trying to find people for their products. In advertising, we call this mass marketing. There are three reasons why this approach doesn’t work:
- You don’t have enough firepower (money and time) to win at mass marketing. Big brands like Coca-Cola use this kind of marketing, and they’re over 100 years old. Also, their net operating costs for 2020 totalled $33 billion. So that gives you an idea of the kind of money you need to be making.
- Saying something is for everyone essentially says it’s for no one. In a cluttered marketing space, you have to stand out. And the only way to do that is to be hyper-relevant.
- Specialists are more sought-after than generalists. By niching down, you make price irrelevant.
So even if your product or service is perfect, universal, or all-inclusive, you’ll never get everyone to buy from you.
2. Unless you've been a part of your target market, you don't really understand them.
Unless you are or have been a member of your target audience, I guarantee you don’t know them as well as you think you do.
You don’t understand their dreams, hopes, struggles, and motivations. You don’t know what makes them tick.
And in a highly crowded and competitive market, really knowing your target audience is your best shot at success and profitability.
Think about some of your best friends. You know what they’re thinking and feeling, how to make them laugh, and how to get their attention. The same thinking can be applied to your target audience.
Because getting inside their heads is going to dictate any messaging your business creates. If you don’t know whom you’re talking to, you’re not speaking to them properly, and they won’t pay attention.
That equals wasted dollars. You might as well cash in your marketing budget and flush it down your toilet.
It’s not just about knowing who your target audience is. It’s about understanding why they buy.
How do you define your target audience?
Most people or online marketing posts will tell you to focus on audience demographics.
They’ll tell you to define your target audience in terms of their age, gender (male or female), income, education level, marital status, and other aspects of their lives.
Gathering this data is a vital first step in the audience research phase, but it doesn’t reveal their pain points or interests. It’s not going to give you insight into their daily lives, the challenges they face, or what drives their decision-making process.
Without audience insights, it’s nearly impossible to create a targeted marketing campaign. If you don’t know them, you don’t know:
- What message will get them to click on your brand ads
- What media channels to advertise in
- Which social media networks to use
Do these 4 things to find your target audience:
1. Conduct market research.
The goal of market research is to understand who your target customers are and what they like. You’ll start with demographic information such as age, gender, location, race, sex, religion, whatever. This answers the who, but it doesn’t cover the why.
Next, you want to figure out:
- What social media posts do they like? When are they most active online?
- What ads do they engage with?
- What stresses them out?
- Where do they prefer to shop and why?
You can use google analytics, focus groups, email surveys, and social media channels to gather these vital audience insights.
The point of this exercise is to collate comprehensive data that you can use to inform your decisions. For example, it may reveal that your audience is most likely to engage with social media challenges.
2. Use creative storytelling to build a clear picture of your target audience.
Create a detailed picture of your target audience using the data you gather in the market research phase. This is a customer avatar, but to cut to the chase, I’ll use personas.
Identify at least two personas with actual wants and desires.
Choose a photo for each persona. (You’ll have to visualize them in your mind if you’re selling to them in the future.)
This persona needs to cover demographic and psychographic information, for example:
- What’s their name?
- What’s their age?
- What gender do they identify as?
- Where do they live? Be specific.
- What’s their education level?
- Do they have kids? Pets?
- What’s their life circumstance? For example, did they just get married or buy a new car? Are they a student? Whatever.
- Where do they work? For example, do they own a business? Are they a CEO or a stay-at-home-parent?
- What stresses them out?
Your goal with each persona is to be as detailed as possible. For example, if they went to university, tell me which university they went to, why they chose that school, what informed their decision, and what goals they wanted to achieve.
And don’t forget that throughout this process, you want to ask yourself, Is this the type of person who would choose my product over competitors?
3. Think about your audience’s decision-making process.
What makes one person choose between two similar products? Is it price, packaging, product name?
Consider these examples: Patagonia, Burton, and Costco. All are quality brands, but they have very different values which align with their various target audiences.
While a Patagonia buyer prioritizes social responsibility, a die-hard Burton fan prioritizes trendiness and being cool. This contrasts with a Costco brand evangelist who prioritizes value for money.
So buying behavior is something you need to care about.
- How do they think through a purchase? Where do they consult? For example, do they follow influencers on social media, Google reviews, or ask their tech buddies?
- What do they prioritize? For example, do they have a built-in bias in the way they made this decision?
If you don’t understand your target audience’s decision-making process, it’ll be harder to address their pain points, and you won’t attract qualified leads.
4. Refine and repeat your target audience analysis.
Defining a target audience is an iterative process. This exercise is never done. You’ll continue to tweak and clarify as you learn more about your target market through conversational sales, and as you add new products and services.
How to find your target audience
Now let’s get into the audience research phase. This is the process of finding your target audiences. And here, I want you to think about infiltrating your industry.
You’ll use your existing customers and compile data from media, demographics, online content, and social media channels. The point is to form an image of who your audience may be, what interests them, what challenges they face, and what message you need to create to get your target audience to self-identify.
You also want to be able to answer the following:
- What apps are they on all of the time?
- Do they prefer watching short TikTok videos over lengthy Youtube tutorials?
- Are they more likely to watch your live stream on Facebook or Instagram?
- When and where are they most active on their phone? For example, are they most active around 8 or 9 pm when they’re in bed or on lunch break at work?
- What websites do they visit?
- What do they Google?
- Are they into the latest trends or bargain hunting?
- What matters to them most? Is it family, status, jobs, travel, music?
Here’s how you can begin to infiltrate your audience and build out your personas:
Step 1: Complete the PVP Index.
Using the PVP Index helps identify the target audiences you want to work with and those you don’t. Remember, not all consumers are your target audience. The wrong customer can impact not only your sales but also your team productivity and happiness. So it’s vital that your campaigns are targeting the right customer.
Here’s how to get started. Look at your current pool of customers and answer these three questions:
- Who do you enjoy working with the most?
- Who most values your product or service? How are you different from competitors? Why do these consumers love your brand?
- Who is most profitable? Which customer is willing to pay top dollar for your products or services?
Answering these questions will help you to define your ideal target audience.
Step 2: Use Facebook's Business Suite Insights.
Social media giant Facebook has recently transitioned from Audience Insights to Business Suite Insights. You can use this tool to review audience data and view performance trends and metrics across Facebook and Instagram.
So you’ll be able to see:
- Demographic data (age, gender, location, education level, job industry, relationship status)
- Interests – pages they have a high affinity for (Page likes on Facebook only)
- Followers (Instagram only)
- Top cities and countries
- Device preference
- The frequency of their Facebook activity, including page likes, comments, shares, clicks on ads, and redeemed promotions
This helps you get an idea of what your existing target audience is into. Once you’ve done your audience research, you need to review your findings and make sense of the data.
For example, if your target market is 30-45, female, married, has a degree, and lists director or CEO as their title, you can assume they’re swamped. Now, look at their most viewed pages. Around 70% shop online for groceries, clothes, and they order takeout three times a week. From this data, we can confidently assume this audience might value convenience and have little spare time.
This audience research is vital to building your personas. But we’ve only skimmed the surface. To go deeper, I like to use a tool called SparkToro.
Step 3: Use SparkToro.
Here’s why I love SparkToro. It crawls the entire web and all social media channels so you can see:
- What your target audience frequently talks about
- The ords they include in their profiles
- The social media accounts or brands they follow
- The content they engage with
- The websites they frequently visit
- The podcasts they listen to
- The hashtags they use
It also gives you access to your customers’ top sources of influence as well as where they hang out. This audience insight will help you decide which brands to connect with so you can collaborate with them on ad campaigns.
I want you to remember that data is your friend. It’ll confirm or deny your hunches, so use it.
For example, say your audience—high-powered businesswomen—follow yoga influencers and listen to business podcasts specifically for female leaders. But, they’re also checking out websites on how to raise happy kids and manage work-life commitments.
This insight tells you they’re driven, and they take care of their physical and mental health. But life is more than just their career. These women also worry about their kids and how their work impacts them. So while they may be confident in business, home life offers a host of challenges.
Step 4: Survey your customers using an email Q&A form.
Surveys are a popular method for gathering data. Your business can use electronic surveys or closed focus groups to get to know your customers better. The only problem with surveys as a research strategy is that customers tend to lie. Your audience may give you the answer they think you want to hear instead of a genuine response.
Nevertheless, if you choose to create a survey, remember to:
- Limit the number of questions (because no one has time to spend 10 minutes on a questionnaire).
- Focus on writing closed-ended questions. These are yes/no answers.
- Don’t ask leading questions. This prompts the type of answer you’re company is hoping to gain.
- Include an incentive of some sort. What do they gain by taking part?
Journalists love statistics, and the data from surveys can tie nicely into free press for your business. Still, you need to collect responses from a couple of thousand people in your target audience for it to be deemed credible. So I’d only use surveys if your goal is to create a report.
As an alternative strategy, I prefer to gain insight into my target audiences by focusing on my best customers. Which brings me to the next step.
Step 5: Engage your Favorite Customer or Client.
Interviewing your favorite customers is the best way to get inside the minds of your ideal target audience.
Perhaps you’ve tried mass-messaging your followers on social media. Maybe you got a ton of responses, but nothing that definitive. The problem is you’re appealing to an audience that’s too broad.
So when targeting your favorite customers, you’re picking a small group of people who do business with your brand or company all the time. They love your product or service, but why? And this is what you need to gain insight too.
For example, I want you to find out:
- What do they love about you or your business? Did they talk about value or quality of service?
- What blew them away?
- What words do they use to describe themselves?
- What words do they use to describe you?
Remember, if they’re your ideal client, they’re automatically a part of your target audience.
Step 6: Use Google Analytics to track your website's content performance.
Your website is an asset that does so much more than just promote your business. Combined with Google Analytics, you can quickly learn a ton about the audiences that visit your site.
For example, you can see:
- Which pages generate traffic
- What content performs well—for example, is your target audience drawn to video content or do they prefer written content?
- What topics (or blog posts) receive the most traffic
- Which pages don’t receive traffic
- Your audience demographics—age, location, the devices they use to access your site
So it’s key to learning more about your target audience, what topics to cover in your ads, campaigns, and the content you need to be creating.
Step 7: Analyze what your target audience is saying on social media.
Do you use social media to reach your target audience? What type of content do you post? Do you notice similar patterns to the conversations you have with your audiences?
Social media is a great way to collect data. It’s fast and easy to engage with your audiences, and you can target your ads or surveys to reach a specific demographic or group of people.
Look, it’s virtually instant feedback, so make it a key component of your research.
Step 8: Read your online reviews.
In 2020, Trustpilot reported that 9 out of 10 online shoppers read reviews before buying a product. And they’re not only reading reviews about your company. They’re reading the reviews of your competitors.
For your target audience research, you want to read your 1-star and 5-star reviews. Again you’ll learn what consumers love about your product or service and what they hate. You can use this insight to make meaningful improvements.
Step 9: Join a forum or browse SUBRedditS.
Reddits posts some interesting content from across the world. Many forums are also open to a global audience, so you’re able to gain invaluable insight into your brand or company. This is particularly important if your consumers are located across the world.
Remember, when we speak about targeting, your ads need to be relevant and sensitive to the region it’s been shown in.
Here are two examples to consider. H&M’s disastrous children’s clothing campaign. Remember the Coolest Monkey In The Jungle? It showed a white boy wearing a tiger jersey and an African boy wearing a monkey. Consumers were outraged by the decisions made by the marketing team and riots occurred in some South African H&M stores.
And in South Africa, Clicks Pharmacy ran digital ads comparing a white woman’s “normal” hair to an African woman’s “frizzy and dull” and “dry and damaged” hair. These digital banners didn’t just land the retailer in hot water, they caused the brand to be pulled from all stores countrywide.
Consumers are sensitive to the messaging your company puts out there. You can sink your brand if you’re not careful.
Stop guessing and start knowing your target audiences.
And that’s our complete guide to understanding your target audiences.
- The definition of target audience
- How to use demographics to inform the personas of your target audience
- Various ways to research your target audience
- Why data is key to inspiring and creating meaningful content and targeted ads
- Examples of target audiences
Now it’s time to define yours. To help you get started, we’ve put together a target market challenge. It’s going to take you through the process of identifying and understanding your brand’s audience.
Join our inner circle to learn more about how you can take the 10-Day Target Market Challenge. Subscribe now.