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The “Who” Matters: Defining Your Target Audience

By April 25, 2012July 1st, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
The “Who” Matters: Defining Your Target Audience

With the introduction of more highly accessible, instantaneous marketing tactics to the already ever-changing marketing landscape, it becomes more important than ever to know exactly who you are targeting.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of social media marketing, but just like any other marketing vehicle, it only works if your audience is using it.

Take Facebook for example.  We know it can be extremely successful in generating awareness and helping to increase sales if you are reaching the right audience.  The keyword there is IF.   According to a new study, 70% of people who like a page on Facebook are NOT in that company’s target audience.

Businesses spend a lot of time answering “what” and a lot of money answering “how,” but perhaps the most important question you can ask is “who.” After all, what good is the perfect product if nobody buys it?  So just WHO are your potential customers?

Who Is Your target Audience?

In its simplest form, your target audience can be broken into two groups:

  1. New Customers- those that need/want your product AND are able to buy it.  The key is that they must meet both criteria.
  2. Repeat Customers- those that have already bought your product and would purchase it again.

In order to understand how to target these two groups and market your product successfully, you need to understand who they are, where they are, what they like and how they behave.

Defining Demographics

Demographic information is basic information that can usually be found on a registration form or from census data.   This is what threads together the common characteristics of your potential customers.  Are they male or female? How old are they? What is their household income?

Important demographic statistics that a company might consider when marketing their products include gender, race, age, marital status, children, home ownership, employment status, and income.

Geographic Targeting

Where in the world are your customers? Literally. You want to know where they are located geographically: country, region, state, city. You may keep your demographics broad to reach a wider audience, especially if you are an internet based business or have an ecommerce component. Or, if you are trying to reach a very specific geographic location, you can also be extremely granular right down to zip code and specific neighborhood.

Psychographic Profiling

Since the way we do business today is much more consumer focused, it’s critical to paint a detailed picture of who you are trying to reach.  Psychographic information relates to personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles.  You may also hear them called IAO variables (for Interests, Activities, and Opinions).  This kind of information helps further hone in on the potential customers that are most relevant to your specific product or service.

Characteristics such as “likes to ski”, “works out regularly”, “cost-conscious”, “dog owner,”  “favors organic foods,” and “values family time” are all important  things to know about your customers and will be extremely helpful later when determining where to market your message.   Think about all the different types of websites, publications and programming out there… if your message is in a relevant place for your customers, you’ve won half the battle.

Behavior Patterns

How does your target audience behave?  Most often when you hear the word behavior as it relates to marketing, people are referring to a consumer’s online behaviors and patterns.  What sites do they frequent?  Do they research products online? Do they shop online?  How often?  Do they use Facebook? How often do they check email?

When thinking about behavioral martketing, extend beyond just online and consider all actions – online and offline – that can impact purchasing.  This may also include driving kids to soccer practice once a week, listening to the radio in the car, shopping at department stores or clipping coupons from the Money Saver.  (When defining the HOW, you’ll see that most behaviors have marketing vehicles associated with them.  For instance, driving to soccer may translate to outdoor advertising, clipping coupons from money saver may translate into direct mail and so on.)

There are no hard and fast rules, so think hard and be as specific as you can be.  The more details you know about your target market’s daily life, the better you can understand and predict their actions which in turn will help you determine the best time and place to reach them.

Where To Start

Start by examining your current or repeat customers.  This is an important group to understand. First, it will help you define new customers by seeing similarities and patterns.  Second, it’s actually more cost effective to keep a current customer than to acquire a new one.  Learn everything you can about your current customers and use that information wisely.  Analyze all your data.  See what demographic and geographic characteristics are shared.  Find the common values, likes and behaviors.  Once you have that data, you can make marketing assumptions accordingly.

If that data is not readily available, survey your current customers.  Add questions to a registration form, provide a brief online survey, or offer a small incentive for customers to provide you with information you need.  Consumers love to give their input and actually appreciate the personal connection you are trying to make.  Just be careful not to overload them with too many questions.  Keep it short and sweet.  Ask for only what you consider the most important information.

Lastly, brainstorm about potential new customers.  Outline new customers in terms of the four categories listed above then compare and contrast until you have a detailed picture of WHO you are trying to reach.  Where will they come from?  What common characteristics do they share?  What activities do they engage in?  What are their purchasing habits?  How do they compare to your current customers?  Now that you know the WHO, you can move on to the HOW.  But that’s a subject for a different article!

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Hey Lisa, amazing post, a lot of details. I love it but I am also bookmarking into my evernote “re-read often” bookmark. This is something I need to rethink every time I get into a new project 🙂

    • Thanks Brankica, I’m glad you found the article helpful. I know what you mean, sometimes you have to pull out your bag of tricks and remind yourself that they’re there. There’s so much to think about and do when it comes to business, it doesn’t hurt to take a refresher once in a while!

  • Adrienne says:

    Hey Carol,

    Great post Lisa shared with us and I sure wish I’d had this information when I was first starting out.  Like Brankica said though, this one is worth bookmarking to come back to often when you are venturing into a new niche or helping those who need these questions answered.  

    There are a lot of different areas to consider so you definitely want to define who your target audience is before you jump in head first with your marketing.  So important.

    Thanks for sharing this and I’ll be reading this one again.


    • Thanks, Adrienne. I like Lisa’s style, I think she says things very clearly and is very helpful. Some of this goes in the “I knew that!” column, but knowing doesn’t always mean doing. At least for me, it helps to bring out the reminders!

  • Nicky_price says:

    Interesting post – statistics always intrigue me and I was especially intrerested to know more about demographics particularly as some simple stats on my blog tell me that despite living in the UK an extremely high percentage of all my traffic and sales comes from the US and yet I rank higher (sometimes ) on local Google than on US. 

    It is interesting to find out more about our readers and target market and I must admit as a network marketer I did this all the wrong order.  To me (when I first started) everyone was my target market (hence I didn’t do very well offline!!).

    I enjoyed reading that,

    • Nicky, that is so common especially when you’re just starting out! When I started my business, I would’ve shined shoes as soon as build a website if it paid the rent! Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of doing everything “the right way” but the important thing is that we learn. It’s awesome that you know your stats, a lot of people don’t even go that far, so good for you.

  • Great post Lisa,

    No doubt the who does matter. Identifying your target market is really important if you don’t want to waste your time trying to sale the wrong people.  

    When I was involved in network marketing I really learned what barking at wrong tree does. It does nothing 🙂  So, then I really got it.  There is no use in marketing to the wrong crowd.

    Thank you for this, Lisa and Carol 🙂

    • Exactly! I like your analogy – stop barking up the wrong tree! So true, and I wish more people would learn it sooner. But I think we all learn it the hard way 🙂

  • Caroline J says:

    This give food for thought, but what do you do if you don’t have any customers yet? Also, How do you ascertain a person’s annual income? I’ve read a lot of views on how to define a target market, but very few from the viewpoint of a person starting out with no customers and little on practical things to do to help define the market.
    Perhaps you have some specific suggestions for me?

    • Hi Caroline! Good question, and whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been around a while, you define your target audience before you look for them. You don’t need customers to know which customers you want.

      Once you know what you’re offering by way of product or service, you can begin to build a picture of who would buy it. Let’s say you’re selling a $1 widget. That’s pretty affordable so you’re looking at an audience with a low to average income. At that price tag you are probably also not going to appeal to high net income people. On the other hand if your widget is $10,000 you’re looking at a higher end market. I know that’s a very rough example but you get the point.
      Decide who your product would help and appeal to. Men or women? Young or old? Do they have specific hobbies or other interests? Are they parents, married, single?

      You probably aren’t going to know what someone’s income is but you can make some educated estimates. Are they driving a Mercedes or a Toyota? Do they wear Gucci shoes or generic loafers? It might sound like a crude judgement but you have to know who you’re trying to reach and then look for those people.

      Your message and marketing will speak to your audience and when you meet someone or speak with them for the first time you can get a sense of whether they would be a fit for you.

      So before you start looking for customers, draw a picture of your ideal customer – beliefs, attitudes, personality, lifestyle, characteristics. Who do YOU WANT to sell to and who does YOUR PRODUCT (or service) appeal to?

  • cwhayman says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for this post. I am setting myself up as a freelance business information researcher/analyst and will be thinking through your points and applying them to businesses rather than individuals.

    Do you have any marketing tips aimed at intangible goods? I am looking at the benefits of what I do and building on that …

    • I’ll jump in on that question… I think you need to hit on many of the same things you would if you were selling something tangible. There has to be a benefit, a “what’s in it for me” for your customer. Selling with story can be powerful, if you can create a personality around your business that other people can relate to. You have to hit on the pain points and show how your service is going to help. What are your customers afraid of, anxious about, worried about? What are their concerns? That’s where defining your audience comes in. You have to know what they want and what they don’t want. What need are you going to fill? You have to dig down to the bottom of someone’s motivation for hiring you. Are you going to save them time? Money? Aggravation? Will you make their lives better/easier? Once you define your audience you can start to craft your message around what they want.

  • If you are not defining your targeting audience then you will lose your money as well as your priceless time. So, make sure you target your related audience only.