How Do You Decide On Your Target Audience (And How Well Do You Know Them)?


This is one of the questions I get asked most when I speak at events or offer marketing advice: how do I figure out who my target customer segment is (or alternatively, how do I learn more about my audience)?

This is usually said in response to my asserting fiercely that you should have a narrowly focused target segment and to know that segment well.

Let's take this step by step.

1. Start with a basic customer profile.

If you're just starting your business (or your blog), you probably have at least a hazy idea of what your target audience is like. Most people, if I push them, will admit something like, "Oh, I thought people like me could use this service."

That's a good start, but go further. What are the characteristics of "people like you" that are relevant when it comes to defining your audience? Are we talking eye color, shoe size, income, taste in music? Write down all the relevant attributes. For example, for a content site, this could be:

  • Women within the age of 25-35
  • Who have children
  • Live in big cities
  • Aren't rich (however you choose to define this)
  • Aren't interested in cooking or housework
  • Are interested in pop culture
  • Like reading

And so on.

2. Match your content to your audience.

Now check: does your target audience match your product and your messaging? Let's say these are some blog post topics you've laid out for the next month:

  1. Which movies this week are worth the cost and bother of getting a babysitter (regular feature)
  2. How to get stains out of your cocktail dress without spending all your coffee money on laundry
  3. How to keep your child entertained without turning on the TV
  4. How to throw the perfect dinner party to impress your in-laws
  5. Is your purse gross? Here's how to clean it.
  6. How to deal with getting back to work after maternity leave
  7. The perfect music to make vacuuming fun (well, almost!)

Which of these doesn't fit our target audience profile? Don't cheat: answer before you read on.

You're right, it's #4: someone who isn't interested in cooking or housework is probably not going to go to a lot of effort to throw a perfect dinner party. What might work better might be something like this:

  • Recipes to get dinner ready in twenty minutes, flat

3. Test and Analyze

Keep an eye on who's viewing your content (or responding to your campaigns). Whether you use Google Analytics or some other tool, look at data like what cities your visitors are in and what language they speak. Look at who's commenting and who likes your Facebook page. Does the data match your assumptions?

4. Ask your Audience

If you have an audience already (don't worry if it's small), ask them. Ask them who they are and why they read you/buy from you. Do they match your target profile?

5. Tweak your Strategy

If after all this you find out you are getting exactly the kind of audience you were targeting, congratulations: you're a marketing genius! Just keep doing what you're doing.

For most of us, it's not so easy: you might find that:

  1. You've got a big enough audience and are meeting all your business goals, but the audience isn't who you thought they would be
  2. Some of your audience somewhat matches your target profile

If it's 1, you need to decide whether you want to address the audience who actually likes your product or to tweak your product so that it will appeal to the audience you initially wanted to target. Neither approach is wrong: which is easier and looks more worthwhile for your business?

If it's 2, you can decide whether to tweak your product or tweak your target segment. The first might be easier if your product is something like content, where you can change direction somewhat easily. If your product has a long production process or needs a lot of R&D, finding a more suitable target audience might be the way to go.

But in any case, your work's not done! Audiences mature and evolve, and competitors lure them away. You need to continuously make an effort to know your audience, so you can continue to serve them well.

About the Author: Unmana Datta

Unmana is the co-founder of Markitty, a tool that recommends actions to improve your online marketing. She writes about marketing for startups and small businesses on the Markitty blog and can be found on Twitter @Unmana.

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