🧭 How To Guides

How to define your target audience 🔎

Published on

January 25, 2023


min read

Why even bother? 🤷

Try walking into a busy area, like a shopping centre or an Underground station at rush hour, and shouting “Hi everyone!” The most you might get is an awkward or judgmental sideways glance.

Then try shouting a specific name. Maybe Adam, or Jess, or Liv. You’ll still get lots of people ignoring you, but you’re much more likely to get a handful of people look up with real interest (or maybe fear, given the circumstances). And if you’re handing out Adam, Jess or Liv-themed goodies, you might even get that most rarefied of marketing jargon - engagement.

That’s the point of a target audience. Talking to everyone often means you’re talking to no one. But narrowing down your search for customers, identifying who they are, what they think and how they feel, and having the right message for them, gives you a much better chance of getting those people to buy your product or service.

What is a target audience? 🫵

A target audience is the specific group of people who you want to reach with your marketing message.

Typically, they are the people who are most likely to buy from you.

And that’s important to remember - even if your product is used by one group, that doesn’t mean they’re always the ones buying it. Old Spice is a men’s grooming brand - but discovered that the people buying the product weren’t men, but the women in their lives. Girlfriends, wives, (even mums?) - this was their target audience.

But trying to target girlfriends and wives isn’t exactly an audience strategy. That group includes an awful lot of people, from 16 year olds in their first relationship to an elderly couple celebrating their 50th anniversary. Defining your target audience means getting specific.

The wrong kind of specific 🏰

Most marketers narrow down their audience by demographic detail. 25-34 year olds, living in urban areas who watch Downton Abbey and cycle to work every other Wednesday.

But demographics don’t give you the real picture.

See if you can name someone who

  • Was born in 1948
  • Grew up in England
  • Has been married twice
  • Has 2 children
  • Spends winter holidays in the Alps
  • Lives in a castle
  • Is obscenely wealthy

Did you say King Charles?

Congrats! That’s right!

But you’d be just as correct if you also said bat-eating rockstar Ozzy Osbourne.

Defining your target audience means more than finding simplistic facts about their lives. It is a strategic exercise, not a mathematical exercise of finding your “average” consumer. After all, the average UK citizen has just under one testicle. Good luck trying to find anyone matching that description.

This is not to say that data isn’t your friend. Data is the only way to find your target audience - but you need to make sure it’s clarifying the messy real world, not obscuring it.

Step 1 - The right kind of specific 💭

Instead of starting with who your audience is, start with how.

How do people behave, how do they think, how do they feel.

Use all the tools at your disposal to answer these questions. Quantitative research, social media and digital behaviours, questionnaires, conversations with real people. Here are some questions you might want to consider…

How people behave

How do people approach purchases in your category? Do they research online? How and where do they buy it? If they don’t already buy from you, what do they do instead? How do they use your product, or your competitors’ products?

How people think

What do people think about your category? Is it an essential, or a treat? What do they think about your brand in particular? If they do, how do they talk about your product? What are the most important factors when it comes to picking between brands in your category?

How people feel

What kind of mindset are people likely to be in when they buy from you? What problem in their lives does your product solve for them? Whose opinions do they trust in this category?

🎯 If you want to take this a step further, you should consider carrying out an audience segmentation. Rather than thinking about your customers, this involves considering your entire potential market - every single person who might buy from you now or in the future. This is a useful but time-consuming process to ensure you’re choosing the right target audience. If you want to find out more about audience segmentation, we have a new guide coming very soon.

Step 2 - Profiling your existing customers 📝

With the same questions in mind, you could look at your existing customers and how they behave, think and feel. Think about what they have in common (and in this case, considering demographic detail is worth the time), from where they live to how they feel about your brand.

Use this opportunity to reach out to customers for feedback - not only to find out more about them, but also as a way to build a stronger relationship with them.

Step 3 - Assessing the competition 🏊‍♂️

A last step in researching your audience can be casting an eye over your competition. Visit their websites and social media pages, and try to make a guess on who they’re trying to speak to. Facebook Ad library can be a great tool to see what kind of messages they are spending money on, and who those messages might be for.

You might decide you want to target a different group of people to a rival brand, or you might want to be more provocative and try to steal share of market from them. In either case, having a bit of knowledge about the type of people who aren’t choosing your brand can be just as useful as knowing about the people who do choose you.

Step 4 - Definitions and Objectives 🎯

So now that you’ve got an understanding of your target audience, you need a way to define them for your sales and marketing teams. Failing anything else, you need an easy way to refer to them that describes a key differentiator about them. This is where many marketers will create a (typically alliterative) name for their target audience group - Budget Breakers, Tech Treaters, Digital Dummies. But you don’t need to be as kitsch as most marketers. For instance, Old Spice could have called their target audience “Women who want their man to smell like the man they really want”. Sure it’s wordy, but it’s pithy and funny enough to be memorable - and most importantly, it says something about this group.

The next part of defining them is to summarise what you’ve discovered in a simple ‘From/To’ framework. Write down how they behave, think and feel now, and how you’d like that to change.

For example…

🖼️ You might want to build a fuller picture of your target audience - and a persona is an excellent tool to do just that. Our audience persona guide is coming soon.

Defining your audience this way is doubly important as it helps you to clarify your objectives for your campaign. Rather than just dealing in marketing and business objectives, like growing awareness, consideration or sales, an in-depth understanding of your audience enables you to set communications objectives. The changes in how people think and feel about your product, brand and category, and how their behaviour changes because of that, is at the heart of setting effective objectives.

And that’s it - for now. Learning how to define your target audience is just the start of making sure your brand survives. People expect content and experiences that are personalised and unique to them, and brands can’t afford to be general one-stop shops for anyone who might interact with them.

It takes in-depth knowledge of your customers and potential audience - what they want, need, expect, think, feel and do. And it takes a rigorous and often ruthless approach to audience segmentation and prioritisation.

But it’s not rocket science. Remember - your target audience is simply the people who you want to reach with your marketing messages. Even if they're not the ones who are actually using your product...

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