Your customers. Your community. Your people. Your squad. Whatever you call them, your target audience is the most important group of humans in your life. (Besides your family and friends. Maybe.)
How to Define Your Target Audience
As an entrepreneur, your target audience is the lifeblood of your business, and it will not succeed if you don’t know them.
And by “know,” we’re talking a complete, all-consuming knowledge of the people you’re targeting for purchase of your product or service.
Who are they? How do they spend their day? Are they married with kids, or living the single life? Do they ride a bike, drive a car, or scooter their way to work? Are they allergic to peanut butter? What stereotypes do they fulfill, and how do they surprise you?
Okay, so not every single one of the above questions may be necessary for you to ask, but you get the gist.
In short, this knowledge of your target audience will drive your entire marketing strategy—your product, positioning, pricing, and promotion. But it’s not always easy to get to know them. It takes more than an afternoon on the whiteboard. Even worse, you might be flat wrong about them.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’re going to explore why you should define your target audience and how to go about doing so. After reading this post, you may know your target audience better than your best friend or significant other. (Just don’t tell them that.)
The Importance of a Defined Target Audience
Defining your target audience will dictate almost all of the business, product, and marketing decisions you make. The language you use, the sales channels you pursue, the information you share, the product upgrades you offer, and more, all will be contingent upon the group of people you’re trying to appeal to.
These kinds of decisions are not one-size-fits-all, and if you treat them that way, you’ll be throwing money out the window. Defining your target audience will help you avoid wasting resources like time, money, and manpower that are precious for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
You’ll also have better luck grabbing the attention and meeting the needs of one specific group rather than meeting only some of the needs of a variety of groups. Unfortunately, “everyone” doesn’t count as a target audience. As tempting as it is to appeal to the most people possible (regardless of demographic), it’s just not a smart business decision. Even the smallest niche market has plenty of people to serve, but try to get them all, and you’ll likely end up with nothing.
There’s a quote that reminds me of this scenario: “if you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.” This proverb illustrates a failure to decide. While chasing multiple audiences may seem appealing, the lack of decision on your part will negatively impact your business, in the long run, not to mention exhausting your resources and people.
Working with a defined audience gives you a clear roadmap for your marketing, messaging, and relationships with your customers. Once you decide exactly who to target, the rest will fall into place.
Let’s use my business as an example. When I started my local consignment business, I simply targeted women in my city and the surrounding areas. My messaging was vague, my location was uninspired, and my social media advertising was solely targeted by gender and zip code. (I’m losing interest just describing it!)
I hadn’t done my research on who my customers were, what problems they faced, or why they would possibly shop with me. And the outcome of my first event clearly reflected my complete lack of target audience.
To remedy my mistakes, I’ve spent the past year conducting a deep dive into my target audience. You wouldn’t believe how many changes I’ve made to my business using this analysis! My promotional strategy, event location, and product offering, just to name a few, have been significantly altered based on this research. Now, I can approach my next event with confidence that I’m giving my audience exactly what they need (even if they don’t know it).
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So, how can you deliver on your audience’s needs? Well, first you’ve got to know ‘em. Let’s talk about how to define your audience and discover your people.
(Don’t worry about how to put this knowledge to use just yet. Once you define your audience, you can head on over to this post where I discuss the many ways to use your target audience to improve your business.)
3 Steps to Truly Knowing Your Target Audience
Getting to know your target audience is not necessarily a straightforward process.
It involves a handful of resources, a commitment to research and specificity, and a bit of creativity.
But before we begin, do me a favor. Stand up, stretch your legs, and head to the nearest mirror. (Or grab your phone and turn on the camera.)
Take a look. How do you identify yourself as a person? What’s your age, gender, relationship status, career, income level, and hometown? What about your likes and dislikes, food preferences, hobbies, habits, and general lifestyle? What about your consumption and spending habits?
Guess what? You are part of a target audience. (Well, most likely way more than just one.)
Defining you has given them clarity on their marketing strategy, and they’re currently trying to sell you their product or service based on who you are as a person, an entrepreneur, a dog-owner, a husband, or a middle-of-the-night online shopper.
Creepy? Yes and no. Bottom line: It’s a hallmark of good marketing, always has been. And you can do the same for your business. Here’s how.
Step 1: Start With What You Know
This article should equip you to create a full profile based on your defined target audience. As you read, answer these questions as they pertain to your business. When you’re first figuring these answers out, it’s a good idea to mine your team’s collective knowledge and understanding. Ideally these questions will be answered, at least in part, based on real live people. But early on, they might have to be based just on your team’s personal background or knowledge.
Let’s start simple—with demographics. This basic data will help you begin to shape how you identify your audience.
Start with data like age, gender, location, income and education levels, career, relationship and family status, religious and political preferences, ethnicity, and race.
If you don’t believe some of this data matters to your business, put “N/A” or “All.” Otherwise, be as specific as possible. As you research these groups of peoples, you’ll be surprised at how the most random of demographic data can drive purchase decisions.
For example, when I first defined my target audience, I didn’t think that the relationship and family status of my female customers mattered. Turns out that married women with young kids were less likely to shop with me because at that point in their lives, they’d rather spend money on their kids and families than on themselves. Making note of that has changed many components of my business and marketing strategy.
Next, let’s jump into psychographics. This section allows you to get a little more creative, while still sticking to the story of your target audience.
Consider your audience’s interests, hobbies, and passions. How does your ideal buyer spend his or her time? How about his or her money? What blogs, newspapers, and magazines does he or she read? What is their favorite food and movie? What social media networks does he or she use? What does he or she do on weekends?
Now, let’s talk about dislikes, annoyances, and problems. Is your ideal buyer happy in his or her job? What social or political issues affect him or her? What problems does he or she face in everyday life?
Asking yourself more in-depth questions can help you get closer to the heart of your target audience — and ultimately how you can meet their need(s) or solve their problem(s).
Some of you may be asking, “What if I just started my business and don’t have customers yet?” Well, it’s okay to create fake personas. The above questions should help you determine your ideal buyer; they may not be an actual person, even for established businesses with real customers.
Targeting your ideal buyer should be your ultimate goal.
Step 2: Look Around You
After exhausting you and your team’s knowledge about your target audience, take a look around you at your customers, competition, and product or service itself. Start to fill in the blanks.
If your business is active, take a look at your current customers. Why do they buy from you, and what kinds of people bring in the most revenue? Do you notice any common characteristics and interests? Pinpointing themes among your current buyers can help you target people just like them.
If you want to learn more from your customer base, consider conducting some primary research. This will help you gather valuable data straight from the mouths of your buyers.
You can go about this in a few different ways:
- Distribute surveys through a tool like SurveyMonkey, Google Docs, or TypeForm. Send out an email asking for your customers’ help, or offer a giveaway in exchange for their participation.
- Interview your consumers and ask them about, well, themselves. Not only is this the most direct and personal way to gather information, but these interviews can also serve as user-generated content for your website and valuable testimonials for your product or service. (Just make sure you get permission.)
- Conduct a focus group. This is the most expensive of the three options, but it allows you to learn from a select few of your ideal consumers. If you have the budget, this may be worth your time and money.
If you don’t yet have a customer base, save these ideas for later. Plan to conduct this primary research once you have some buyers.
Good entrepreneurs keep a finger (or entire palm) on the pulse of their competition. If you’ve yet to conduct a competitive analysis, consider doing that for your business.
To further define your target audience, use these questions to jumpstart research on your competitors:
- What is their audience buying from them, and how are they marketing it? How are they positioned in the market?
- What is their pricing strategy? What are their customers willing to pay?
- What are people talking about online and on social media per their brand? What are their customers saying, especially in reviews?
- What kind of advertising are they investing in? What/who does their messaging speak to?
Use this information to get a feel for who your competition is targeting, and try their target audience on for size. Depending on the success of your competitors and the needs of their customers, you may want to consider pursuing their target audience or at least adding them to the list.
To further research the target audience of your competition, start by reviewing their activity online, in forums, and on social media. See where your competitor is advertising, and look into the audience that’s seeing these promotions. Lastly, visit (if a brick-and-mortar location) and consider making a purchase from your competitor.
What kinds of people are you shopping alongside? How do they respond to the product and/or pricing? Upon purchase, does your competitor make any assumptions about you or market their business further? How so?
Otherwise, use this data to distinguish your business from theirs. You may be able to find a niche audience to target—one your competitors aren’t appealing to.
For example, when I was looking to expand on my target audience, I looked to my local competition for ideas. I was lucky to have all brick-and-mortar competitors, and I made a point to visit, shop, and make a purchase from each store. I looked at my shopping companions, observed how each businesses marketed in-store, and took note of the purchase experience. Through my research, I learned that one element of a competitor’s service turned away a lot of potential customers. I used this competitor’s “weakness” to attract the shoppers that were uninterested in that competitor.
Product or Service
To better define your target audience, let’s take a deep dive into your product or service offering.
Grab a notebook and jot down all of your business’s products and/or services. I’ll follow along using Foundr as an example.
Example: One product that Foundr provides is the Foundr Magazine.
Write down the features of each product or service. Next to each feature, write down the feature’s benefits (and the benefits of those benefits).
Example: A feature of each Foundr Magazine edition is an in-depth interview article featuring a well-known founder. These interviews provide unique insight into the life, success, and leadership of said founder. Writing about the life and success of these founders attracts entrepreneurs looking to connect with, learn from, and gain unique advice from successful business owners and leaders.
Ultimately, the benefit of Foundr Magazine is to attract entrepreneurs and convert these readers into customers.
Sure, an audience defined as “entrepreneurs” is hardly deep enough, but it provides a foundation. Using this information, Foundr would know where, how, and why to market their magazine.
Take a look at your ultimate product or service benefit. What insight does it provide you on your target audience? How can it help you establish more specific data?
Specificity = Success
While working on defining your target audience and customer profile, do not shy away from specifics.
Entrepreneurs often worry that being too specific will limit their reach. Truth is, identifying a specific, data-driven target audience will help you make decisions that are inspired by your customers, which will set you up for favorable outcomes in the long run.
In short, specificity = success. Don’t be afraid to shrink your net!
Spending adequate time on this research will help you understand and relate to who your audience truly is, about their attitudes, beliefs, values, and pain points.
Understanding the top-line demographic data is the first step, but getting to the core customer problem is what will help set your products, and brand, up for success and apart from the competition.
For example, being specific in my research helped turn my business’s target audience from “women who like clothes” (lame, I know) into “childless, college-educated, Louisville-area women aged 18-35 making at least $60,000, who appreciate quality fashion and discounts, yet spend a good portion of their income on clothing, shoes, and accessories.”
Knowing these seemingly minor details actually helped pinpoint my audience’s problems as a consumer:
- She appreciates good fashion but doesn’t have loads of money to spend on brand names
- She owns quality pieces that she doesn’t wear anymore, but she doesn’t want to donate as they were too expensive
Now that I know my core customer problems, I can position my service offerings and brand to appeal to my target audience and set myself apart from my competition.
Step 3: Evaluate Your Target Audience Using Online Tools
Now that you’ve conducted the research and gathered the data, let’s do a little evaluation. Double and triple-checking your work can ensure you stay on base and keep your business front of mind.
To evaluate your target audience, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there enough people who fit the criteria I’ve pinpointed?
- Will my target really benefit from and see a need for my product or service offering?
- Do I understand how my target audience makes purchase decisions?
- Can my target audience afford my product or service?
- Is my target audience accessible to the point that I can reach them with my message?
(We’ll delve more into how to use your defined target audience in a future Foundr blog post. For now, these questions serve as checkpoints to inspire new information and ensure your research is on track.)
Answering these questions will help you decide if you’re ready to consider your target audience in your business decisions, or if you need to stop, head back to square one, and gather more data.
You may be wondering how to find some of this information. Once you’ve brainstormed and utilized your customers, competition, and product to learn all you can about your target audience, head to the good old internet. Although existing resources may not deliver the most defined or detailed information, it can help corroborate what you’ve discovered from your own primary research or ideation.
First, look up what others have researched about your target audience. There could be magazine articles, books, or blogs that touch on your audience, or at least blogs and forums in which people in your target audience discuss their opinions.
Second, use databases such as Quantcast, Google Trends, and Ahrefs. Some are designed specifically for target audiences and niche markets; others provide general demographic data so that you can learn more about the who, what, and where of your audience.
Like I said above, tapping into existing online resources may give you what you already know. Regardless, it’s wise to flesh out as much data as you can about your target audience, especially on a regular basis.
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Strive to keep your target audience profile up to date. About every six to 12 months you’ll need to re-conduct research and update your information accordingly. This will ensure your marketing strategy stays effective and efficient.
As the marketplace shifts and evolves (which it’s always doing), your ideal buyer may change. Stay ahead of the curve so that you stay one step ahead of the competition. Remember, sometimes businesses take on lives of their own, and your audience may evolve in ways you didn’t intend.
Go Find Your Target Audience
Whew, defining your target audience can be a lot of work. But it’s worth it! Your entire marketing strategy—from product to price to promotion to positioning—rests on the shoulders of your ideal buyer. If you can’t connect with, appeal to, and solve a problem for them, your business will fall flat.
Sure, it’s tempting to define “everyone” as your target market (hey, a lead is a lead!), but a smaller net will catch more fish in the long run. And stay tuned for the next article on how to use your defined target audience.
What tactics have you used to define your target audience? Have you been surprised by the results? How has your marketing strategy changed from your findings?