If you’re trying to please everyone, you’re pleasing no one. Right? It’s also true for your marketing: If you’re trying to reach everyone, you’re going to reach no one. People might see your ad or take a look at your website. But your ad and your message won’t resonate with anyone if you don’t have a specific audience in mind.
That’s why it’s essential to find your target audience—and start using it right away. So in this guide, we’ll give you all the information and the steps you need to do just that.
A target audience is the specific group of people that you want to reach with your marketing. That means your marketing collateral—from your email copy to your tagline to your brand story—should appeal to this group of people.
Here’s a great example of a targeted marketing campaign, including the video and the messaging, from AirBnB.
The voice in the video is young and impassioned. The imagery isn’t highly produced. Instead, it looks almost like a great iPhone video taken in the moment. This is clearly targeted to an audience of younger adults seeking authentic, spontaneous experiences when they’re traveling. And it works.
That’s why it’s so important to find your target audience. If you want your marketing to appeal to this group of people, you need to make sure you create everything with them in mind.
We need a quick clarification of terms here: Your target audience isn’t your target market. Your target market is who your product or your service is intended for. Your target audience, on the other hand, is the specific group of people within your target market that your marketing is trying to reach.
So if, for example, your target market is small businesses, your target audience could be local service-based business owners, or marketing managers for small ecommerce retailers, or freelance marketing consultants. Or it could be all three.
Businesses often have more than one target audience within their target market.
And on an even deeper level, you’re going to have mini target audiences for every campaign you create. In fact, HubSpot found that most marketers create content for multiple audiences, with three target audiences being the most common.
With those examples, you can see why knowing your target audience is so important. It’s the context you need in order to come up with content and messaging that resonates. The PPC software provider that serves small business target audiences is going to have an entirely different look and feel with its branding and marketing collateral than the PPC software provider that serves enterprise businesses.
And the ad a senior living facility creates for seniors themselves is going to be very different from the one it creates for adult caregivers of their senior parents.
Your business can have a bunch of different target audiences, since these will align with the focus of your marketing efforts and your goals. In some marketing campaigns, you might get super-specific. If you run a landscaping business, for example, that could mean focusing on all your customers in one town with one event or discount to improve your customer base in that one area.
TruGreen, a Tennessee-based company, targets new customers in Boston with this Google Ad and the accompanying discount.
When you’re working to identify your target audiences, though, you’ll want to focus on the types that align with the marketing channels you focus on regularly. Here are some examples:
If you’re not incredibly clear on who your target audience is—for your branding in general, for a specific marketing channel, or for a certain campaign—you need to take a step back to identify it. You can determine who your target audience is by looking at who is engaging with your product, your brand, and your marketing. Here’s how:
Here is an infographic that lays out the above steps, courtesy of Venngage:
And here’s a closer look at each step!
Your customers are the people who are using your product or service, so clearly, the positioning of your offering, the solution you presented, your marketing, or a combination of these worked. That’s why this is the perfect place to start.
First, look at the demographics of your customers—what are their job titles, where do they live, how old are they? Are there any patterns that emerge as you do so? Pay careful attention to patterns with your loyal, repeat customers. Then see if there are patterns in your one-time customers.
Next, it’s time to talk to your customers. This is the best way to get an idea of why they love your brand, your product, or team. That’ll help you with your positioning, including the benefits you’ll highlight in your copywriting and conversations.
Plus, it’s a great time to ask where your customers are spending their time and getting advice. Is it certain Instagram influencers, industry newsletters, or trusted company blogs? These customer insights are great data points to have, because you can prioritize these channels for your marketing.
Questions related to problems/pain points:
Questions related to lifestyle/behavior:
Questions related to your competitors:
Your social followers are another existing audience that you can look at to see who your current marketing is appealing to. Even more, it gives you an idea of the consumers genuinely interested in your brand. According to Sprout Social, the most common reasons people follow brands on social channels are to get access to discounts, to keep up with company news, and to find out about new products or services.
You won’t have the same access to your social followers as your customers. If you still want to do an interview, make sure it’s a quick survey with super specific questions. Otherwise, focus on demographics and behavior. Here are some things to consider:
Again, you want to pay special attention to the people engaging more with your social profiles.
The good news is that you can use a tool—even a free tool—to analyze this data. Buffer, for example, also offers a free tier.
The next existing audience you need to take some time to dig into is your website visitors. Who is reading your content already? Who is downloading your whitepapers? Who is engaging with your videos?
Google Analytics is the natural place to start when you’re looking for this type of information. You can learn:
There’s even an Interests tab where you can look at affinity categories and in-market segments:
You have competitors. Regardless of your product, your offering, and target audience, you have competition. And you can use them.
Take a look at who your competitor is targeting in their marketing. Where are they advertising? Facebook? Instagram, or Twitter? Who are they addressing in their ads? What pain points are they stressing? Analyze their ads, their messaging, and their brand to put together a target audience and see how it compares with yours—including how it overlaps and how it differs. The overlap might help you see, and the difference? That’ll help you better articulate your brand’s differentiation.
Here, monday.com clearly identifies the difference between its target audience and Trello’s: marketer on bigger teams, in charge of more projects, who get started ASAP.
In addition to the audiences your competitors are targeting, you want to know which of those audiences is actively engaging with its content. Duve into its social following to similarly identify the overlap and the difference. For a step-by-step process, check out our guide to competitive analysis on search and social.
This last step might seem like an outlier in the process, but it is super important: You need to identify who your customer isn’t. Take the monday.com competitive ad example above. The team clearly decided who their audience is—and who their audience isn’t. Their audience isn’t someone looking for a simple, free Kanban solution. (That’s what Trello’s for.)
So for this step, take a look at all of your information—your customer interviews, your social following, your website visitors, and your competition’s comparable audiences. Then identify the gaps that you definitely don’t serve.
Setting your parameters will help guide your marketing—and even your business strategy.
After you’ve aggregated all the data about your followers, all the anecdotal information about your customers, and all the details from your competition, the final step is to put it together in a target audience profile.
Here’s some information to include:
Your target audience profile will include specifics that are relevant to your brand, too. Here are some examples of target audience profiles:
And with this information, you’ll want to develop personas to share with your team. These are detailed, fictional characters that make up certain buyers within your target audience
Let’s finish off with some examples of target audiences for brands we’re familiar with, to help you firm up your understanding on this concept.
Let’s say your product is dog gear—harnesses, bowls, leashes, toys. Your target market in this case is people with dogs. In order to reach your target market, you might have user-generated content in your social ads featuring happy customers, a newsletter with top dog stories of the week, a blog on pet care, and whitepapers for first-time pet owners. Your branding is sleek, modern, and minimal. Your target audience for this marketing campaign isn’t just pet owners; it’s young Millennials or Gen Zers who have their first dog.
Wild One’s landing page is super well targeted—the branding, the copy, even a toy specifically positioned for WFH pet parents.
Clearly, the target audience for this campaign is adventurous dog lovers.
Would these ads have the same impact on dog lovers if they had a photo of a smiling person with a suitcase and then a bullet point that stated there are dog-friendly hosts? Nope.
But Airbnb also runs campaigns that target young couples, single professionals, seniors, and more.
When looking at Nike vs Under Armour, we can see that while the target market for both brands is people who wear sport and athleisure wear, there are several key differences in their target audiences. Nike is a higher-end brand whose marketing targets influential individuals in society and people up to 55 years old. Under Armour, on the other hand, is not for high-end earners, has a mostly male audience, and targets the 18-25 Gen Z demographic.
Let’s compare Starbucks vs Dunkin. Starbucks’ target audience is mainly college students and professionals with higher income. With its in-store merchandise, healthy snacks, comfy couches, and free WiFi, it targets people who want to sip their coffee while working, conversing with someone, or enjoying some alone time (and saving the planet).
Dunkin, on the other hand, has minimal in-store experience and lower price points, targeting people on the go (America runs on Dunkin, after all) and with lower budgets. It’s also prevalent in the eastern half of the U.S.
Having a clear picture of your target audience is key, but it’s not the final step. In order to make your marketing more effective, you need to make sure everyone on your team has these profiles in mind. So once you’ve got this definition, share it widely so that everything your business puts out there can cater to who matters most.
Céillie is Head of Marketing for Building Ventures, a VC firm focused on funding and mentoring early-stage startups in the built environment space. Previously, Ceillie led content strategy for Unstack and managed the award-winning blog at WordStream.
See other posts by Céillie Clark-Keane
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