A target audience is the group of people a business is directing their marketing toward — the people most likely to purchase a company’s products or services.
But this simple definition doesn’t convey the full depth of the term, or how important it is in modern digital marketing practices. A clearly defined target audience is the foundation of your marketing plan. If you’re having trouble making decisions about your brand or knowing how to effectively promote your business, it may be that your idea for a target market is hazy.
As an example, imagine that you’re trying to persuade the general public to buy a high-end pillow. What pictures, headlines, and messages would you use?
Now imagine you’re trying to sell a pillow to a young adult who’s furnishing their first apartment. Or to a person who’s just bought an adjustable bed and might be bedridden at home. Or to a high-income customer with an interest in interior decorating. Would you use a different photo for each audience? Highlight a different feature?
It’s easy to create persuasive messaging when you know who your customer is and what their goals and struggles are. This post will cover how to define your target market, how to reach them, and how to appeal to them. You’ll learn how to create multiple target personas and reach out to them using social media, advertising, landing pages, and email. In the end, you’ll know how to spend your marketing budget more effectively and increase your bottom line.
How Knowing Your Target Audience Benefits Your Brand
On a fundamental level, a successful brand identity rests on an understanding of a business’s customers.
The pros know
For example, Disney World’s target market is primarily parents who dream of giving their children a magical experience and sweet vacation memories. Their brand image is built on photos of children’s faces lighting up in delight, cartoon heroes giving out warm hugs, and Tinkerbell lighting up Cinderella’s castle with a magical glow.
Apple has built a business on making technology sleek, user-friendly, and accessible. Their brand is defined by simplicity, from clean white backgrounds and single-word sentences to button-free devices. That’s because they know their target market craves all the benefits of a high-tech lifestyle but wants it all made easy.
Nike targets its high-end products to professional athletes — and then uses that cache to appeal to amateur athletes and fitness buffs who want to use the same gear as their heroes. Every drop of sweat in a Nike ad speaks to their target audience.
Why you should know your target audience
Your target audience informs every aspect of your brand, from your logo to the signature colors, images, and brand voice you choose. Your brand identity lives at the intersection between your customers’ desires and the unique solutions you’re offering them.
A deep understanding of your audience also lets you personalize your messaging, which is something that consumers have come to expect from digital marketing. Personalized e-mails, ads, and landing pages have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Check out these statistics:
- When customers receive ads based on their website activity, the revenue of the product grows by 38%.
- 70% of consumers say their loyalty to a brand is influenced by the feeling that a company understands their needs.
- 88% of U.S. marketers report a measurable increase in sales when they personalize their marketing, with more than half reporting a sales boost of more than 10%.
- 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them.
Aim for a Narrow Audience
New businesses often try to aim for a broad audience because they think they’ll get more sales if they take a scattershot approach. But in today’s crowded market conditions, there isn’t room for a generic brand.
Soap is a great example. In the 1800s, when Ivory Soap launched, there wasn’t a lot of competition on the shelf at the general store. Ivory’s target market was “everyone,” and their original slogan, “It floats!” was suitably generic and didn’t alienate anyone or leave anyone out. It worked because people didn’t have many choices at the time. Anything new was exciting and worth trying out.
Can you imagine launching a generic soap product today? Now there are soaps on the shelves for aging skin, babies, organic enthusiasts, people with sensitive skin, people who want deodorant protection, and dozens more.
If you wanted to launch a soap now, you’d need to find a target market that isn’t currently being served and personalize your marketing to them.
In a crowded marketplace, trying to appeal to everyone will water down your message and make your product or service seem bland. It may seem counterintuitive to exclude the majority of the market from your message, but the more narrowly you define your audience, the more powerful it can be.
How to Define Your Target Audience
Use broad demographic categories like age and income as well as details like interests and behavior to create a description of your target audience. Here are some examples of how these factors might influence buying behavior:
Some target markets are more gender-specific than others. Even in families, some purchasing decisions are more likely to be driven by the wife and others by the husband.
Rigid gender stereotyping might make your business seem dated, but it’s still part of knowing who you’re speaking to and what channels, images, and colors to use. If you know that 90% of your customers are male, for instance, you’ll want to choose colors and images that are appealing to men. If your customers are primarily female, you would lean toward images of women enjoying your product or service.
Question: Is your market mostly gendered, or evenly balanced between men and women?
What age range is your target audience? People who are in different life stages can have very different needs and motivations. Young adults are often deeply interested in finding their identity, and they define themselves through the products and services they consume. Discretionary spending is often high for this group, even though they haven’t reached peak income yet, because their expenses are lower — especially now that so many young people are living with their parents until their mid-20s.
By the middle-adult years, raising children can drive people toward a desire for security. At the same time, as middle adults build their careers they also turn an eye toward increased status and comfort. This is a busy time for most people, so they seek convenience and stress relief as well.
In middle-age, people finally have a little free time again and are often in their peak earning years. People often make mid-life adjustments, such as divorce, remarriage, or career changes at this point. They often get very serious about safeguarding their health and savings in preparation for retirement.
Retirees have more free time, but they’re often living on a fixed income and concerned about having enough money for the coming years. They’re often budget-oriented, but maybe more adventurous and open-minded than you’d expect.
Each generation also has a personality defined by shared events like wars, financial crises, and parenting trends of the time. People will respond very differently to music, images, and pop culture references depending on their generation.
Question: What age range and generation do your target customers come from? How might their age or generation impact their desire for your product or service?
Income categories influence what people can afford and, to an extent, what influences their purchasing decisions.
Wealthy individuals can often afford to indulge themselves and their family with the best of everything, and they perceive their time as very valuable. As a result, they are quality-conscious and willing to invest in durable goods, time-saving conveniences, and memorable experiences.
Impoverished people don’t have a lot of disposable income, so they’re economically motivated. They have the same desires for security, convenience, relaxation, and pleasure as anyone else, but need affordable alternatives.
The middle-income bracket is the most variable. Individual natures play out in this realm, with some people being very frugal and others more extravagant.
Question: What income bracket is most likely to become your long-term customer? How can you appeal to them?
Some products and services are aimed directly at families with children. Diaper services, kids-eat-free restaurant promotions, and toys are obvious examples, but stain-resistant furniture, washable rugs, and vehicles with lots of seating are also appealing to families.
Dating services, solo travel opportunities, and meal deliveries are likely to appeal to single people.
Married couples without children, retirees, and college students all have unique needs as well.
Question: What is the family status of your target audience? What makes them a good fit for your brand?
Highly educated consumers might be more likely to frequent businesses that provide environment-friendly products like solar panels and electric cars. They’re also more likely to be skeptical of claims and will want to see details and research before they buy.
People with less formal education are ideal candidates for some campaigns, like career training programs.
Question: What level of education do you assume your customers have?
If you’re marketing a local brick-and-mortar business, you will want to target people who live in your city or region. You may want to market a laundry service or high-end restaurant to the more affluent suburbs, or a new art studio to people who live in trendy urban areas.
But location can be used to market in more subtle ways, too. For instance, some American cities and states lean certain ways on the political spectrum. Some have a higher education level or income than others. Targeting specific locations is a good way to laser-focus your ad dollars if you’re interested in a narrow demographic.
Some businesses are interested in attracting customers from anywhere in the world, while others can only service or ship within their own country.
Question: Where do your customers live?
Even before digital marketing came about, businesses were gathering personal information about potential customers. They combined lists of magazine subscribers, event attendees, and membership rosters with demographic data to learn who was a car enthusiast and who cared about politics or fashion.
Today, you can choose to advertise specifically to people who have shown particular interests, such as an interest in cruises or purchasing a boat. If your product or service isn’t available as an area of interest, you may be able to reach an adjacent one. For instance, people who enjoy gourmet meals and art might be interested in your book about ethnic dance.
Question: What are your customers’ interests and hobbies? What do they read about, watch on television, or join groups to discuss?
Behaviors, Dreams, and Fears
Look beyond a dry, demographic description and imagine the people who make up your audience. How do they view themselves? What are their fears, dreams, and aspirations? What are the obstacles in their way?
If you can show them how your business can solve their problems and help them achieve their goals, you will connect with them deeply. That emotional connection is the best place to look for the images and words you will use to persuade them.
Question: What fears or dreams drive the demand for your product in your target audience?
Creating Target Audience Personas
At this point, you have painted your target market in broad strokes. Your description may look like one of these:
- Remote interior decorating service: Our target market is women, ages 25-45, who have children at home. They have a college degree, a household income of $80,000-120,000, and tend to live in the Northeastern and Western United States. They are interested in home interiors, and they’ve bought a home in the past five years. They are eager to finish decorating, but they’re busy or lack confidence.
- RV insurance: Our target audience is American men and women who are mostly retired. They come from all education levels and are mostly middle income. They are interested in social security, AARP, and RV travel. They’re concerned about their retirement income outlasting them, and they don’t want any large unexpected expenses to wipe out their savings.
- Christian dating service: Our target market is single men and women in the Southern states. They come from all education and income levels, and they are interested in Christianity and country living. They find it difficult to find people who share their values on traditional dating sites.
You can take your thinking a step further by creating actual personas to represent your target audience. For example, here are two audience personas that the decorating service might create:
- Liz is a 35-year-old single mom of two who lives in Seattle. She earns $100,000 in the tech industry and works from home. She bought a new condo last year, and she’s trying to decorate it in her spare time. She’s eager to get it finished so she can feel settled, but between work and the kids, she doesn’t have much time.
- Beth is a 25-year-old married mom with a new baby. She and her husband bought a house in the Boston suburbs just a few months ago. She’s feeling overwhelmed because she doesn’t have a lot of experience in decorating, and it’s taking longer than she thought to put things together. Her husband is supportive but doesn’t feel confident either, and he tends to leave the decisions to her.
It’s not necessary to create personas within your target audience, but some businesses find it very useful to create two or three personas and keep them in mind when creating ad copy, social media posts, and content.
How to Find Your Target Audience And Win Them Over
Once you know who you’re trying to reach, it’s much easier to figure out how to reach them.
Choose the Right Social Media
Each social media channel has a unique demographic. For instance, LinkedIn and Twitter have more male users, while Instagram and Pinterest have more female users. Facebook attracts an older audience, while TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform among young users.
Target Your Advertising
When you advertise on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and other media, you can select a target audience using income, gender, age groups, and interests. You can even geotarget your ads to choose a local audience or pinpoint a certain regional demographic.
Create Landing Pages
If each of your ads or social media posts leads to a different landing page, you can guide each prospect through a coherent series of messages that speak directly to them.
Landing pages will also help you track which ads and posts are most effective, and you can sort new email subscribers into segments according to which page they were on when they signed up.
Segment Your Email Lists
If you can divide your audience into more than one target group, segment your mailing list so you can speak specifically to each one. For instance, you might have one email group for each ad campaign you created.
Tailor Your Images and Text
Create a library of powerful images that speak directly to your audience’s dreams and fears. Use those images to build your brand identity across different channels — your website, social media, advertising, and email campaigns.
Pair those images with powerful headlines, compelling text, and strong calls to action in your posts, ads, and landing pages. Keep testing different combinations and refining your approach.
Target Audiences are the Key to Marketing
Understanding your target market is essential to creating powerful, personalized messaging.
Start the process by defining your audience in broad strokes — their age, where they live, how much money they make, and their life stage. Add some details about their interests, hobbies, fears, and dreams. If you like, you can create individual personas to make your communications feel even more personal.
Once you’ve clearly defined your market, use social media and advertising campaigns to send persuasive messages that will speak to them as individuals and compel them to action.