With any product of service, it helps to know who you’re selling to—and that means identifying your target audience. Target audience analysis can be as big or small a job as you choose, using anything from informal customer chats to detailed digital metrics.
Once you’ve identified your target audience types, you can tailor your products and marketing to them—and, with any luck, watch your sales soar. Here’s how you can define your target audience and build a brand that speaks to them.
Who and what is a target audience?
Your target audience is a group of people that you base your sales and marketing strategy around. Those people might share some of your tastes—after all, they’re interested in your products—but you should not assume they’ll have the same likes, dislikes and behaviors as you do. Some of your existing customers will no doubt slot into that group, but any target audience should offer a real opportunity to expand beyond that base.
Your target audience might be pot-plant-obsessed twentysomethings, frazzled new parents or well-dressed retirees. The group you identify will be segmented by demographics and psychographics.
Demographics vs psychographics
Demographics and psychographics will help you understand who your target audience are and what they need. Broadly speaking, demographics maps out who they are, so say for example females, based in the Chicago area and earning around $60k per yea; while psychographics focuses on their behaviour, so perhaps they’re adventurous and they like R&B and snow sports.
Key factors in demographics include age, location, income, education, family status, work and ethnic background. Key factors in psychographics include attitudes, values, interests, hobbies and behavior. These characteristics can be identified in broad terms, but beware of stereotyping your target audience.
Tools such as social media analysis and interviews can help you get beyond generalizations to understand the quirks and variations that define individuals within the wider group.
This approach may sound modern, but it’s been going on for years. In the 1920s, shoe brand Converse targeted not just a youthful audience, but an image-conscious, basketball-loving one. It signed up player and coach Chuck Taylor, who ran basketball clinics and reshaped the shoes into the now iconic All-Stars—and the rest is high-top history.
How to identify your target audience
Your audience may not be the same as your current customers, but they’re a great place to start your target audience analysis. Addresses can help with geographical grouping, while looking at repeat purchasers can identify your core audience. Look for trends in the data you have and for successful competitor approaches, so ask yourselves who are their customers and how do they market to them?
Competitor information will be particularly important to you if you haven’t established a customer base. Establishing their sales patterns, as well as considering your product and the steps required to access an international market, will help you take another vital decision: is your focus local or global?
Say hello to the “survey”
If you deal with customers directly, individual conversations may help you gain insights. On a larger scale, you can build surveys with everyone from Google forms (a potential DIY approach) to market leader Survey Monkey. Specialist firms can hone in on your target demographic and tease out rich detail and patterns you might not otherwise have spotted.
If your business is at an early stage and doesn’t yet have customers, surveys are a vital tool—conducting local analysis can be as simple as getting out into your community with a list of questions, while global research might be best carried out by an experienced third party.
Meanwhile, newsletter sign-ups offer the opportunity to both collect data and offer targeted content (Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor are major players), while interviews and focus groups (which can be recruited from your existing customers, or organized by marketing giants such as Gartner) can probe deeper into customer psychographics, exploring everything from hobbies to favored brands.
Dig deeper into digital data
Similarly, a website can be both a platform for your business and a gold mine of audience data. Google Analytics can help you track the performance of different website pages and topics, as well as tracking the performance of social media posts—Hootsuite is a specialist in the latter.
Even without analytical tools, social media is vital for seeing what people are saying about your brand. Consider every angle, including what colors are cropping up on their Insta feed and who they’re following on TikTok or Twitter.
Plenty of research can be done online and everything from opinion-led blogs to data-driven research papers can help you explore specific demographics and product niches. A simple internet search can uncover gems, while major companies like Nielson offer a suite of services for businesses looking to investigate and expand.
All these tools can help you segment a potential audience, allowing you to target your products and campaigns successfully.
Bring your target audience to life
Any analysis of the data you’ve collected should factor in a few key questions. How does the target audience that the data identifies match up with your current customer base? If the two do not match up, how do you plan to target the new audience while retaining existing customers?
In the ’90s, part of Nintendo’s strategy for marketing the Game Boy was to aim not at the 9-14 year-olds who already were their main audience, but at the elder brothers that those children aspired to be like. They gained credibility and successfully expanded their target audience with just one product. With that in mind, you must ask yourself the vital question of whether your target audience is big enough to be profitable.
Perfect your buyer personas
Bringing your audience to life is a creative process as well as a technical one. Building one or more buyer personas can help you shape a story from your research. Your persona can be built from detailed demographic and psychographic data, or whatever facts you have.
Give them a name, a background, and choose a picture for them. Stick it on your desk to keep them in mind. Think about their needs and challenges—and how you could meet them. As a persona, 32-year-old Maria from Madrid, who loves cooking and weekends away, will feel far more vivid to you and your colleagues than an anonymous female figure in her 30s.
Typical details included in a buyer persona can include:
- Relationship status and any children
- Social and traditional media use
Target audience types (and pitfalls)
Birkenstock is another shoe brand, but its target audience is not the same as Converse. It doubled its global sales between 2012 and 2020, partly because it catered so well for its key demographic: affluent adult women who like comfort and the outdoors, are conscious of their health, and favor traditional style.
Catwalk collaborations brought Birkenstock’s moulded sandals more into the public eye. But its branding, which focuses on the health benefits of the shoes and often features women relaxing in classic locations such as driftwood-covered beaches, by hillside cabins and on sun-dappled city streets (how’s that for a fleshed-out audience persona?) underlines that these are a timeless purchase whose tough, ergonomic design will support buyers in an aspirational, active life.
Birkenstock, of course, doesn’t just sell to this target audience—men buy sandals too. Men feature less in their advertising, and promotional materials often focus less on the company’s classic open-toed sandals (still a bridge too far for some male shoppers) and more on loafers and boots.
The company may hold its main audience front and center, but carries a substantial line of products targeted at other buyers, with appropriate promotion. Indeed, many businesses will have more than one target audience type, and may promote their brand differently to each. Vans, for example, have both Vans and Vans Girls feeds on social media.
That variation underlines the importance of inclusivity in your marketing. You may speak primarily to one demographic, but there’s a balance to be struck: your language should not turn off other demographics, and you should make sure you never talk down to your audience. If you base assumptions on your own gender or background, or without sympathy to the fact that some customers will be different to you, you risk alienating potential buyers.
It’s worth noting too that, depending on the territory, laws may govern marketing to certain demographics such as children or the elderly. Marketing to children, for example, often means reaching out to their parents, a majority of whom are millennials, using a channel and message that fits that demographic.
Using what you’ve learned
Finding your target audience is never a one-shot exercise. Before you do anything else, you need to communicate your findings clearly throughout your company and make sure everyone is on board with your new strategy. If your editorial team is writing for young suburban Australians, while your designers are using images that speak to an older market, your brand will come across as muddled, untrustworthy and unprofessional.
And having the right message is great, but only if you push it through the right channels; this means knowing that you’ll find more teens on TikTok than Facebook, for instance.
Once you’ve ensured your findings have been implemented, it’s time to measure their impact. What is your sales performance? Were your assumptions about your audience correct? Are you speaking to them in the right tone? Small, ongoing adjustments to your strategy may bring big rewards.
Your target audience analysis should be ongoing, too. Your company and products will change, technologies will advance, society will shift. Relying on ten-year-old data will leave you behind forward-thinking competitors, and if you don’t keep surveying your market, your target audience will leave you behind. As your business grows, you may adjust your audience personas, or add more as new opportunities emerge.
Look to the future
Following these steps can help you find your audience and discover the best way to get your products into their hands. Keep analyzing and you’ll have more data, more stories and more power to define and transform your brand. The results of target audience analysis can help you focus on the right channels, brief the right designers and drive a profitable business.