Understanding your target audience is step one for most small businesses looking to get their marketing and sales efforts off the ground. But nailing down specifics of who you should be selling to isn’t always so straightforward. 

In fact, many businesses find that they think they have an idea of who their ideal customers are, but after they get off the ground and start acquiring some business, things change. Shooting in the dark or making assumptions won’t cut it. You have to take a calculated approach to establish your target audience if you want to be as accurate as possible. 

If you aren’t selling to the right people, then you won’t acquire new business. And if you don’t acquire new business, then you may not make it a full year. But don’t worry. We’re here to help you figure out everything you need to know about your target audience and how to engage them. 

But first, let’s start with the basics. 

What is a Target Audience?

A target audience is a group of people who are most likely to purchase your product or service. In other words, it’s a cluster of people with similar traits — the overriding one being they have a challenge that your product or service solves.  

Some of the other traits used to describe a target audience include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Education background
  • Consumption habits
  • Purchasing power

For example, let’s say you run a small, mobile dog grooming business with your business partner. You love dogs, and you specialize in treating each pet as a unique customer with unique needs. 

Your target audience would obviously be dog owners, but since you’re able to take your business to your customers, you can open up your target audience to specific locations and neighborhoods based on what you know about those areas. Doing a search for dog parks and pet-friendly apartment buildings can help you decide which neighborhoods are the most saturated with each and, therefore, would benefit most from your services. 

Marketing your product without a target audience in mind is aimless and will result in a ton of money wasted on fruitless marketing efforts. Identifying a target audience helps you see what you’re aiming for, thus boosting the chances of hitting your target every time. 

What’s the Difference Between Target Audience and Audience Personas?

While identifying your target audience allows you to understand your ideal customers to deliver targeted campaigns, its scope is still a bit broad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely useful information, but the more specific you define your ideal customers, the more effective you can market to them. 

An audience persona or buyer persona is a fictional character representing an individual customer interested in your product or service. Building buyer personas entails zeroing in on your target audience and using data-backed research to pinpoint the archetypes of your ideal customers

Some brands take it a step further and assign alliterative names to audience personas to make them memorable. Some of the data you can use to define personas include: 

  • Personal information: name, gender, age, and location
  • Business background information: job title, who they report to, how they influence decision making within their company
  • Challenges: pain points and frustrations impeding business goals, their biggest concerns, and what keeps them up at night
  • Objectives: short and long-term goals, how their performance is measured, the problem they need solved

Let’s take a deeper look at what these personas would look like by applying the previous example of the dog grooming business. To boost your chances of landing a sale, you’d want to zero in on specific members of the neighborhoods you’re targeting.

1. Work-From-Home Walter

Key demographics: Works long hours from his office located within his apartment. 

Key psychographics: His dog, Benny is his best friend but his job is first priority. 

Challenges: With his busy work schedule, it’s hard for him to get Benny groomed on a regular basis. Would value additional care for Benny that wouldn’t require a lot of work on his end. 

2. Dog Fanatic Fran

Key demographics: Works for a PR agency and has an expendable income. 

Key psychographics: She is a perfectionist and takes very good care of all her possessions, including her beloved dog Mitzi. 

Challenges: She wants to find a dog grooming service that is reliable, trustworthy, and that offers a more consultative approach to her extra special pet. 

The Importance of Defining Your Target Audience

So by now, you know identifying your target audience is super important. But let’s take a closer look at the specific things doing so will allow you to accomplish. 

Advertise More Effectively

Meredith Hill once said, “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” The last thing you want as a brand is to market to everyone because your message will be so generic that no one will hear you. And you definitely won’t stand out. 

Knowing your target audience means you understand their pain points and compelling desires. As a result, you can better focus your messaging to resonate with their specific needs, not the whole universe. 

Maximize Time and Resources

Identifying your target audience allows you to avoid inefficiency. In other words, you won’t waste your marketing budget reaching customers unlikely to purchase your product or service. 

More than that, it leads to better use of time. That is, you spend more time nurturing high-quality leads and less time pursuing low-value prospects. 

Stronger Referral Base

Focusing on a specific target group, speaking about the challenges they face, and offering solutions to those challenges can benefit your brand. It establishes you as an authority in your niche and could win you a loyal customer base. 

The more customers you’re able to please by way of meeting demands and building trust, the more likely those customers will be to refer you to their peers. And we all know that the best customers are those that are referred by your existing, loyal customers. 

How to Define Your Target Audience

It’s time to put these ideas in motion. Here’s a three-step process you can follow to identify your target audience: 

1. Analyze Your Product or Service

Look at your product features to determine the specific needs it fulfills. Determine who has those needs. 

  • What benefits does your product or service offer? 
  • Does it create efficiencies?
  • Does it improve the workflow for certain individuals?
  • Does it eliminate a burden for a certain group of people? 
  • Are you offering a specific skill that not a lot of people have? If so, what kind of people would benefit from that skill?

The answer to these questions will help you uncover who your ideal customers are. 

2. Perform Competitor Analysis

The chances are good that you’re not the first brand to do what you’re doing. Scope out brands that are already dominating the market and find out who their target audiences are. 

You could target the same group or zero in on a niche the competitors overlook, especially if your product or service has a feature that benefits that particular niche. 

3. Study Your Existing Customers

This won’t work for brand-new startups. However, if you’ve built a commendable customer base, you could dig into existing customers to identify your target audience. Gather and analyze historical data on your existing customers. Ask yourself:

  • What are their job titles?
  • Who do they report to?
  • What problems made them turn to your product?
  • How do they find answers to their problems?
  • What social media sites do they frequent?

Find commonalities that can help you depict your target audience. Dig deeper to establish psychographic traits like attitude, values, personalities, opinions, and values. Are there shared interests or characteristics? If yes, use them to create a profile of your ideal customers. 

4. Leverage Market Research

If you don’t have an existing customer base or want an outside perspective, a bit of DIY market research can help fill in the blanks about your target audience and ideal customer. Tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Surveys not only let you build market research surveys but allow you to survey a specific audience through their platform.

Online Tactics to Engage Your Target Audience

Once you identify your target customers, you need to market to them and draw them around your brand. To meet them where they are, you should use the following: 

Social Media Ads

Globally, more than 3.6 billion people use social media. Your target audience hangs out on one of these platforms — and you already know the channel they frequent. 

For example, if you’re targeting Chief Executive Officer (CEOs), your best chance for success is posting paid social ads on LinkedIn. On the other hand, if you’re targeting women aged 18-24, consider Instagram a known favorite for that demographic.  

Placing Guest Content on Sites They Read

In addition, during your target audience research, you identified how your ideal customers consume content. You also probably know (or have predicted) their favorite websites and podcasts. All you have to do to reach them is to write guest content to place on these websites or offer to be a speaker in the podcasts they follow. 

Partner with Brands That Have Similar Audiences

Lastly, explore possible partnerships with brands that have a similar audience. These aren’t competitors, rather companies that provide services to the same people you provide services to. So, in the instance of the dog grooming business, a partnership with a local dog food company would be extremely beneficial. 

Identifying your target audience is a crucial step in writing your marketing plan and mapping out your overall business strategy. It’s a step that cannot be overlooked, so make sure you dedicate enough time to figuring it out, and as long as you use this guide, you’ll be doing so successfully.