Define Your Target Audience With These 7 Steps

Mitchel White
January 4, 2021

A writer without focus will not get published.

An author who fills their work with violence and profanity can’t turn around and decide that they’ve been working on a children’s book. It’s impossible to wing it when it comes to an audience. Clarity is required when a writer is deciding on what story to tell. An essential component of that vision is deciding on who they’re telling the story to. The same goes for marketing and target audiences. Fail to envision your customer and you’ll fail to sell to them. Each story has to be carefully catered to its listener. Don’t let yours fall on deaf ears.  

It’s a mistake to believe that you can target everyone. Don’t allow yourself to be tempted by the idea that you can maximise sales by drawing the biggest crowd possible. This may be all the more alluring given the growing necessity of online retail given 2020’s high street shutdown. But even the largest companies (and also some of the least ethical) on the market don’t try to brand themselves to everybody. No, if you try to impress everyone, you’ll target no one. That’s because it is impossible to be all things to all people. It’s much better to foster a long-term relationship with a loyal customer base than to try to grab the attention of everybody at all times.  Even if you target people who don’t typically buy your product, you may find more traffic coming to your site, but a traffic that won’t translate to sales. So, how do you decide on who you’re targeting?

Follow our 7 step-guide to defining your target audience.

1 – Products with Benefits

Everyone wants solutions to their problems. It’s your job to find out how your products and services provide a solution to a specific group of people. To do that, you have to understand the unique value of your product. You need to know what makes it more desirable than its competition. Is it made to a higher standard? Does it reflect an ethical ethos that you’re proud of? Maybe you use designs from an artist with an aesthetic that you love?

You’ll only be able to pitch your products to your target audience if you’re fluent in its benefits. You’ll only be able to appeal to your target audience if you know what benefits they’re seeking.

Your aim is to catch your audience in the decision-making process, when they’re still deciding whether or not to make a purchase.  

So how do you discover what your audience wants? Start with what they don’t want. Look at the poorest selling items on your site. Consider the surplus stock that you can’t get rid of. If a product isn’t valued, if an item is avoided, ask yourself why. The chances are, it’s too similar to your competition’s. Maybe a product represents a knee-jerk response to larger trends in the market? Perhaps it’s clear that it doesn’t fit your usual brand values? If you can work out how a product fails your customers, you can begin to discover what appeals to them. Then, you can begin to reframe your existing product pages in ways that present solutions.

2 – Consider Your Competition

A primary tactic when defining your target audience lies in understanding your competition. Fear not, I’m not about to launch into a spiel on how it’s essential to know thine enemy, Art of War style. But even if you don’t have much of an existing customer base, when you check out what your competitors are doing, you gain a deeper understanding of your own customer profile. It pays to be mindful of their blogs, product pages and social media posts to try to learn their marketing strategy. I’d recommend signing up to their newsletters, following their social media pages, and enabling notifications in order to develop a first hand feeling of what it’s like to be their customer.

As you investigate, can you recognise who they’re marketing to? Do they use a particular tone and phrasing to relate to a specific target market? Maybe they’re featuring particular products on their landing pages? Have a look at their content posting schedules. Do they appear to align with the times a particular audience base is active? You’ll soon get an impression of why your competition is successful. Your success lies in curating a brand that gives the same consumer a better alternative.  

3 – Don’t Rest on Your Personas

It’s easy to mistake your target audience with a buyer persona. Buyer personas are much more specific, honing in on an individual as opposed to the larger demographic that they belong to. Why does this matter? If you rely too heavily on a singular case study then they’ll fail to represent the needs of a wider group of people. If you build the profile of an imaginary buyer without an understanding of your wider target audience, you’re essentially playing around with a new character in your Sims household.  

You can remedy this by asking yourself the right questions.

First of all, who is going to use your product? As you think of your answer, focus on identifiers for their demographics – factors like age, location and purchasing power. For instance, if you’re selling sustainable fashion, an area of the market that is known for being more costly, you may be led to believe that your consumer will have a greater level of disposable income. The trap here lies in thinking that all of your environmentally-conscious customers are all going to be wealthy. Established professionals, living in affluent London boroughs, are vastly different from eco-minded graduates, straight out of university. The latter group may be willing to use their disposable income to support a good cause, but may not be able to afford a large upfront investment on an expensive item.

They shop by making regular, cheaper purchases. If you’re targeting the vegan Gen Z graduate, does your online shop support their need for affordable, yet varied products? An environmentally-friendly eRetailer that sells high-end tailoring should seek a different buyer than one that sells printed tees made from hemp.

4 – Befriend Social Media

Social Media is a valuable tool when affirming your target audience. If someone engages with your content, then the chances are that they represent your ideal consumer. You should be checking all of your social media channels to observe who follows, likes, shares and comments on your posts. Investigate your engagement reports to see who is signing up to your email lists and reading your blog posts. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest you interrogate the people who interact with your social media content. It’s invasive to befriend or follow their profiles to monitor how they fit into your target demographics. However, using analytics, you’ll soon gain an impression on whether they match your intended audience.

For example, Facebook provides its page owners with analytic tools that allows them to determine the demographics of their most active users and the topics that they have in common. Twitter provides a dashboard that lists together an account following’s shared interests. A word of warning – be cautious of reframing your entire branding strategy to appeal to your online following. A lot of your ideal audience may not be users of social media. They may be inactive or uninterested in your social promotions but a keen user of your site.

5 – Understand Your Keystone Content

Any good brand manager has a strong understanding of their content. It’s crucial to know the posts that best resonate with your customer. It’s just as important to know the ones that don’t bring the traffic. Using tools like Google Analytics, it’s easy to find your best and worst tracking content each week or month. You can use metrics like pageviews, shares and comments to determine a post’s popularity.

It shouldn’t be hard to get a measure of the sort of content that your audience responds most to. How does this help you define your target audience? If you’re able to pin down your customer’s interests, you have a clearer insight of the issues, themes and products that speak to them. This in turn, helps build an understanding of what motivates the slice of the market you operate within.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should curate your content with your audience’s preferences in mind, cutting what doesn’t appeal, while focusing on what does.

However, be careful you don’t overdo it. If you’ve identified a key issue for your customer, it can be easy to make that your primary focus at the cost of your brand. Don’t become like a content mill, hashing out the same type of posts, repackaged in marginally different ways. It’s not interesting to produce and it’s not interesting to read. What’s more is that you’ll soon look like a spammer.

The art is knowing your audience but keeping your identity. You want your blogs and content to maintain your tone, ethos, and reflect an authoritative voice that is able to react to trending issues.

6 – Ask for Feedback

Be faithful to your consumer.

Many eRetailers make the mistake of constantly hunting for new sales while ignoring the people who have already bought from them. Your customers shouldn’t be just another notch on your belt, used and disposed of while you seek the next. Even when on the lookout for new customers, never neglect existing ones. This is true when it comes to sales, after-care, customer service and when defining your target audience.

It’s important to appreciate your loyal customer as the valuable resource that they are.

You may consider email questionnaires to engage with your customer base. Follow-up emails are a solid first touchstone. Ask a customer if they’re enjoying your content or their recent purchase, aim to elicit a response that generates a dialogue. If they have something to share, apply this information to the picture that you have of their demographic. You may ask about their challenges and look for an insight to where they’re struggling.

Surveys can be a shrewd way to build on the knowledge gained from your email questionnaires.

Using an online survey tool, you can choose questions that target your existing customers, relating to the information you have already learned. You may ask how they’d improve their eCommerce experience or what their thoughts are on a particular product.

It’s important that you have a clear idea what you want to learn from each survey question, and that you frame them in a way that is easy to answer.

Also, it pays to incentivise your customers to participate in the survey. Whether you’re offering a giveaway, or access to premium content, reward the time and information that they have provided.

7 – Be Inquisitive

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, a lack of it killed the career.

Curious minds understand a large variety of people.

Given the year that 2020 has been, it would be remiss to ask you to people-watch in public. But you should still be the sort of person that aims to understand why people have the habits that they do. This is essential to understanding your audience’s shopping decisions. When it’s healthy and safe, park up in your favourite cafe.

Observe people as they place their orders. What drink did each person buy? What age is each person? Do their clothing and gadgets tell you more about them? Perhaps you’ll notice that a particular drink is popular with a certain demographic.

This inquisitive eye should be applied to your own marketing strategies. Even if you’re just with your family and friends, take note of the products that they use.

Think about the person you’re selling to and if you know people who match that demographic, ask them what their habits are. Ask your network of colleagues, peers, business mentors to evaluate your products. Gain an insight of whether they’d use them, recommend them, or skip on them. You may even offer free samples. The findings may surprise you, opening your eyes to target audiences that you have never considered.

If you don’t carefully consider your audience, you’ll never be able to understand their behaviour and align yourself with the factors that influence their decision-making processes. Picture it this way. Are you going to be more faithful to a seller who understands what you want from a product, or one standing on the side of a busy street, under a flashing sign, selling their lowest-common-denominator generic goods to anyone that turns their head? A clearly defined target market will sharpen your focus, converting clicks to sales.

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