How to Define Your Target Market

how to define your target market

One of the most powerful tools of small business marketing strategy is defining and addressing your target market—the audience that you think is most likely to buy your product or service. The key to identifying this customer base is market segmentation, or figuring out the demographics of your specific market.

Common sense makes it seem obvious from afar. You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to sell your product to everyone in the world. You’d waste a lot of money and resources very quickly.

But how do you figure out who your target audience is? Who or what should it be? How would you know? Here are five tips to help you figure it out.

1. Don’t try to please everybody

Strategy is focus. Say you’re planning to start a restaurant; which of these three options is easier?

  1. Pleasing customers 40 to 75 years old, wealthy, much more concerned with healthy eating than cheap eating, appreciating seafood and poultry, liking a quiet atmosphere.
  2. Pleasing customers 15 to 30 years old, with limited budgets, who like a loud place with low prices and fast food.
  3. Pleasing everybody.

I really hope you chose one of the first two, and not the third. This is the essence of target marketing—divide and conquer. Different groups of people have different pain points and different desires. Most of the time, efforts to please everyone end up pleasing no one.

2. Learn market segmentation

It’s about segments, like pie segments or orange segments—except that in this case, it’s segments of a total market, or TAM.

In my “divide and conquer” example above in the first point, the specific age ranges, wealth, and atmosphere preferences describe particular market segments.

In the illustration here below, U.S. census data divides the population into demographic segments. Demographics are the old standards like age, gender, and so on.

demographic-segmentation-gov

U.S. census data divides into demographic segments.

You’ve seen market segmentations referred to frequently in business articles, interviews, and discussions. People will appeal to certain age groups, genders, income levels, and so forth. Divide and conquer is a simple concept; market segmentation is how you make it practical for your business.

Let’s say you think your target market is age 40 to 75 years old, wealthy, and interested in healthy eating. How do you validate your assumption that that demographic will be your ideal target customers? That’s where market research comes it. Talking to customers and potential customers is one of the best ways to do this kind of research, but there are many approaches.

3. Use segmentation creatively

Don’t limit your target market strategy for market segmentation by age, gender, and economic level.

For example, when I was consulting for Apple Computer, we divided the market into user groups:

  • Home
  • School
  • Small business
  • Large business
  • Government

I also liked a shopping center segmentation that divided its market into so-called psychographic market segmentation:

  • Kids and cul-de-sacs were affluent upscale suburban families, “a noisy medley of bikes, dogs, carpools, rock music, and sports.”
  • Winner’s circle were wealthy suburban executives, “well-educated, mobile executives and professionals with teen-aged families. Big producers, prolific spenders, and global travelers.”
  • Gen X and babies were upper-middle income, young, white-collar suburbanites.
  • Country squires were wealthy elite ex-urbanites, “where the wealthy have escaped urban stress to live in rustic luxury. Affluence, big bucks in the boondocks.”

I knew a business that segmented its business customers into decision-process types as well:

  • Decision by committee
  • Decision by functional manager
  • Decision by owner

And I call this final example, for lack of a formal definition, strategic intersection.

In the diagram here, the social media services that Have Presence offers are targeted to small business owners who:

  1. Want outside help with their social media; and
  2. Value business social media; and
  3. Have a budget to pay for the service.

have-presence-intersection
Any of these creative segmentations can help you set a target market, and can also be a jumping off point for putting together a user or buyer persona—another useful tool for understanding your target audience and developing better marketing messaging.

The Lean Business Plan Template

4. Consider your own unique identity too

Your business probably reflects who you are and what you like to do, as well as what you do best. Marketing to people you like as the target market is an advantage. If you like the feel of small business better than the big corporate giants, then you’re probably better off setting the small business as a target market.

As Palo Alto Software, the host of Bplans, grew up and grew our business plan software, its founder (that would be me) was more comfortable with the do-it-yourself entrepreneur and business owner than the high-end consultants, so we ended up targeting the do-it-yourselfers in business.

So, somebody who loves fine food, tastefully prepared and served, is probably more comfortable with an upscale target market than with price-sensitive young families.

5. Define your target market early and revise as needed

Do it well as soon as you can, and keep reviewing and refreshing as you go along. You shouldn’t think of your target market as set in stone. As you learn more about your customers, how you define your target market will probably change.

The right target market increases your chances of success because you can communicate better with a well-defined group, and that holds expenses down and makes results better. If you’re learning about defining your target market because you’re writing a business plan, or if you’re looking for ways to improve your marketing messaging and strategies, check out these resources on target marketing and doing market research.

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