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How do I figure out the best target audience for my brand?

Lindsay Says

“Our business has multiple audiences. I know we need narrow our focus, but how?”

First, let me commend you for understanding the need to focus on a single target. Even recognizing this necessity can be difficult (and sometimes scary), but it is a critical step. The only businesses that can use their marketing budgets toward multiple targets are the ones with incredibly deep pockets – and in many cases even those businesses would be better served to focus on a single target.

Does your brand have the focus of a World War II invasion?

In his book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey Moore uses an example from World War II to illustrate the importance of choosing a single target. On D-Day during World War II, the Allied Forces used a focused strategy to achieve their goal. How did they do it? First it’s important to consider what they did NOT do:

  • They did not invade Europe.
  • They did not invade France or Germany.
  • They did not invade Paris.

Here’s what they DID do: the Allied Forces chose five beaches along the Normandy Coast, and they focused their energy on landing on those five specific beaches. After securing those beaches, they expanded.

The Allied Forces had so much at stake in this situation that they had no choice but to be disciplined about their strategy. The hard truth is that as a leader, you also have a lot at stake. You also must choose who you are going to target.

4 Steps to Focusing Your Brand’s Target Audience

If you’ve embraced this tough but empowering truth, kudos to you! Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and identify the group that you are going to go after, and go after big.

Follow these four steps to zero in on your brand’s most potent target:

1. Identify a uniting theme among your customers.

When you consider the multiple groups that you serve, what is the one characteristic that all of them have in common? Avoid identifying a superficial theme, such as having the same job title or having the same income bracket. Instead, consider the subtleties. What are the themes that unite the way that these people view and experience the world? Do they all have a scarcity of time? Do they all worry about the same thing? Do they all experience the same underlying pain?

Often when I work with leaders, I discover that they THINK they are serving multiple groups, because those groups are defined in a superficial way. But once they bring in this subtle, nuanced layer, they discover that ALL of their best customers have a single value or need in common.

Example: Consider REI as a brand. They serve several groups of people, from mountaineers who climb Mt. Everest to families who rarely camp but enjoy being outdoors. REI serves snowboarders and rock climbers, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, children and adults, and those with a dynamic range of wealth. What do REI’s happiest customers have in common? REI’s target group shares an aspiration to live a bold, experience-rich life, and a love of nature.

2. Who does your business benefit the most?

If you’ve answered all of the questions in #1 but still find you have several truly distinctive target groups, ask yourself these questions: To whom do you bring the most value? What type of person do you disproportionately serve? What is the profile of the person who benefits deeply from your promise? Identify the type of person whose life is improved the most by your business.

Example: REI knows that they bring they most value to highly active people who benefit from REI’s deep expertise in the outdoors. REI has been in the business for decades, and their employees are passionate stewards of the outdoors and of their specific areas of expertise in the store. The people who benefit most from this are the people whose outdoor behavior relies on “doing it right.”

3. Who brings disproportionate value to you?

Who is the person that your business relies on in order to thrive? The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) is the idea that in many situations, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This principle almost always plays a role in selecting your target customer. Take your most important business metric (perhaps it’s revenue, profit per customer, or frequency of use) and ask if there is a group that is disproportionately helping you achieve your desired results. Is 20% of a given group driving 80% of your profit? What do the individuals in that 20% have in common?

Example: REI may be driven by two things: first, they need to be financially sound; and second, they want their customers and the larger community to be participants and stewards of the outdoors.

REI’s financial goal is best served by the customers who shop at REI the most frequently, who spend the most money purchasing REI’s goods. REI’s outdoor stewardship goal is best served by the people who deeply enjoy the outdoors and who share that love with their communities.

For REI in this case, their target group is not the person who climbs Mount Everest – only a select group of people can climb Everest. Instead, REI’s target group is the person who loves the outdoors and wants others to love the outdoors, too. These are the people who can help them extend their stewardship more broadly; these are the people who bring REI disproportionate value.

4. Consider your mission.

This step is more philosophical. Why are you in business? What is the raison d'être of your business? Revisit your mission, your vision, and your values. When considering your business through each of these lenses, are you able to eliminate any of the groups that you’ve been considering?

Example: REI is a national outdoor retail co-op dedicated to inspiring, educating, and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. The people who are going to help them with this are the ones who will evangelize outdoor adventure and stewardship.

Focusing on One Group ≠ Ignoring Other Groups

I am not REI’s target customer. However, I recently needed to buy a tent. I could have purchased it from any number of places – Target, Amazon, Walmart, an army surplus store – but I chose REI. I reasoned that because REI is an outdoor company, they would probably have the type of tent I was looking for. REI was also appealing to me because they have credibility – if my friends who frequently camp buy their gear at REI, it’s a good idea to buy mine there, too.

When employees at REI found out that I “camp” a couple times a year with my kids in our backyard, they did not turn me away because I’m not an outdoor enthusiast and therefore would not fall into their target customer segment. Of course, they're happy to sell to people outside their specific focus. But if REI started optimizing for me (someone who would fall into the “reluctant camper” segment), they would lose credibility not only with the outdoor enthusiasts who disproportionately bring value to REI, but they also end up losing credibility with me.

So don’t fall for the false dichotomy that selecting a target customer means you’re ignoring everyone else. On the contrary, serving your most sweet-spot customer only improves the value that you bring to others you serve. When you optimize for the target customer, you double down on what makes you special, and in so doing you serve all of your customers with authenticity.

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