As a lifelong marketer and SEO consultant, I typically begin working with new clients by talking about targeting.
Targeting isn’t just an important part of marketing, it is marketing. Without targeting, selling products and advertisements would be quite challenging. Marketers wouldn’t be able to develop product features or marketing copy that appeals to specific groups of people, and everything would be mass-marketed and boring.
For example, if you want to start a news and events website, you probably wouldn’t want to feature every piece of news or events in the whole world. You’d want to choose a specific area. For instance, if you live in San Francisco, you’d make a website that talks about news and events in San Francisco. In this case, your audience would be people in San Francisco, a much better target that you can market to.
By using audience targeting, marketers are able to craft their message to appeal to specific groups. They do this with the goal of increasing the likelihood that those groups will respond to their message and ultimately buy their products.
From junior associates setting up their first lookalike audiences on Facebook, to startup founders getting grilled by their investors about product-market fit, every business is trying to find out how to get their message across to the right customers.
If those customers feel that your product is meant for someone else, or if your targeting is too explicit or obvious, you run the risk of turning them off.
That’s why no matter where you are in your marketing career, you need a solid basic process for audience targeting. Here’s how to do it:
- Make sure you’re up to speed on the basics of targeting
- Use research/data to understand your target audience’s preferences
- Define your target audience
- Apply it to your business
- Measure the results
We’ll go into a lot more detail below, so let’s dig in.
What is a target audience?
A target audience is the specific group of consumers who are the ideal recipients for your message. Businesses can target consumers based on lots of different variables:
- Demographics: age, location, income level, education, gender, etc.
- Psychographics: lifestyle, attitudes, beliefs, reasons for buying (or not buying), etc.
- Behavioral variables: product usage, website visit data, etc.
We could write a book on any one of these individual variables, but the basic gist of audience targeting is you want to make sure your marketing message is landing properly with the people who are most likely to be your customers. And you want to define those customers in a way that’s clear across your whole organization.
Here are a few examples of target audiences for different types of companies:
Once you’re clear on what a target audience looks like, you can start to figure out what yours looks like.
How to define your target audience
Look at your data
The best place to start is existing data about your current customers. Look wherever you keep customer data. It could be your CRM, a spreadsheet you manually update, or the demographics section of your Google Analytics dashboard. Any information you have about your current customers can help narrow your targeting efforts. Which age group do existing customers typically fit in? Where do they live? What types of media do they consume? Note that while you may have answered these questions in the past, it’s worth checking to see if any new trends have appeared over time.
Speak with customers
When was the last time you had a real conversation with one of your customers? The Google Ventures team uses a design sprint process which shows how sitting down with just 5 people can shed light on how customers interact with products. Customer interviews are cheap and easy to do, and you can learn more in a 1-hour conversation than you ever could analyzing data in a spreadsheet.
Look at your competition
Marketing is all about differentiation. You can’t just copy what your competition does and expect to succeed. But you can learn a lot about potential audiences by observing which consumers your competitors are going after. There’s a good chance those consumers are a good fit for your product too, and if you can offer them more value than your competitor, you can grab a bigger slice of the pie.
Gather new data
At Fractl, we run a high volume of surveys to gather data on behalf of our clients. Tools like SurveyMonkey and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk allow us to survey large numbers of people at a time. And we’ve discovered that surveys are a great way to understand a target audience too. For example, you could survey 500 people in your target audience to understand how they consume media. Getting real, proprietary data in this way is one of the most accurate ways we know to measure a target audience’s preferences. It takes almost all of the guesswork out of audience targeting.
How to apply audience targeting to your business
Once you have your audience defined, you can start to think about the types of content, messaging, or product features that would appeal to them.
One way to make this process easier is to create personas. Personas are long-form, hypothetical descriptions of your typical customers. They’re used to provide structure and insight when applying audience targeting. You can create multiple buyer personas for your audience, and there’s no excuse not to be specific.
Here’s one detailed example:
Charles is a 35-45 year old marketing executive at a small business in the southern US. He has an MBA in marketing and lives in a medium-sized city. He’s worked for small and medium sized businesses for most of his career, except for a stint in corporate in his first job after college.
He’s married and has 2 children. He has an interest in fitness but wouldn’t consider himself athletic. He goes for a short run 1-2 times per week.
When it comes to marketing, Charles has confidence which comes from being aware of his own strengths, but he is also aware of his limitations. He understands the risks of trying new marketing tactics, and looks to marketing agencies to help execute projects where his in-house team lacks the expertise. His goals are to increase his brand’s domain authority by 25% this year.
Detailed personas like this one will help to set priorities, guide messaging or copywriting development, and provide alignment across teams. And that means you can attract customers who are most likely to convert.
A key thing to understand about audience targeting is when you optimize for one audience, you run the risk of turning off their counterpart. If you’re selling Yankees t-shirts, you’re going to turn off some die-hard Red Sox fans. If your customers are looking for a high-tech solution, you’re going to turn off people who are looking for something more tried-and-true.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be way more valuable to create a brand that a key audience loves, as opposed to trying to please everyone with a brand that lots of people have mildly positive feelings about.
Think of it like hiring a new employee. When you create a minimum set of requirements for the job, you might be filtering out some good candidates. But you’ll attract a higher percentage of quality candidates and ultimately save time finding the right person for the job.
If you can get over the fear of prioritizing one set of customers over others, you’ll be able to form a much stronger and more profitable bond with your most valuable audience.
Measuring the results
Audience targeting is more of a process than a one-time deal. As your business grows, you’ll often find yourself targeting different or broader audiences. So after your targeting exercise is complete and you’ve tailored your marketing message, make sure to close the loop by measuring the results.
Look at your customer data again. Have you attracted more customers that are the type you hoped to? Have you inadvertently turned off another group of customers?
When they’re able to adapt to changing market needs, businesses give themselves a much better shot at success. Make sure you have feedback loops in place to adjust your audience targeting as time goes on, and don’t be afraid to tweak your message as needed.
How Fractl does audience targeting
At Fractl, we use a data-driven approach in almost everything we do. And we’ve seen huge improvements to the success of the work we do for our clients by incorporating data-driven audience targeting into our process.
By surveying consumers about content marketing campaign ideas prior to investing in production, we’re often able to adjust our strategy to increase the probability of success for our clients. We’re happy to admit we’ve been surprised to learn that a content marketing idea we initially felt lukewarm about is resonating well with an audience. Or that an idea the team thought would be a home run is actually a stinker. It makes the work we do that much more effective.