How to Determine Your Target Market for Your Brand

March 1, 2017

One of the first questions I ask a client is, “Who is your audience.” Invariably, the answer is, “Well, I guess everyone.” Everyone is big. It’s impossible to speak to “everyone.” The goal is to determine the best audience or audiences for the brand and how to address them. It is more important to be surgical and clear, rather than attempting to reach anyone (spray and pray).

That sounds simple in some ways: If the audience is boys 8–12 then transformers and action heroes will work. If the audience is over 50 and college educated, a classic and elegant approach is needed. But these solutions are simplistic and will be lost in the clutter of every other brand.

Start with the basic question, “Who is the audience?” and then dig deeper.  

1. Who is the company’s primary audience now?

The key word here is “primary”. It’s important to be honest even if it isn’t flattering. Who is the brand reaching right now?

This isn’t about everyone who ever came into contact with the brand. It’s about that core audience that the brand is reaching and succeeds in creating loyalty.

For example, a museum client is extremely successful engaging with its audience. When questioned, a typical visitor says only good things about the museum. But the attendance is dropping each year.

The audience is 55-80 and appreciates 19th-century painting. Unfortunately, the client is not adding anyone else and that group is slowly disappearing.

2. Who are the company’s other audiences now?

Now you can ask about the secondary and tertiary audiences. Who else is the company reaching? These may be people who have only limited experience with the brand such as the media. Or it may be people who had bad experiences with it.

It’s important to understand the positives and negatives.

Brand Ambassadors and Enemies

A successful brand builds brand ambassadors with consumers. I’ve enjoyed my experience and product at Starbucks, so I will tell my friends how good the brand is.

Alternatively, bad experiences create brand enemies. The first time I go to Pinky’s Coffee Corner they get my order wrong. I can forgive that. The next time, they do it again and are surly. Now I’m less than forgiving.

On my third visit the coffee is stale and the place is dirty. I now become a brand enemy and go out of my way to tell my friends to avoid Pinky’s Coffee Corner.

3. Who should the audience be?

Even though the brand may have a loyal following, it may need to expand and reach new groups. The museum client needs to maintain its loyalty with its current audience, but also reach new groups such as a younger visitors, educational institutions, and broader media outlets.

This will require the brand to have a different tone and less stuffy programs.

It also needs to address the internal audience. It’s critical that everyone employed by the museum have a positive experience and understand the brand mission. If the guide tells me that the museum wants to focus only on 19th century painting, but the woman selling tickets talks about electronic music exhibitions, I’ll think the brand is confused.

4. Who is the competition?

Knowing who is competing with the brand is critical to discover the best message going forward. Fortunately, many companies are comfortable following others. This is your chance to break out of the expected and invisible.

It also provides a better sense of possible threats. The competition may be easy to identify. For Pinky’s Coffee Corner the obvious competition is Starbucks down the street.

But there are other competitors to consider. The organic coffee home delivery service, the mass-produced coffee drinks at the grocery store, and the local university’s cafeteria may all be taking customers.

5. Who are the brand’s primary messengers?

The people on the front lines or the first contact are usually the most important messengers. A brand can have lofty ideals and a strong message, but this is useless if the individual I first meet doesn’t know this.

There will probably be many messengers, and it’s important to determine who is saying what to whom. You may decide that this should change, or that the message be extremely clear to that group. And it may be surprising. 

That messenger might be outside the brand. The most vocal messengers might be the audience and word of mouth. In that instance, the brand message needs to be airtight, simple, and repeated often.