Practical Ecommerce

Know Your Enemy (err, Target)

An oft-repeated military slogan is “know your enemy.” I’m not too sure if it was first espoused by Sun Tzu, Clausewitz or Machiavelli, but I’m on board with the theory. If Sun Tzu (or whoever) were alive today, he’d probably be a web marketer, and his mantra would be “know your target.”

“Target audience” is a term defining the group of people who buy your products and services. It’s an artificial segmentation of consumers-at-large, grouped by characteristics that identify them as potential customers.
The more specific you can be about your target audience, the more effective your marketing will be.

Building a profile

The key to understanding your target audiences is identifying what elements bind them together into a cohesive group. It’s the similarities among groups of people that hold the key to communicating with them effectively.

For example, if I decide to target hotel managers, I can communicate with them because I can make some valid generalizations about the types of problems they face. I can learn their interests. Perhaps I can even know something about their demographic, such as their approximate age.

Understanding this, it should be apparent that a very general target audience definition isn’t terribly helpful. For example, a dry-cleaner who defines its target as “people who want things dry-cleaned” isn’t defining its target audience closely enough because that definition doesn’t tell you anything about who these people are – or how to communicate with them.

A few elements to consider include: gender, age, economic status, geographic location or lifestyle factors such as job title, hobbies and interests, family status, etc. You are looking for the elements that bind your target audience together as some sort of group. In some cases, this will be easy.

If you target doctors or cycling enthusiasts, for example, your profile may not go any further than that – although, ideally, it would include specifics that narrow the group.

Are they pediatricians? Mountain bikers? Osteopaths or avid fans of the Tour de France?

It’s also possible to segment further by geography, age, etc., so that “doctors in the tri-county area,” or “cycling enthusiasts over 40” would work well too.

However, it’s likely that defining your target audience is a little more problematic. It may seem that the only thing linking your customers together is that they use your services!

Identify subgroups

If it seems that way at first, don’t sweat. It might be that you’re trying to group your audience all together when, really, you service smaller pockets of subgroups. Try to identify a series of mini-audiences within your overall customer base.

Here are a few questions that will point you in the right direction:

  • When we launched the product or service, what types of people did we have in mind?
  • Since the launch, what new groups have also expressed interest in the product?
  • If an existing customer tells a friend about one of my products or services, what characteristics are the two people likely to have in common?

Selecting the right target audiences

Step 1 – Based on those ideas, brainstorm a list of possible target audiences.

Once you have a list of possible targets, you’ll probably find that you have too many to target reasonably, or that your list contains some groups that aren’t terribly profitable for one reason or another.

Identifying how many targets you can focus on is a tough question. Unfortunately, the answer is “not too many, and not too few,” which isn’t incredibly helpful. Consider the two factors on either side of the scale. On one side is the need to reach as many people as possible in order to grow your business; on the other side is the issue of focus.

Most people probably err on the side of growing the business when they should err on the side of focus. In marketing, being the big fish in a small pond is often a better growth strategy than being a minnow in an ocean.
You’ll want to ponder these two factors, and make a determination about how many audiences you can target overall. For many businesses, it will make sense to focus most of your efforts on just one (or perhaps two) audiences at a time. We have found that effectively communicating to more than three target audiences is difficult to achieve on a single website. You might want to consider a series of smaller target-specific websites, or perhaps target your main three and then expand your reach as revenue grows.

Prioritize your list of targets

Step 2 – Organize and prioritize your brainstorm list into a short-list of “finalists” by considering the following questions for each one:

  • How much success have I already had with this group?
  • How well do I know and understand this group?
  • Do I know where these people visit regularly (real world and online)?
  • Would this group potentially spend a lot or a little on my products and services?
  • How big is this group? If I attracted 10% of this group in the next 12 months, could I realistically expand to handle the demand?
  • Am I personally interested in, and excited by this group?

Why a target audience is important

Assessing your target audience is critical for a number of reasons. Once you understand who will be visiting your site, you can determine what information to include, whether to be formal or friendly, how much technical jargon or product detail is appropriate, and so on. In understanding your target audience, you can also begin to determine what they are looking for.

Create calls-to-action and offers that are the most compelling to that target.

Mat Greenfield

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  1. Legacy User February 2, 2007 Reply

    This had been a great help for my year 12 English assignment on advertising and expanding target audience. Thank you

    — *jeeves*

  2. Legacy User February 2, 2008 Reply

    This has been excellent for my media coursework research. I now have a more realistic idea of how to condense my audience.

    — *Aimz*

  3. Legacy User February 23, 2008 Reply

    Thanks. This has been very helpful for my thesis on social networks and online marketing.

    — *Reena*