Target audience

Why are target audiences important? What types are available, and how can you use research and analytics to identify your target audience?

Most business leaders work hard to get the most value out of every investment, and sales and marketing should be no exception. After all, there isn’t much value in paying for ad space that doesn’t reach the people you want it to reach. 

Establishing a target audience is a way for organizations to make sure they’re focusing their efforts on reaching the prospects who are most likely to respond, in the places they’re most likely to gather. The result is more cost-effective sales and marketing strategies that deliver faster conversions — and more of them. 
But defining a target audience takes time, work and expertise. From definition, types and examples to a quick guide on how to find your target audience, here’s what businesses should know.

What is a target audience?

A target audience is a group of people most likely to be receptive to messaging for a particular product or service. Defined with the help of processes like customer feedback, market research and competitive analysis, a target audience represents the prospects who are buying what you’re selling. 

Defining target audiences is helpful because it provides businesses with actionable data about their most likely customers — who they are, where to find them, and when they’re most receptive to communication. Knowing this, marketers can create more effective strategies and messaging for faster connections and longer-term relationships. 

Target audiences are also necessary for delivering effective personalized messaging. According to a report from McKinsey & Company, 71% percent of customers expect content that’s personalized to their specific needs and interests, and 76% are frustrated if that doesn’t happen. 

Defining target audiences is beneficial for businesses in any industry. It’s a strategy that’s also frequently used by other entities like nonprofit organizations and government agencies. And for businesses actively seeking to maximize conversion rates and, ultimately, overall sales and revenue, it’s an absolute essential.

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What’s the difference between target audience and target market?

Though the terms are used interchangeably sometimes, a target audience is not the same as a target market. The latter refers to all possible customers for a brand, product or service, while a target audience is a more specific group you’re actively communicating with, for a specific purpose — say, a sales promotion, product launch or other marketing campaign.  

In other words, a target audience is a subset of a larger target market. As such, it’s segmented along similar lines, taking into account demographic data like age, location, income, profession and gender identification. It’s also more focused, more detailed and, naturally, smaller in size. 

Businesses often have a variety of target audiences for different products or services, or even different target audiences for the same product. A target audience may be broad or narrow, depending on the specific needs of each campaign, and the availability, quality and quantity of data.

Types of target audiences

There are three primary types of target audience that can be defined within a larger target market, grouped by the nature of certain shared characteristics: 

1. Demographic sub-cultures group customers and prospects based on shared characteristics, like: 
  • Personal demographics such as age, marital status, income and education 
  • Geographic location — country, state, city, school zone, neighborhood 
2. Interests or psychographics include less tangible (and less readily available) info like favorite activities, hobbies and other interests like: 
  • Personal preferences or values 
  • Cultural associations, including primary language, religious holidays or dietary habits 
3. Situational analysis helps assess customers and prospects based on behavior, as associated with a specific business or its competitors, or a variety of other factors: 
  • Purchase intention, determined by tracking customers actively shopping for a specific product or service 
  • Survey data to help anticipate future behavior

Examples of target audiences

The most basic audience for most products and services is often easy to intuit. For instance, Medicare-eligible healthcare services, homeowners’ insurance, and wine all have broad target demographics that are fairly obvious (Medicare enrollees, property owners and drinking-age adults, respectively). 

But most products also have the potential to be broken down into more specific target audiences. So, for instance, the target audience for a new high-end men’s running shoe could be split into separate B2C and B2B components, such as: 
  • Men who have expressed interest in fitness and who fall within a certain income range 
  • Shoe retailers seeking to draw in higher-income shoppers  

Multiple target audiences can often be defined within a B2B context. For instance, a campaign to sell business-class cybersecurity software would use different messaging and presentation when speaking to: 
  • Chief executives concerned about the rise in cybercrime 
  • Hospital administrators who need to meet HIPAA requirements 
  • An importer/exporter who must comply with a variety of international regulations 
  • The sole owner of an entrepreneurship who wants the lowest-cost solution

Creating a target audience analysis

Creating a target audience begins with a target audience analysis. From basic demographic research to advanced behavioral analysis, a target audience analysis helps businesses define their ideal customers based on a variety of important criteria: 

1. Analysis of existing customers

The best place to start when compiling target audience information is your existing customer base. What do you know about them? Before you start compiling granular data based on surveys and interviews, compile the trends that are already available to you, such as the time of year and day people make purchases, typical shopping lifecycles, percentage of repeat customers, and so on.

2. Competitive analysis

Learn who your competitors are, and then collect as much intelligence as you can. The basics will be easy to find — simply visit their websites and social media profiles. More in-depth research can be done using keyword competition tools like Semrush or SpyFu. A professionally conducted competitive analysis can provide even more detailed information on a competitors’ present value or customer base.

3. Soliciting feedback

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to put in place some basic mechanisms for collecting customer feedback. A contact form on your website is a good place to start. If you have a sales team or account reps, make sure you’re hearing the same feedback they do. An email campaign can be an effective way to get customers to provide feedback (and in a way that’s more private than on social media).

4. Engaging on social media

Find out where people who engage with your industry spend their time, and join them there — to hear what they’re saying, as well as to build community and a sense of trust and loyalty. Start or join groups within these platforms to gain even more access to customers. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube also let you send targeted ads, track mentions and monitor other helpful metrics.

5. Surveys & Interviews

Surveys and interviews are effective ways to gather valuable feedback, and a chance to directly ask the questions you need to have answered. Surveys can be carried out with a variety of tools like SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, Constant Contact and many others. Interviews and focus groups take more time and effort, but also provide more specific, in-depth answers.

6. Watching the market/industry

Frequenting or monitoring industry websites, blogs and forums is a time-honored way to get needed insights into customer behavior and trends. Maintaining expertise about the state of the industry or your niche also helps you speak in a more knowledgeable way. It could also help define new audiences, based on data like changes in regulations or the competitive landscape.

7. Analytics

Today, the most advanced method of audience targeting is the use of analytical tools. Google Analytics and other platforms designed to manage and monitor ad sales give businesses the power to track online customer behavior across a huge variety of metrics. Many other sales and marketing tools are available that can apply analytics to email marketing and social media campaigns to glean even more information.

Defining your target audience with buyer personas

An effective way to use the data from your target audience analysis is creating buyer personas. A buyer persona is a hypothetical example of a potential customer based on your best market research, a fictional representation of a real-life person you’re trying to reach. 

Creating buyer personas helps businesses put themselves in the shoes of potential customers. By more fully understanding their buyers’ paint points and how to address them, marketers are better equipped to create effective, results-driven messaging. 

Examples of buyer personas

Think of a buyer persona as a template that lets you list essential data about a representative of each target audience

For example, a software development company may have as its different buyer personas a Chief Marketing Officer, a small business sole proprietor, a government official and an educator. For the best chances of converting each of these personas, they each need to be spoken to separately. 

One person could also serve as the basis for multiple buyer personas. For example, a hypothetical middle-aged woman could serve as a number of different buyer persona examples, each using different pieces of information that are most relevant to their campaigns: 

Electronic medical records (EMR) software provider:  
  • Name: Mary S. 
  • Title: Skilled nursing facility manager 
  • Goal: Improve staff productivity 
  • Receptive to: Emails sent between Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning 
  • Pain point: Growth stifled by operational budget limitations  
Fitness center franchisee: 
  • Name: Mary S. 
  • Location: Raleigh, North Carolina 
  • Goal: Finding a spin class in her neighborhood 
  • Receptive to: Facebook and Instagram 
  • Pain point: No local facilities offer classes  
Beauty products importer: 
  • Name: Mary S. 
  • Age: 40-50 
  • Income: $80,000 - 100,000 
  • Interest: Imported skin care products 
  • Pain point: Difficulty in finding reliable information on Korean brands

Target audience analysis and data security

Target audience analysis is a powerful tool for delivering dynamic, personalized content that adapts to each user’s preference. Yet it also comes with certain risks and responsibilities, especially regarding the collection and use of the data that enables that personalization. 

Research has found that four in five consumers are fine with trading personal data for a more personalized experience. Yet 79% are also very/somewhat concerned about how companies use that data. For businesses, that means collecting data is essential for satisfying customers — and working to protect that data is just as essential for maintaining their trust and confidence.  

Aside from the Privacy Act of 1974, the United States has yet to pass a federal consumer data law. But Europe, California, and a growing list of other states have enacted comprehensive data privacy regulations that apply to every company over a certain size doing any kind of business with their citizens — and they’re not shy about imposing fines on those who fail to comply. 

Businesses looking to make sure they meet those standards can do so with the help of a cybersecurity framework (CSF). The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the most widely used CSF by companies in the United States, while the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27000 is more prevalent in the global community. 

How GfK can help

Understanding how to define your target audience is just the beginning. The process of defining, speaking to and building relationships is an ongoing process. Luckily, the more you learn about your customers — and how you employ segmentation and targeting strategies to understand them — the better those processes will be over time, leading to continuous improvement and ever-increasing returns. 

For businesses looking for partners in this important task, we at GfK are proud to be true pioneers in the field. Our comprehensive range of market research and customer segmentation expertise includes proprietary tools for capturing demographic information, behavioral trends and much more.