Target markets: defining who you’re really talking to

Every once in a while, I’ll read a brief and stop in my tracks when I get to the target audience section. I can’t help but think, “you think you know… but you have no idea.”

I’m dating myself here, but that was the opening line of the 00’s MTV show, Diary. Brilliant show, and a line that seemed so iconic at the time. Perhaps still iconic if I find myself repeating it often in 2021. Now, this is not to say I know the target better than the client does, but there’s usually a red flag that goes off for me when I see 'young, innovative, tech savvy' etc as the audience. I think, is that really your target market or is it an aspirational one?

You may think you know, but do you really have any idea?

The only way you’ll know who best fits your offering is by talking directly to them. We’ve written a lot about the importance of good research. It may feel unnecessary or cumbersome at the time when you have campaign deadlines, new product launches or brand reveals planned, but it’s the bedrock of understanding that target market. 

What I’m really interested in talking about is your target market. Just like the variety pack of brand lingo – brand architecture, onion, tree, house, etc – there are umpteen ways you can talk about your target market, and a lot of that can flex depending on if you’re B2B or B2C. Target market, demographic, users, audience, customer, consumer, the list is endless. And truthfully, it’s all about preference, there is no right answer. 

Here is where I would argue, no matter the term you want to use to describe your overall market, it all comes down to the decision makers. These are a subset of your wider customer group, the ones who ultimately hold the decision to purchase your product or service. 

It’s always good to be looking ahead to an aspirational market, especially for new product development, but to look so far ahead that you’re missing the group that’s ready and willing to buy from you now would be a big miss. 

It’s a disconnect that we see often, who you are speaking to right now is not who is buying from you. And one of these has to give. Either you make or sell a product or service that those you’re talking to want to buy, or you start speaking to those who are buying from you now.  

So, what can you do right now to assess whether your target market is actual or aspirational? Consider these three points.

  1. Speak to your customers.

When was the last time you spoke to them? Whether it be a post-purchase check in, social media dialogue, or formal research, have you been speaking to the people who are keeping the lights on? If not, consider why. While they won’t wait for you to give them what they need, but they are more than happy to tell you what it is they’re looking for. Remember, it’s in their interest to find a solution to their needs and you could easily be just what they’re looking for. You just need to know what to say to make that point clear.

  1. Identify the decision makers. 

I know this seems like I’m teaching you something incredibly obvious, but the thing is, sometimes we get so caught up in what’s new and exciting that we leave our decision makers behind. So, first thing’s first, identify your decision makers. Is it more narrow than your overall target market? That's more than likely; you have decision makers and influencers and both have an important role to play. But the conversion sits with the decision maker. Defining your messaging hierarchy with the decision maker in mind gives you the confidence you’re reaching them with the most impactful comms.

  1. Find a balance between the pipeline and the present.

When you review those comms we just talked about, ask yourself are you mostly talking about the future and not what you have to offer right now? If it’s too heavily weighted toward the future, you risk losing your audience. Because unlike a packed house at the Friday night showing of House of Gucci, your audience doesn’t have to sit and wait for you to get to the good bit. 

Consumers are people at the end of day. They have choice and plenty of it – they’re not waiting for you. They have the control, and off they’ll go to find the brand that is selling them the right thing, at the right time in the right way. 

It seems simple when you write it like that, but we know it’s not. That’s why we’re here.