How to define the ideal target market profile to build your brand around

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

target market definitionMost marketers think of the type of consumers they want to attract. Why not change your thinking and go after those consumers who are already motivated by what your brand offers? So instead of asking, “Who do we want?” you should be saying, “Who wants us?” In this article, I will show you a few target market examples from across industries. I use seven fundamental questions to define and build an ideal consumer target market profile:

  1. What is the description of the consumer target market?
  2. What are the consumer’s main needs?
  3. Who is the consumer’s enemy who torments them every day?
  4. What are the insights we know about the consumer?
  5. What does the consumer think now?
  6. How does the consumer buy?
  7. What do we want consumers to see, think, do, feel or whisper to their friends?

Target market definition: Who is your consumer?

In terms of a target market definition, one of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is picking too broad of a target market. A tight target market decides who is in the target and who is not in the target.

There is a myth that a bigger target will make the brand bigger, so the scared marketer targets “everyone.” There seems to be an irrational fear of leaving someone out. Spreading your brand’s limited resources across an entire population is completely cost-prohibitive. While targeting everyone “just in case” might feel safe at first, it is riskier because you spread your resources so broadly you never see the full impact you want to see. This fear of missing out (FOMO) gives your brand a lower return on investment and eventually will drain your brand’s limited resources. Please focus.

Target market example: The shoe shine guy

Every time I go to the airport, I see the shoeshine person looking down at people’s feet, qualifying potential customers based on whether they are wearing leather shoes. It reminds me of how simple it is to target those consumers who are the most motivated by what you do. Sure, they could be missing out on the very few people who have leather shoes in their suitcase. However, using a focused approach to profile consumers is a smart way to maximize your return on effort. If shoeshiners can narrow the focus of their target to people wearing leather shoes, why is it so difficult for you to narrow down your target to those who care the most about what your brand does? While a very simple target market example, it really illustrates the importance of focus.

When it comes to your target market definition, instead of going after who you want, go after those who want you

If you have a golf ball that goes longer than any other golf ball, go after those golfers who already hit it long and want to hit it even longer. If you have a new recipe for chicken noodle soup, go after those who love chicken noodle soup. And if you are selling a mortgage, go after those consumers who want to buy a house. Damn, that sounds simple. Then why do I see golf marketers go after people who hate golf, soup marketers go after those who don’t give a damn about soup and banks trying to sell mortgages to everyone.

To illustrate this point of focus, I look at three types of potential target markets:

  • Selling target: This is pretty much everyone, as you sell to anyone who comes in the door and wants to buy, regardless if they fit your ideal target. However, “everyone” should never be a marketing target. You are spreading your resources so thin your message will miss out on really capturing those consumers most likely to respond, which provides an efficient payback.
  • target marketMarketing target: You should focus your limited resources on those consumers who have the highest likelihood of responding positively to your brand positioning, advertising, and new product innovation. A tighter target market provides the fastest and highest return on investment.
  • Program target: When working on a specific campaign, narrow the target even further. Focus on people you want to stimulate to see if you can get them to see, think, feel or do things that will benefit your brand. A specific program target is smart when launching a new product or aligning with a promotional time of year (including back-to-school or Christmas).

Target market example: The case of the crazy bank that targeted everyone

I worked with a bank that told me its target market for a first-time mortgage (home loan) was adults aged 18-65, new customers, current customers, and employees. Sarcastically, I said, “You have forgotten about tourists and prisoners.” As I pressed to help them narrow their consumer target, they pushed back saying they did not want to alienate anyone just in case. I cringed at the word “alienate” and the idea of “just in case.”

Sure, the odd 64-year-old might be tired of renting for the past 40 years, but they would not be offended having a 32-year-old in the ad. You have to realize that people know when they are the natural outlier and they aren’t offended when they are. The age target that would be most motivated by a first-time mortgage ad would be someone who is in their late twenties or early thirties.

I improved the target definition, even more, by adding, “They are looking to buy a house.” This thinking is equal to the shoeshine person looking for someone wearing leather shoes. No one buys their first house on impulse, and no one ever wanted a mortgage without buying a house. Consumers usually spend 6-12 months looking for a house. It sounds obvious but why was it lost on the bank?

Narrowing your target helps focus your marketing efforts

Think about the difference the focused target makes on the marketing programs. Instead of randomly advertising to everyone on mass media, your brand should focus your limited resources on the consumer who is most open to your message and where they are most willing to listen. Advertise on real estate websites during their lunch hour when they take a break to search the web for new housing options. Use billboards outside new housing developments and use radio ads on Saturday afternoons to capture them while they drive around looking at new homes.
Who is most likely to try your brand or love your brand in the future?

There are various ways to divide up the market to identify the most motivated possible audience. Here are three main ways to segment the market:

Target Market Definition

  • Consumer profiling: Using demographics is one of the easiest ways to segment. While some resist demographics, you will eventually have to put someone in the ad and likely buy media using age. Then add in socioeconomic and geographic elements, and how they shop. Choose to focus on either current customers or new customers, but never both at the same time. Trying to drive penetration and usage at the same time will drain your resources. These are two dramatically different targets needing two different messages, two types of media, and potentially two different types of product offerings.
  • Consumer behavior: Divide the market based on consumer need states, purchase occasions, life stages or life moments. You can also divide the market based on purchase behavior, perceptions or beliefs.
  • Consumer psychographics: Psychographics look at commonly shared behaviors, such as the consumer’s shared lifestyle, personality, values or attitudes.


Segmentation should force you to focus. Please do not spend tons of money on a segmentation study and then try to figure out how to go after each segment with a completely different brand message. I have seen marketers do this and it is borderline crazy. That is not the right way to use these studies. A brand can only ever have one reputation. While this shows 12 different ways you can segment, a good starting point is to use a combination of 3 or 4 segmentation elements to narrow down your target. The choice depends on the category.

What are your consumer’s needs?

If you can make consumers buy, you will never have to sell. The best brands do not go after consumers; they get consumers to crave their brand and come after them. The process I will take you through involves matching up what your consumers want and need with what your brand does best.

Possible functional needs of your target market

To help get you started, I have mapped out nine functional need states to help you understand the potential spaces your brand can play in and eight emotional need states your brand can play in:

Target Market Definition

These need states mean something different for each category of brands, but it should be a good starting point for you to brainstorm where you can add specific words that fit your brand situation.
Who is your consumer’s enemy?

While products solve small problems, the best brands beat down the enemies that torment their consumers every day. Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer and find their most significant frustration pain point they feel no one is even noticing or addressing.

Target Market Example: The Starbucks mom

Put yourself in the shoes of the Starbucks consumer, a 38-year-old mom with two kids. She wakes up at 6:15 a.m. to get ready for work and get everyone in the house prepared for their day. Then, she drops off one kid at daycare at 7:30 a.m., the other at the public school at 7:45 a.m. then rushes to the office by 8:30 a.m. She drives a van, not because she wants to but because it is excellent for carrying equipment for after-school activities, including soccer, dance, tutoring and ice hockey. Her only tokens of appreciation are hugs at the end of a long day. Just after getting both kids to bed, she collapses into her bed, exhausted.

Who is the enemy of the Starbucks mom? A hectic life

The Starbucks brand fights her enemy, by providing a 15-minute moment of escape between work and home. Starbucks has no children’s playground, just lovely leather seats. No loud screams, just soft acoustic music. The cool 21-year-old college student not only knows her name but her favorite drink.

Your consumer’s enemy

If you want to understand your consumer’s pain points, think of how you would project their enemy and express how your brand fights that enemy on their behalf. Shifting from solving a rational consumer problem to beating down an emotional consumer enemy is the starting point to reaching into the emotional need state of your consumer. Disney fights off the consumer enemy of “growing up.” Nike fights the consumer enemy of “losing.” Apple fights off the consumer enemy of “frustration with computers.”

Target Market examples of consumer enemies brands beat down on their behalf

Consumer Target Market definition

Consumer insights

Consumer insights are little secrets hidden beneath the surface, which explain the underlying behaviors, motivations, pain points, and emotions of your consumers. Your consumers may not even be able to explain the insight until you play it back to them. And when they say, “Yeah, that is exactly how I feel.” Brands should think of consumer insights as a potential competitive advantage, equal in importance to intellectual property.

Avoid relying too heavily on facts and data alone without any context or story. Too many marketers think that data, trends, and facts are insights. Here’s a data point: “People in Brazil brush their teeth four times per day, compared to 1.7 times per day for North Americans.” Do you think that is an insight? Some people do. But when you think of how little you know about this data point, you realize you need to go deeper into the context to gain an understanding. You must start to ask more questions, by asking who, what, when, where, or asking how and even why, that’s when we begin to turn the fact into an insight.

Consumer Insights

Stereotypes and clichés are dangerous.

I once heard someone say, “Women over 50 are stuck in their ways, and not willing to change their routines.” That is not a valid statement for many categories. Here are two examples of women over 50 making dramatic changes: a) Women take 8x more vitamins at 55, compared to 50 and b) The fastest growth for the Apple brand has been women over 50. Be careful you don’t stereotype; especially when you are not in the target market, you are going after.

Common knowledge offers no competitive advantage. I hear insights all the time that are not unique secrets. For instance, “Golfers wish there was a way they could hit the ball longer and straighter” offers no competitive advantage. Everyone in the golf industry knows this. Dig deeper.

Watch out that you don’t use insights just related to your product rather than about the consumer’s LIFE! Too many marketers use insights like, “Whenever I get hungry, I love eating my Gray’s chicken nuggets.” This type of statement is too blatant to be an insight, yet people put stuff like this all the time.

How to write meaningful consumer insights

Force yourself to get in the shoes of your consumer and use their voice. Every consumer insight should start with the word “I” to get into the shoes of your consumer, and you should put the insight in quotes to use their voice. Here are some examples of good and bad consumer insights:

Do you know your consumer target market better than your competition knows your consumer?

Brands should think of consumer insights like you do intellectual property. Your knowledge of your consumer is a competitive advantage. The deeper the love a brand can build with your most cherished consumers, the more powerful and profitable that brand will be, going far beyond what the product alone could ever deliver. There is only one source of revenue. Not the products you sell, but the consumers who buy them.

Completing the target market profile

Taking all this work, here is the consumer target profile for Gray’s Cookies brand. The remaining questions will come from your strategic brand plan.

The target market profile works for B2B

Consumer Target Market example

The target market profile works for healthcare

Consumer Target Market example

To read more on consumer insights, click on this story.

Take the mystery out of finding consumer insights to connect with your target market on a deeper level

To see how insights are used, click on this story


Five ads that bring consumer insights to life

You will find this type of thinking in my book, Beloved Brands.

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About Graham Robertson

As the founder of Beloved Brands, Graham has been an advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links, Miller beer, Earls restaurants and Pfizer. He’s helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans, and advertising.Graham Robertson

In his marketing career, Graham led some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills, and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. He has won numerous awards including Marketing Magazine’s “Marketer of the Year”, Businessweek’s best new product award and four Effie advertising awards. His book, Beloved Brands, is the playbook for how to build a brand consumers will love.

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