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

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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.

Most 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 asking, “Who wants us?”

It is not that these consumers are the low lying fruit. They are already engaged, passionate, and wiling to try what you have to offer. 

Instead of going after who you want, go after those who want you 

If you have golf ball that flies farther any other golf ball in the world, then go find those who love golf and want to hit long drives. That’s likely 0.1% of the population. 

Stop going after people who hate golf. Those people might hate golf because it takes six hours, you have to whisper, it’s embarrassing, and you have to wear weird funny clothing. A longer golf ball does nothing to solve those issues. 

When you go to those who are already motivated, you skip step one of trying to convince someone they should be interested. You can focus on convincing them to buy your brand. 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.

target market consumer customer

I use seven fundamental questions to define and build a profile of your ideal consumer target:

  1. What is the description of the consumer target?
  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?

Who is your consumer target?

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?  

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.

Marketing 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).

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 to 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 a 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.

Focus on those who are the most motivated

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? 

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. 

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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:  

click to zoom in

  • 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 forces 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

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.

Possible emotional needs

I have also mapped out eight emotional need states your brand can play in. 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.

Beloved Brands is the playbook to keep at your fingertips

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Everything you need to run your brand. Our readers reach for Beloved Brands a few times each week as a reference toolkit to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand. Over 90% of our Amazon reviews receive 5-star ratings, and Beloved Brands has spent numerous weeks as a #1 bestseller in brand management

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.

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.”

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. You want consumers to say, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel.” Brands must think of consumer insights as a potential competitive advantage, equal in importance to intellectual property.

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 put the consumer insight into quotes to use their voice. Here are some examples of good and bad consumer insights:

Do you know your consumer 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. 

Consumer insights must show up at every consumer touchpoint

Knowing the secrets of your consumers can be a potent asset for your brand. The best brand communication should be like whispering an inside-joke that only you and your friend get. When the consumer insight connects, it makes consumers stop and say, “Hmmm. That’s exactly how I feel. I thought I was the only one who felt like that.” When portrayed with the brand’s message, whether through packaging, advertising or at the purchase moment, the consumer will think the brand is made just for them. 

Completing the target profile

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

Click to zoom in

B2B customer profile

The customer target profile can work for business-to-business type brands. While the consumer brands market to a collection of consumers in the target, when you have a finite list of customers, you can use the profile to bring the customer to life. Below is an example of a customer of the Gray’s Stage Lighting brand.

Click to zoom in

Learn more about how to find your brand positioning

To find your ideal brand positioning statement, you want to find the space that is most motivating to consumers. And, find the space that is most ownable for your brand. Our brand positioning statement process starts with a defined consumer target your brand will serve. Then, we focus on the emotional and functional benefits that differentiate your brand. Further, we use support points to help differentiate your brand from competitors.

Learn more about how to write marketing plans

A strategic marketing plan gets everyone on the same page, including senior management, sales, product development, customer service and your agency partners. So, we have a one-page brand plan to help. That way, everyone drives against the same vision, key issues, strategies, and tactics. Throughout this article, I will show how to write a marketing plan, with a few marketing plan examples. And, we have a marketing plan template you can purchase. 

Beloved Brands is the playbook to keep at your fingertips

Our readers tell us they reach for Beloved Brands a few times each week as a reference toolkit to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand.

  • To start, we will challenge you with questions that get you to think differently about your brand strategy.
  • Then, we take you through our process for defining your brand positioning. We will open your mind to new possibilities for how you see you can differentiate your brand. And, we use examples of brand positioning statements to bring the learning to life.
  • Next, we will show you how to write a brand plan that everyone can follow. Make sure all stakeholders know precisely how they can contribute to your brand’s success.
  • Moreover, we will show you how to run the creative execution process, show you how to write an inspiring brief, and make decisions to find both smart and breakthrough work.
  • Finally, you will learn new methods to analyze the performance of your brand with a deep-dive business review.

Above all, over 90% of our Amazon reviews receive five-star ratings, and Beloved Brands has spent numerous weeks as a #1 bestseller in brand management.

Our Brand Toolkit has every template slide you need to run your brand

If you are running a consumer-driven brand or you are a consultant looking after clients, our Brand Toolkit has every PowerPoint slide you would need.

  • Our comprehensive Brand Toolkit package has over 120 PowerPoint slides with templates for brand plan presentations, brand positioning presentations, and business review presentations. You will get slides for a creative brief, brand concept, brand credo, and brand story.
  • You will get blank slides for you to populate. Each line has key definitions. And, we provide a fully completed brand toolkit using Gray’s Cookies.
  • Bonus: We include reading on strategic thinking and how to write brand plans from our Beloved Brands playbook with many of our models in our Brand Toolkit.

Examples of the slides we include in our Brand Toolkit

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If you are looking to solidify your marketing skills, our Brand Management Mini MBA will teach you about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, advertising decisions, and marketing analytics.

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