How to pinpoint your target audience

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You hear it all the time: “Find your target market, and create interesting content.”

There’s a dearth, however, of guidance on just how to identify and analyze your various target markets for the purpose of marketing to them.

This is because either:

(A) Everyone already understands how to find their target market; or

(B) Few people are identifying their target market, but the buzz phrase is fun to repeat.

If you agree that it’s (B), please read on.

I’d be lying if I said this type of research is easy. A lot of marketers skip it or phone it in, because it can be time consuming. It’s this investment of time that separates pros from amateurs.

There is such a wealth of information about your target market that once you understand how to tap it, analyze it, and create for it, it’s difficult not to create content that “sticks.”

Part 1: Basic demographics

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Ethnicity
  • Marital status
  • Number of children

Look at this list and think about how many of these demographic factors influenced your last major purchase.

Realistically, most businesses should focus only on:

  • Two core markers—data that define who your core market is; and
  • One to three secondary markers—data that flesh out the core market.

When deconstructing the market, focusing on a small core helps you see what’s important to them, where they hang out—both online and off—and what they’re exposed to. With that understanding, you can build a basic picture of their life, and flesh out your content from there.

Try not to think of keeping a targeted profile as excluding anyone, but rather keeping your messaging focused on the people who will make the most impact. Trust that “everyone else” will follow once you’ve made an impression with your core market.

[RELATED: Prove the ROI of your digital efforts after hearing these top-rated case studies in March.]

Example: Base targeting profile No. 1

What if I sold B2B software to computer programmers?

Two core market attributes that come to mind are:

  • Occupation (core marker)
  • Location (secondary marker)

Now with software, you might think “location” wouldn’t make sense as a secondary marker, but there are certain locations where it’s great to be a computer programmer (or any profession for that matter).

To know where these places are, I use a free site called CityTownInfo.com which tells me—among many things—the best and worst places in the country for any given occupation.

As a marketer, I want to understand where these areas are, because local salary gives me an indication of the local and business culture for that programmer.

If programmers in a particular city are paid more, it’s more likely that employers there will respect—and listen to—the programmers’ opinions regarding purchasing decisions. (Programmers in San Jose are probably taken more seriously than programmers in rural Maine.)

Knowing which areas have the highest salary, I’ll plug that information into Followerwonk, to learn the “local language” of people within that industry.

From here, I’d create a Twitter List and watch for patterns in websites the local programmers are sharing , local events they attend, popular hot spots, and anything else they share that gives me some indication of where I should represent my software both online and off.

Later, I’ll dig into the content of what they’re sharing and use what I learn to guide my own content development.

Takeaway: Understanding basic demographics on your target market can help you to “be everywhere” for your most important market.

Example: Base targeting profile No. 2 (redo section)

Let’s say I was developing a campaign for a college, and my primary goal was to get older Gen Y students to sign up. The base targeting profile might look something like this.

  • 25-34 years old (core marker)
  • $ 10,000-$ 30,000/year (core marker)
  • Women (secondary marker)

Though they seem general, these data points give me a pretty good base to work with.

I could find top-selling products for 25- to 34-year-old women, scan the local job market for the places paying $ 10k-$ 30k/year, and ask around (in person) to discover what they’re watching or reading online.

Being empathetic to the conditions of someone in a $ 10k-$ 30k/year job helps me to develop targeted content later.

For example, top-selling products help me understand what’s important (or what’s missing) from their lives, and knowing what they’re watching and reading lets me know where to direct my marketing, as well as the style and tone of the content itself.

Not to mention, I can always target Facebook ads by workplace. Understanding what specific jobs are paying within my target market’s income range helps me to target them later.

Takeaway: Researching deeper into what constitutes a given demographic can reveal crucial parameters that can guide the rest of your marketing campaign.

Part 2: Psychographics—How to talk to your target market

If demographics are telling you who is buying, psychographics will tell you why they buy.

By monitoring your target market’s interests as was discussed about in the previous section, you’ll gain insight into things like:

  • Personality
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Interests/hobbies
  • Lifestyle
  • Behavior

For example, let’s say you notice a high percentage of people in your market share posts from 9Gag.com.

Knowing 9Gag has a unique sense of humor, you would be safe in adopting elements of that sense of humor and incorporating them into your messaging.

Imagine a brand sells baby clothes targeting working-class bloggers with a sense of humor like 9gag?

Within your demographic, you’ll see trends on the thoughts, personalities, and values shared by members of the market.

They might buy things that keep them grounded spiritually or make them laugh, or items that are “all natural” or show support for a cause they believe in.

Psychographics examine what motivates the buyer to take action, and they can often be gleaned by examining the media they consume. Good psychographic profiling can be difficult to do because it requires you to immerse yourself in the market’s inner psychology and develop empathy for and familiarity with the target customer.

For me, this is where acting training has come in extremely handy, because psychographic analysis is a lot like script analysis for actors.

Pro tip: Read up on how actors analyze scripts. Actors explain analyzing scripts more clearly than marketers talk about analyzing markets, and they both use very similar techniques.

Sneak peek: What is your brand personality?

Never forget that people allow brands to co-exist with them online.

This research isn’t about finding more places to hawk your wares. It’s about understanding the market’s core attributes and learning to sell in a way that resonates deeply and gets them wanting more.

The best way to resonate with an audience is to reflect its ideal self. Brand personality is a little much to unpack here, so it’s best saved for another article, but this wonderful wheel by Millward Brown gives you a solid base to work with.

For now, let’s leave it at this: Doing the research before you create the content, before you start the blog, before you run the ad makes you stronger, more informed, and better equipped to serve your market the best way possible.

Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist, show host, and prolific guest blogger specializing in highly effective, counter-intuitive approaches to online marketing. A version of this article first appeared on The Daily Egg’s blog. 

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