TABLE OF CONTENTS
For many business owners, finding their target demographic is tricky. Changing technology, consumer behavior, and outside forces can make this task feel like a moving target. However, when you’re in the business of selling products or services, it’s important to know who your customers are. Most small business owners, salespeople, and marketers alike use the terms, “target market” and “target demographic” interchangeably. But is there a difference? And more importantly, how can knowing the difference help your business? In this article, we explore these differences and more. We’ll define the elusive target demographic, target market, and market segmentation as well as how to use them to create a three-dimensional view of your target audience to help grow your business.
What is a Target Demographic?
Put simply, a target demographic is the set of characteristics you use to define an audience in order to market to them or provide service. They are the measurable and tangible characteristics of your customer base. Here are some examples:
- Household income
- Marital status
- Types of cars they drive (or lease)
- Geographical location your customers live in
- And so many more
How Does it Differ from a Target Market?
Once you define the demographic information that describes your target customers, you’ll start to paint a picture of the person or group of people who fit these characteristics. This group of people is who you should think of when you think of your target market. Understanding your target market demographic can make your marketing efforts more refined and robust over time, but more on that later.
How to Establish Your Target Demographic
If you have an existing business or product line and sales to support it, you’ll likely want to create your target demographic based on your existing customers’ interests and data.
If you’re starting a new business or product line from scratch, you’ll start with a broad target demographic and refine it over time. Either way, your target demographic can be found or refined using the following steps:
1. Research, Research, Research
The first step before you make any decisions about your target demographic is to lean heavily into research, especially as a new business or product line.
The first thing to consider is your new venture. Here are some questions to ask internally:
- What problem are you hoping to solve with this new venture (or what problem do you currently solve)?
- Who does this problem primarily impact?
- How does your solution solve this problem?
- Why does the problem need to be solved for this market (i.e. how will their lives be better because of it)?
Once you have a clear understanding of your role and goals for this new product/business, it’s time to research the person on the receiving end. Here are some questions to guide your research:
- What does the person’s life look like today (the person whose problem I solve)?
- When does this problem impact them (is it a constant pain point or something less frequent)?
- How do they feel about the problem and why?
- What other things do they care about?
- What does a day in their life look like?
- Where do they live?
- What life stage are they in (college, pre-children, young family, empty nesters, elderly, etc.)?
- How are they currently looking to solve this problem?
2. Consider Competition
If you’re feeling stuck, competitors can be a great point of inspiration and insight. It’s likely they’re already reaching and targeting your desired audience, so check them out. Some questions to keep in mind for competitive research include:
- How do your competitors talk/advertise?
- Who follows them and actively engages on their social media?
- What kinds of questions (or reviews) have they received?
- How have they positioned themselves?
- Is there a segment of the market they’re targeting that you may not have thought of?
3. Review Market Segmentations
Once you’ve gathered a list of the features and assumptions about your target market (including your target market demographics), it’s time to group them and put them to the test in the form of a market segmentation. However, don’t let the term “market segmentation” scare you. All we’re talking about is segmenting a potential audience into separate groups depending on various factors.
For example, assume you’ve found your CBD products effectively solve problems for young mothers living in suburban neighborhoods with 1-3 children under the age of ten. This becomes one potential market segment. Then as you continue your research, you find your competition targets master’s program students in ivy league college towns. This may become a second market segment of interest.
You’ll then want to find people who fit these segments and complete a target market analysis. This includes going out and talking to the people in these segments–asking them questions that either validate or change your assumptions about them.
It’s important to note, even the best-researched assumptions may not pass the market viability test once you’ve put it up for questioning. Stay open-minded throughout this process. Market segmentation is a practice you’ll get better at, and your understanding will be refined with time.
How to Utilize Your Target Demographic
Having a target market with a clear target demographic is great, but what can you use it for? The quick answer: more effective marketing. Your marketing efforts include all the ways you try to reach your target market. Whether it’s a traditional flyer, Google or Facebook ads, a roadside billboard, monthly automated emails, weekly blog posts, or daily social media–none of it matters if your customers don’t see or resonate with it.
Your target demographic used proactively to create a strong message and market segmentation is how you break through.
1. Consider Geographic Location for Ads
An example of your target demographic refining your efforts is utilizing your target demographic’s geographic location to place your ads. Let’s say you’re an eCommerce store selling CBD products as mentioned earlier. If you know your target market is college students at Harvard, Stanford, or another ivy league university, you can target your ads in that university’s town to ensure you’re reaching the right people. The more you specify the likely you are to increase the conversion rate of your ad.
2. Cater to Target Audience Pain Points
You’ve researched your target audience and you understand what is happening in their life, can you use that research to talk directly to their pain points? What we reference as a pain point could be a number of things including:
- Access to your store
- Financial barriers
- Website navigation
- The elusive checkout page
Continuing with the CBD products for master’s students example, you can create ads during midterm or final exam season with a message that feels on tone to them at the moment. Touching on their pain points and showing you understand them is how you can build trust not only in your brand but also in your ability to solve that pain point. You can go as macro or micro with pain points as long as you maximize connection to your target demographic.
3. Use Social Media or Other Relevant Platforms
Apart from online marketing, social media is a great place to reach your target audience. You can use the target demographic information you’ve gathered to better understand where your target market hangs out on the internet and what they enjoy seeing. For example, a young mother may frequent Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram for ideas and inspiration, whereas a university student is likely to frequent TikTok for lighthearted fun.
Understanding where to find your audience and how to best talk to them is a great way to better your business using a target demographic.
Target Demographic Utilization Takes Practice
Turning data into a market segment takes practice, but it will strengthen your brand and business’s value over time.
In the course of strategizing, you’ll likely find your original target demographic may have been too broad, or not the target market demographic that best suits your business or product. You’ll also see which marketing efforts have worked, and which didn’t resonate. As customers begin to roll in, you’ll learn more about exactly who they are. You can then use that information to refine your target demographic over time. Remember that utilizing a target demographic isn’t an exact science and what works now might be obsolete a year from now. The key is to always be adaptive and ready to adjust your strategy.