Marketing Fundamentals 2: Target Audience

by | Mar 21, 2024 | Course, Marketing, Video

We’re talking about the three layers of marketing, and how you want to start at the bottom by helping your target audience solve a real problem with your unique product. Then, you want to design your customer experience around attraction, engagement, and retention. Finally, you want to execute your action goals in key promotional channels, making course corrections over time.

In this article, we’re going to dive into the Product layer.

Listen carefully. This is the mantra you want to memorize:

Help your target audience solve a real problem with your unique product.

If your business is struggling in some way, there’s a good chance that the underlying problem is somewhere in this sentence.

That’s worth paying attention to.

Let’s talk about your target audience.

But first, why do I call it a target audience instead of a target market?

“Target market” kind of has connotations of a group of people that you’re going to try to get something from: specifically their money. I like the phrase “target audience” because it changes that mentality a bit. It’s more about what you’re going to give to them, how you’re going to show value. It’s about giving instead of taking, and I think that’s helpful.

There are 3 steps you want to follow to get your target audience nailed down.

Step 1. Define a narrow target audience

As a business owner, it’s always tempting to try to expand your target market as much as possible and think, “Well, we can sell to this group, but we can also sell to this group, we can also sell to this group, and we can sell something to this group over here.”

But in the real world, that’s not how it works.

To be successful, you want to start with a small, focused group and sell something very specific to them.

Once you nail this, you can always expand later. Don’t feel like this is going to limit your business. But if you want to get traction in the early days, you really want to find a very specific group of people and sell them a very specific product.

Startup expert Paul Graham is quoted as giving the advice, “Build something 100 people love, not something a million people kind of like.”

The expectation with a broad audience is that a bigger target audience means more customers. But the reality turns out to be that you wind up with a generic product or service, and then none of them are really interested in it.

On the other hand, with a narrow audience, your expectation would be that a smaller audience means fewer customers. But the reality is that your product is just right for them, and that makes them super excited, and they go out and tell other people about it.

That focus really does affect your messaging. When you’re trying to appeal to a broad audience, your message becomes generic and watered down and ignorable. But when you have a narrow message for a small group of people, that becomes really specific, relatable, and powerful.

And the crazy thing is that by narrowing down your target audience and getting that small group of people super excited, what you often find is that their momentum pulls a bunch of other people along with them, and you wind up capturing audiences you weren’t expecting, leading to more customers.

Step 2. Talk to your audience with a real desire to learn

Don’t assume that you already understand your customer because you probably don’t.

Business expert Clayton Christensen tells the story of a fast food chain that hired his group to increase the sales of milkshakes.

The company had done focus groups and asked people what they wanted in their milkshakes and changed the recipe to try to make it better, all of which had almost no result on actual sales.

So, instead of just accepting what they were being told, the consultants got in, they went on site to try to learn about how milkshakes were being consumed.

And what they learned was that almost half of the milkshakes were sold early in the morning, which is completely contrary to what you’d expect.

So, when they saw people purchasing milkshakes in the morning, they would actually stop them and interview them to try to understand what was going on. It turned out that people wanted something to consume during their commute to work. A milkshake is super easy to manage while you’re driving, it has enough calories and sugar to give you some energy early in the morning, and it gives you something interesting to do while you’re stuck in traffic.

That realization unlocked a lot of business potential for this fast-food chain. Instead of just looking for ways to make incremental improvements in the number of milkshakes sold, they could actually rethink their whole breakfast line and figure out how to meet this unmet need that commuters have.

Almost all customer research I’ve ever done has resulted in business-changing surprises. There is a gold mine of business opportunity sitting in your customer heads if you would just be willing to go talk to them.

Here’s an example of how boots-on-the-ground customer research can change the game:

My team was hired to redesign the software interface for a key duplication kiosk. These are the machines you see in places like Home Depot or Walmart where you put your key in, and it automatically makes copies of it.

The company that hired us was noticing a lot of abandonment in the process, and they wanted us to make the interface nicer to keep people around and help them complete the sale. Knowing how important it was to figure out what was really going on, we insisted that they let us go on-site and spend time doing real user research.

And the things we learned in that process completely changed how we designed their product. After watching and talking to customers, what we really came to understand was that if you’re getting new keys made, you’re probably going through something stressful in your life at that moment. Maybe you moved into a new place, or you had to change your locks for some reason. Whatever the cause, users were coming to this transaction with an already elevated stress level.

Then, you add to that the fact that these kiosks are usually placed in a high-traffic, highly distracting area. I remember hanging out in the entryway of a Walmart, watching a mother trying to duplicate keys while her kids were trying to run out the door.

The existing software on the kiosk was kind of designed from an engineering perspective instead of from a user perspective. So, when something went wrong and it couldn’t duplicate the key, it would display this bright red error message that made the user feel like they were doing something wrong. The end result of all these factors combined was that as soon as something broke their flow, the user was out of there. They would just take their key and leave without completing the transaction.

So we completely redesigned the software around the concept of reassurance, and we created a design rule for ourselves that there could be no error messages in the process. Whatever happened, it wasn’t the user’s fault. We designed the whole flow around the idea of positive guidance. Instead of telling them they had made an error, the end result was a lot fewer users abandoning the process partway through, leading to more revenue and success for the company.

This is why it’s so important for business owners to do actual customer research and to not assume that they understand their customer or what their customer actually needs. When that client hired us, they did not understand that those were the problems that were actually happening. We had to go and figure that out ourselves.

If your business isn’t giving you the results you’re expecting, there’s a decent chance that there’s a gap in your understanding of your customers and what they really need. And the only way you’re really going to solve that is by going out and watching them firsthand and talking to them yourself to understand what’s really going on. If you don’t actively interview the people you’re selling to, you’re killing your business.

Step 3. Build a Focused Audience Profile

The third step of dialing in your target audience is to build a focused audience profile.

It’s a lot easier to sell to one person than it is to a nameless crowd, so you want to condense your whole target audience into a single profile. It can be an actual human that you know, a customer that you have, or a customer that you’re trying to get, or it can be a composite of your learning about multiple customers combined together in a single representative profile.

When you’re trying to build a product or service, trying to focus on a whole crowd of people at once is too distracting. Your brain can’t handle it well. So you want to focus on solving problems for one person.

You’ll sometimes hear the term “persona” used for this kind of document.

There’s no single format that always works for an audience profile, but here are some of the things you might want to consider including:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, income, education, family status
  • Psychographics: Values, interests, attitudes, motivations
  • Goals & aspirations: What they’re really trying to achieve
  • Challenges & pain points: Problems, obstacles, frustrations
  • Buying Behavior: How do they decide what and when to buy?
  • Communication channels: How do they prefer to communicate?
  • Influences: Who/what shapes their purchase decisions?
  • Objections: What objections will they have before buying?

And don’t just make this stuff up. You want to actually do the research.

This is where you find those nuggets of insight that transform your business and make yours take off where others didn’t. In your audience profile, you only want to include what you’ve actually learned, not what you think you’ve learned.

And in the end, if your audience profile pretty closely matches what you were expecting, there’s a good chance that you did it wrong.

Time and time again, I have been surprised when I do customer research. There are startling facts about your audience that you do not yet understand, and the only way you can really take advantage of this is to go out and do the real research.

Condense that information down into a focused customer profile, and then build your product or service around that.

If you do this, it will absolutely be transformative for your business.

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