Your target market sets the tone for your entire marketing strategy — from how you develop and name your products or services right through to the marketing channels you use to promote them.
Here’s a hint before we dig in: Your target market is not “everyone” (unless you’re Google). Your task in defining your target market is to identify and understand a smaller, relevant niche so you can dominate it. It’s all about narrowing your focus while expanding your reach.
In this guide, we’ll help you learn who’s already interacting with your business and your competitors, then use that information to develop a clear target market as you build your brand.
Bonus: Get the free template to easily craft a detailed profile of your ideal customer and/or target audience.
What is a target market?
A target market is the specific group of people you want to reach with your marketing message. They are the people who are most likely to buy your products or services, and they are united by some common characteristics, like demographics and behaviors.
The more clearly you define your target market, the better you can understand how and where to reach your ideal potential customers. You can start with broad categories like millennials or single dads, but you need to get much more detailed than that to achieve the best possible conversion rates.
Don’t be afraid to get highly specific. This is all about targeting your marketing efforts effectively, not stopping people from buying your product.
People who are not included in your targeted marketing can still buy from you—they’re just not your top focus when crafting your marketing strategy. You can’t target everyone, but you can sell to everyone.
Your target market should be based on research, not a gut feeling. You need to go after the people who really want to buy from you, even if they’re not the customers you originally set out to reach.
What is target market segmentation?
Target market segmentation is the process of dividing your target market into smaller, more specific groups. It allows you to create a more relevant marketing message for each group.
Remember — you can’t be all things to all people. But you can be different things to different groups of people.
For example, as a vegetarian, I’ve eaten plenty of Impossible Burgers. I’m definitely a target customer. But vegetarians are a surprisingly small target market segment for Impossible Foods: only 10% of their customer base.
That’s why Impossible Foods’ first national advertising campaign was definitely not targeted at me:
The target market segment for this ad campaign was “meat eaters who haven’t yet tried Impossible products.”
Vegetarians and meat eaters have different reasons for eating plant-based burgers and want different things from the experience. Target market segmentation ensures the company reaches the right audience with the right message.
How to define your target market
Step 1. Compile data on your current customers
A great first step in figuring out who most wants to buy from you is to identify who is already using your products or services. Once you understand the defining characteristics of your existing customer base, you can go after more people like that.
Depending on how someone connects with your business, you might have only a little information about them, or a lot.
This doesn’t mean you should add a lot of questions to your order or opt-in process just for audience research purposes — this can annoy customers and result in abandoned shopping carts.
But do be sure to use the information you naturally acquire to understand trends and averages.
Age: You don’t need to get too specific here. It won’t likely make a difference whether your average customer is 24 or 27. But knowing which decade of life your customers are in can be very useful.
Location (and time zone): Where in the world do your existing customers live? In addition to understanding which geographic areas to target, this helps you figure out what hours are most important for your customer service and sales reps to be online, and what time you should schedule your social ads and posts to ensure best visibility.
Language: Don’t assume your customers speak the same language you do. And don’t assume they speak the dominant language of their (or your) current physical location.
Spending power and patterns: How much money do your current customers have to spend? How do they approach purchases in your price category?
Interests: What do your customers like to do, besides using your products or services? What TV shows do they watch? What other businesses do they interact with?
Challenges: What pain points are your customers facing? Do you understand how your product or service helps them address those challenges?
Stage of life: Are your customers likely to be college students? New parents? Parents of teens? Retirees?
If you’re selling B2B products, your categories will look a little different. You might want to collect information about the size of businesses that buy from you, and information about the titles of the people who tend to make the buying decisions. Are you marketing to the CEO? The CTO? The social marketing manager?
Step 2. Incorporate social data
Social media analytics can be a great way of filling out the picture of your target market. They help you understand who’s interacting with your social accounts, even if those people are not yet customers.
These people are interested in your brand. Social analytics can provide a lot of information that might help you understand why. You’ll also learn about potential market segments you may not have thought to target before.
You can also use social listening to help identify the people who are talking about you and your product on social media, even if they don’t follow you.
If you want to reach your target market with social ads, lookalike audiences are an easy way to reach more people who share characteristics with your best customers.
Step 3. Check out the competition
Now that you know who’s already interacting with your business and buying your products or services, it’s time to see who’s engaging with the competition.
Knowing what your competitors are up to can help you answer some key questions:
Are your competitors going after the same target market segments as you are?
Are they reaching segments you hadn’t thought to consider?
You won’t be able to get detailed audience information about the people interacting with your competitors, but you’ll be able to get a general sense of the approach they’re taking and whether it’s allowing them to create engagement online.
This analysis will help you understand which markets competitors are targeting and whether their efforts appear to be effective for those segments.
Step 4. Clarify the value of your product or service
This comes down to the key distinction all marketers must understand between features and benefits. You can list the features of your product all day long, but no one will be convinced to buy from you unless you can explain the benefits.
Features are what your product is or does. The benefits are the results. How does your product make someone’s life easier, or better, or just more interesting?
If you don’t already have a clear list of the benefits of your product, it’s time to start brainstorming now. As you create your benefit statements, you’ll also by default be stating some basic information about your target audience.
For example, if your service helps people find someone to look after their pets while they’re away, you can be pretty confident that your market will have two main segments: (1) pet owners and (2) existing or potential pet-sitters.
If you’re not sure exactly how customers benefit from using your products, why not ask them in a survey, or even a social media poll?
You might find that people use your products or services for purposes you haven’t even thought of. That might, in turn, change how you perceive your target market for future sales.
Step 5. Create a target market statement
Now it’s time to boil everything you’ve discovered so far into one simple statement that defines your target market. This is actually the first step in creating a brand positioning statement, but that’s a project for another day. For now, let’s stick to creating a statement that clearly defines your target market.
For example, here’s Zipcar’s brand positioning statement, as cited in the classic marketing text Kellogg on Marketing. We’re interested in the first part of the statement, which defines the target market:
“To urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers who worry about the environment that future generations will inherit, Zipcar is the car-sharing service that lets you save money and reduce your carbon footprint, making you feel you’ve made a smart, responsible choice that demonstrates your commitment to protecting the environment.”
Bonus: Get the free template to easily craft a detailed profile of your ideal customer and/or target audience.
They also help to guide the company’s overall approach to its service, as evidenced by the rest of the positioning statement.
When crafting your target market statement, try to incorporate the most important demographic and behavior characteristics you’ve identified. For example:
Our target market is [gender(s)] aged [age range], who live in [place or type of place], and like to [activity].
Don’t feel like you need to stick to these particular identifiers. Maybe gender is irrelevant for your market, but you have three or four key behaviors to incorporate in your statement.
If you offer multiple products or services, you might need to create a target market statement for each market segment. In this case, it’s useful to define buyer personas.
Target market examples
Nike target market
Despite its current market domination, Nike actually provides a great example of what can go wrong when you try to target too general of an audience.
Nike started out as a running shoe company. In the 1980s, they tried to expand their target market beyond runners to include anyone who wanted comfortable shoes. They launched a line of casual shoes, and it flopped.
Here’s the thing: Non-runners were already buying Nike shoes to walk to work, or for other casual purposes. Nike spotted this as an opportunity to expand. Instead, they diluted their brand promise, and the company actually started losing money.
“Ultimately, we determined that we wanted Nike to be the world’s best sports and fitness company and the Nike brand to represent sports and fitness activities. Once you say that, you have focus.”
While Nike would certainly not stop casual users from buying its shoes, the company refocused everything from product development to marketing on its target market: athletes of all levels, from pro to beer league.
In fact, understanding the importance of focus led Nike into a highly effective strategy of target market segmentation. The brand has multiple target markets for its various product lines.
On social, that means they use multiple accounts to reach their different target market groups. No one account tries to be all things to all customers.
The post below from Nike’s general Instagram account targets the segment of their audience interested in fashion and lifestyle products.
And that means … the brand has been able to return to marketing its products specifically for casual wear. It just reaches the casual target market through different channels than it uses for its athletic markets. It’s a different target market segment, and a different marketing message
Like Nike, you might have one target market, or many, depending on the size of your brand. Remember that you can only speak effectively to one target market segment at a time.
Takasa target market
Takasa is a Canadian retail homewares company that specializes in organic, fair trade bedding and bath linens.
Here’s their target market as defined by founders Ruby and Kuljit Rakhra:
“Our target market is the LOHAS segment, which means Family Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. This group of people is already living, or striving to live, a green lifestyle … We know our target demo is very conscious about what their families consume, as well as the impact this consumption has on the environment.”
In their social content, they clearly identify the product features most important to their target market: organic materials and fair labor practices.
Why does a city need a target market? In Port Alberni’s case, the city is working to “attract investment, business opportunities and new residents.” To that end, they launched a rebranding and marketing campaign.
And a marketing campaign, of course, needs a target market. Here’s how the city defined it:
“Our target market is young people and young families 25 to 45 years of age who are entrepreneurial-minded, family oriented, adventurous, enjoy an active lifestyle, desire an opportunity to contribute to growth, well-educated and skilled professionals or tradespeople.”
In their social content, they highlight recreational opportunities aimed at those active and adventurous young families, even using the handle @PlayinPA.
“Our customer … is strong yet subtle, modern yet timeless, hard-working yet easy-going.”
That’s a fine description when talking directly to customers. But the marketing department needs a target market definition with a few more specifics. Here’s the detailed target market as described by the company’s former president:
“Our target market is women [with a] median age of about 45 … at a stage in her life where she’s very busy, primarily a working woman. She’s probably got one or two kids left at home [or] … her children may be out of the house and on their way to college.”
With their hashtag #WHBMPowerhouse, they focus on this key demographic of women in their 40s with busy home lives and careers.