What is a target audience? (And how to identify one)

Updated 22 September 2023

Identifying a target audience is an important technique that businesses of all sizes practice. If you're thinking about a role in marketing or are planning on creating your own business, knowing and understanding your target audience ensures that the right customers notice your products or services. Your target audience can have an influence on everything from the name of your business to the channels you advertise your products or services on, but what exactly is a target audience?

In this article, we discuss what a target audience is, the importance of defining a target audience and how you can identify yours.

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What is a target audience?

If you want a career in marketing or want to start your own business, you likely want to know what a target audience is. By definition, a target audience is a group of people who are a certain demographic or have a certain behaviour. It's the segment of the population that is most likely to buy your product or service. For some businesses, this might mean that the target audience is a specific age group, gender or has a common interest.

For example, a business that sells baby food has a target audience of parents and guardians. Or, if you sell gym equipment, your target audience might be gym-goers in a certain income range. While it's important to define your target audience, that doesn't mean that you needn't consider other audiences. Rather, it just allows you to focus your advertising campaigns on the people who are more likely to buy from your business.

What is the importance of a target audience?

Here are some reasons understanding your target audience is so important:

It makes a return on investment more likely

Marketing campaigns can be expensive, so you want to ensure that the money you invest into marketing pays off. By understanding your target audience, you can tailor your marketing campaigns to a specific audience, so the ones who are most likely to buy your product or service can see your marketing and may be more likely to buy your product. Therefore, creating marketing campaigns that suit your target audience can help to generate a greater return on investment.

Related: 15 Sales Jobs That Pay Well

It allows you to tailor your message

When you have a deep understanding of your target audience, you can easily tailor your marketing campaigns in a way that appeals to your audience. For example, if you sell toys, you can tailor your message to be fun, vivid and imaginative to appeal to children. Alternatively, if you sell office supplies, you may want to use professional wording to appeal to working professionals.

Related: A guide to the design of advertisement (with tips)

It ensures that you're spending your time and money wisely

If you're working as a marketer or are starting your own business, your time is valuable. Therefore, it's important that you spend your time on marketing campaigns that can achieve results. By using your target audience to create a meaningful campaign, you won't be wasting time on marketing strategies that don't generate new leads and sales.

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How to identify your target audience

All businesses have a deep understanding of their target audience, but it can be difficult to determine exactly who your target audience is. Here are some steps you can take to identify your target audience:

1. Work out who your current audience is

The easiest place to begin when understanding your target audience is to inspect your current audience. Research who is buying your products or services. Do they have any demographic similarities? Many of your customers may share similar characteristics. For example, they may all be in a certain age group or gender. To find information about your current audience, begin by using your customer relationship management system (CRM software) if you have it.

If you don't have one of these, you can hire a company to help research your demographic. You can also use customer surveys to gain insights into your clients. Consider setting up a link on your website where customers can earn a 5% discount if they give you certain demographic information. By understanding the demographics of your current customers, you can use this data as an indicator of your target audience.

Related: The brand identity prism (components and how to use it)

2. Make a list of your services and benefits

Once you have data about your current audience, the next step you may choose to take is to list the key features of your services or products and the things that make your products or services unique from your competitors. Once you list the main features, take the time to write out the benefits of these features and why these benefits are so important to your customers.

By understanding the features of the business and the benefits that a customer may get from buying your products or service, you gain a deeper understanding of who is most likely to benefit from your services, which can provide you with a more defined target audience.

3. Note your competition

Although your products or services may be unique, almost every business in the world has competition. Your competitors are likely to have been around a similar time to you and have a similar target audience, meaning that you can use their marketing campaigns to get an idea of how they draw their audience in and how you can do the same. When analysing the competition, pay attention to detail. It's likely that you may find gaps in your competition's marketing, which you can use to your advantage.

Another great way to find gaps in your competition is to look at their review pages. Is there any negative feedback? If there is, use these negative reviews to find a demographic group that is being let down by your competition. Having a deep understanding of your competition is an important business strategy but is also a great way to further define your target audience.

Related: Guide: what is strategic planning? (With benefits and steps)

4. Identify your target audience

Once you gain information about your current customers, define the features and benefits of your products or services and have a deep understanding of your competitors, you can begin to formulate your own idea of your target audience. Another easy way to get a more extensive understanding of your target audience is to define what it isn't.

There may be consumers who almost fit your target audience, but are unlikely to respond to your adverts. For example, if women are your target audience, not all women may be interested in your product. Although middle-aged women may have an interest in your product, teenagers may not. By understanding who won't have an interest in your products or services, you can better tailor your marketing without worrying about creating marketing campaigns that target the wrong audience.

Related: Target market vs. target customer: differences and tips

5. Run a test campaign

Once you have a clear and detailed idea of your target audience, it's important to run a test campaign before you update all of your market campaigns to suit this newly defined demographic. A test run can ensure that you've defined your target audience correctly. One of the easiest ways to do this is to run a cheap social media campaign and use the results of this campaign to see if your target audience is reacting positively. Or, if your target audience doesn't use social media, consider using more traditional marketing mediums.

While you're running your test campaign, ensure that you're constantly analysing the results. Have you seen an increase in sales? Or are your sales numbers very similar to what they used to be? If this is the case, you may want to rethink and alter your target audience accordingly.

Related: Digital marketing skills: definition and examples

6. Constantly re-evaluate and update

After you run your test and successfully create a marketing campaign that reaches your target audience, you still regularly evaluate and update your target audience description over time. For example, if you release a new product, update your target audience and add the demographic that is most likely to purchase this product. If you're planning to run a campaign promoting several products, consider whether these products attract different audiences and therefore require their own unique approach.

If you move your business premises or expand to a new city, update your target audience to include this new location demographic. By constantly evaluating and updating your target audience description, you can ensure that your marketing campaigns can always reach the right people so that you can ensure a return on investment.

Related: What is a product strategy? (With components and examples)

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