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Your Guide to Defining Your Target Market (Part 1)

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guide to defining your target market, part one

Welcome to this quick guide on defining your target market! This is part one, which tackles the tough question, how do you define your target market if you don't have an audience yet? In part two, we'll talk about how to gather information when you do have an audience by using a short demographic survey. 

Gathering Data: If You Don’t Have an Audience Yet

No audience? No problem. We all have to start somewhere.

If you already have a product or service idea, you may have done some research when you began developing it to find out how to best meet the needs of your potential customers.

In that process, you might have looked up what other people or businesses were doing, read comments or reviews on similar products, or asked your friends and neighbors for their opinions.

If not, you can still do that now, and you may want to make tweaks to your products or service offerings based on what you learn — but whether you do that in the near future or not, this research will help you find good ways to position yourself in the market.

Target Market Data Collection: The Competitor Comparison Strategy

The first strategy you may want to employ to identify your target market is the competitor comparison. Here are some questions you’ll want to answer:

  • Who are your closest competitors? These are the people or businesses who are selling something that is similar or accomplishes the same goal as your product. 
  • How successful have they been? What can you learn from their approach? 
  • Who are they serving and why? (Guess if you don’t know for sure, though in their marketing copy, they should be identifying or at least alluding to the people whom they are targeting.) 
  • What kind of images do they use on their website, on social media, and in advertising? If people are featured in the images, what’s common about them? What can you tell about their age, marital status, economic level, vocation, or interests? What are they doing? 
  • What kinds of content do your competitors produce, and where do they post it?
  • Where do they choose to advertise, and what do their ads look like?
  • What tone do they use in their marketing? What does that tone indicate about who they might be targeting?
  • Who is commenting on their website content or social media? What do the comments say?
  • What types of people are represented in their testimonials?

This is also an ideal time (if you have not already done so) to take note of what customers are saying about your competitors’ products — for instance, what they love and hate, what they think is missing, and the features or benefits they most appreciated. Read reviews wherever you can find them.

You want to discover your potential customers’ pain points, complaints, and how the solution worked out for them (and exactly why it worked). Gather as much data as you can (I suggest taking notes or pasting everything into a document), then narrow things down by highlighting the statements and commonalities that jump out to you the most. You’ll want to keep this data for later use and future product development. 

Questions to Ask Based on Your Competitors’ Target Market

Once you have some answers based on the comparison, think about who you help. Consider this:

  • Do any of the types of people you believe your business can help match those whom your competitors seem to be targeting? There may be more than one type, or you may want to add a type to your list.
  • Do you believe your competitors are missing an opportunity with any of the target markets you listed? Does your solution suit one of those populations better?
  • How might you be able to imitate your competitors’ approach but find 1) another group to target or 2) a new way to target an existing group?
  • Based on what you’ve learned, which are the top three markets you believe you should target? If you had to pick just one, which one would it be? 
  • Go back to what problem you solve. Based on what customers are saying, what problems are your competitors solving? What does this tell you about the top problem you should be focusing on? 

Here’s the kind of data that will be valuable for you to know, if you can get it, so that you can further home in on your target market:

Valuable Demographic Data

  • Age
  • Income level
  • Marital status
  • Number of children / age of children
  • Education level
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Interests
  • Hobbies
  • #1 challenge related to [the problem]
  • Other websites they visit
  • Other books, blogs, or magazines they read
  • TV shows they watch
  • Where they shop the most
  • Professional aspirations
  • Personal goals
  • Greatest fear related to [the problem]

(This is just a sample list. There may be many other valuable pieces of information about your market that you would want to know, so feel free to write those down.)

You certainly don’t have to know all of these things (you may not ever know them all), but even having just three to five data points can provide considerable insights to you and help you tune in your marketing efforts.

To provide an example of a target market, I’ve created a fictional small business: North Star Bike Shop. North Star gleaned some information about their target market through a survey, and this is what they discovered:

North Star Bike Shop: Target Market

  • Age: 30s-40s
  • Income Level: $75,000 - $100,000 annually
  • Gender: Men and Women (roughly 50/50)
  • Other interests: Hiking, running, kayaking, camping
  • Other places they shop: REI, Trader Joe’s, Lululemon

One small set of information like this is enough to help you start shaping compelling messages. You need this information in order to define your target audiences (important for campaigns) and create your avatar (important for brand messaging). 

Exercise: Pick Your Target Market Data Points

Based on the research you’ve done on your competitors, pick three to five options from the Valuable Demographic Data list and see if you can fill in that data about the top target market you chose. 

You may not be 100% accurate, but that’s OK. Once you have an audience, you’ll be able to take a survey and find out exactly who your target market really is. 


This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.


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