How to Identify Your Target Customers

There’s an old saying that goes: “You can please all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you can never please all the people all the time.” Nowhere is that more true than in the world of marketing.

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You’ve created a product or developed a valuable service and now you want to sell it to the whole world. The problem is, almost no one’s budget is big enough to reach the entire globe—those who try to spread their message too far usually get lost among the thousands of other messages that businesses are putting in front of consumers’ eyes. And even if you have a bottomless advertising budget, rare is the product that actually is marketable to every single person.

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But you’re not alone in wanting to reach as many people as possible. Research shows that among marketers, 80% send the same e-mails to all their subscribers when they should be dividing their lists into different segments so that each demographic can receive e-mails targeted specifically to them. It’s no use blasting a newsletter about luxury items to those in a lower income bracket or baby products to 18-25 year-old men.

It may sound backwards, but it’s true: if you want to turn more people into loyal customers, then you need to market to smaller, more specific groups of people. And to do that, you’ll need to find those people who would be most interested in what you have to offer—otherwise known as your target customers.

Here’s how to identify your target customers:

Start by Checking Out the Competition

One of the best ways to figure out who your customers are is by looking at who your competitors’ customers are. You definitely don’t want to simply copy their strategy or target their (presumably) loyal customers, but you do want to look at their audience and analyze what’s working for them.

You’ll also be able to learn from your competitors’ mistakes so that you can differentiate yourself and put out a message that is new and exciting. Find your own niche that they may have overlooked—like the 50+ bride rather than the 20-something bride—so you can start zeroing in on your own specific demographic.

Figure Out What Problems Your Product Solves

Ask yourself how your product or service eases pain points or solves problems that your customer base may have. As you’re listing solutions, remember that today’s customers are bombarded with more choices than ever, which means that it is all too easy for your brand to get lost in the shuffle. To that end, focus on the things that make your product or service a must-have. People don’t purchase your product or service just for the sake of the purchase; they purchase the solution it provides for their specific problem.

For instance, if your business revolves around copywriting services, what is the problem that your service solves? A company or individual hires a copywriter to ensure that their web content is professionally written and clearly communicates their message, so maybe your service helps small businesses that can’t afford a full-time copywriter on staff. Or maybe you’re helping tech companies convey their message in easy-to-digest, layman’s terms.

You’ll also want to be clear on what sets your company apart from the myriad other copywriters out there. Do you offer superior quality of writing? a greater range of options? shorter turnaround time? a more affordable price? Once you understand exactly what it is that sets your business above everyone else’s, you’ll have a better idea which demographics to reach out to and you’ll also have a few nice hooks to put to work in your future marketing campaign.

List the Demographics that Need Your Products

Now you know what your competitors are up to and you know why people need what you have to offer. The next step is to make a list of everyone who could benefit from your solutions. Your list is likely to be much longer than this, but here are a few things to get you started:

  • Age group
  • Gender
  • Geographical location
  • Ethnicity
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Career
  • Marital status
  • Number of children
  • Living situation (homeowner, renter, etc.) Though you may be tempted to say: Age group — 18-80, now is the time to be honest and specific. If you’re selling moisturizer, your target age group is not going to be young, broke, males from Wisconsin. If you make artsy household decorative items, then what type of dwellings do your customers live in? What items are they most likely to buy for their homes? Do they prefer certain home decor styles over others? All these answers will bring you closer to understanding your audience.

Do Some Market Research

Now you’ll want to learn as much as you can about each of the groups that you’ve identified. Learning about your target demographics helps you to identify purchasing patterns. For instance, if you’re a clothing retailer, did you know that nearly 50% of women from the Millennial generation shop for clothing more often than twice per month? Older generations, on the other hand, shop for new fashions less often—only 36% buy clothes more than twice per month.

With market research, you’ll be able to do two things:

  • Choose which groups are most likely to purchase your products or services
  • Answer even more specific questions about each group’s spending habits

Using the example of Millennial women, are those who are shopping more often also those with more discretionary cash, or do they have more leisure time? Are they homemakers or are they involved in certain careers that require a specific wardrobe? These bits of information will show you who is buying and, more importantly, why.

Narrow Your Scope

At this point, you’ve accumulated a vast amount of data about the groups that will be interested in the things that you’re selling. Now it’s time to go back to the first lesson we learned: you can’t market to absolutely everyone. Well, you can, but it won’t be nearly as effective as a highly-targeted campaign. While it might be tempting to get the message out to everyone who will listen, if you focus your efforts on a smaller, more specific demographics, you’ll find yourself building loyalty rather than making a passing impression.

Think about it this way: television ads casts a broad net over whoever happens to be watching at a given time. The problem is that when the commercial comes on, 78% of people aren’t even watching it. They’re using that time to check e-mail or surf the ‘net on mobile devices. E-mail marketing, however, is much more targeted, and it comes with a 4,300% return on investment on average. So while next to no one is tuning in to a commercial, the people who are truly in need of your offerings might just read your e-mail and then click through to your website.

The point isn’t that TV marketing is ineffective. If you have the budget to market to a wide variety of groups and a product that solves a problem that a large percentage of people have, it can be effective. The point is that you need to look at all the groups you’ve considered and choose the ones that are most likely to need what you’re offering.

Delve into Psychographics

Psychographics are similar to demographics, but focused on the psychological aspect of your target audience. Demographics are the “what”—age, gender, and so forth—whereas psychographics are the “who,” and have more to do with the personality or psychological makeup of the person (their values or hobbies).

How can these psychological tidbits help you? They’ll clue you in to the things that motivate your customers. Someone who sees herself as frugal might value products marketed as economical or budget-minded, while another person who values quality will spring for luxury items instead.

So where do you get psychographics? Many companies use focus groups and surveys. But for freelancers and small businesses who don’t always have the funds to conduct large-scale research, here are some options to obtain this information:

  • Social Media: If you have a following on social media, then make sure to pay attention to the things that your followers are telling you. Their comments and the posts that they share can give you a lot of information about the personalities among your following.
  • Talk to Clients/Customers: If people call you with questions or to order your products, ask a few polite questions about weekend or holiday plans or anything else that comes to mind. By starting these kinds of conversations, you’ll not only gain deeper insight into your customer base, but you’ll also show that you’re interested in them, which boosts loyalty even more.
  • Use Analytics: Website analytics are one of the greatest ways to learn about customer personalities. On your blog, do people prefer the more lighthearted, entertaining posts? Or are they bookmarking and rereading technical information? Do you have a few bargain hunters who love to use coupon codes? These are all things that can shed some insight into why your customers do the things they do.

Putting it All Together in a Customer Profile

With all the data that you’ve collected, the final step in the process is to build customer profiles. For now you can just make profiles for the select groups that you’ll be marketing to in your initial campaign, but later on, it doesn’t hurt to make profiles of the other groups you’ve listed just in case you want to expand your audience in the future.

When it comes to making the profiles themselves, the process isn’t unlike filling out a new social media profile. Some marketers even give their customer profiles names (like “Budget Bill” or “Entrepreneurial Ellen”) and pictures so that they can more easily personify and identify with them. You might find that by doing this you’ll be better able to create brand messages that really resonate with your customers.

Once you’ve created a name and identity, the next step is to add all the demographic and psychographic information about this “person,” including age, gender, career, interests, motivations, and more. Then, wrap your profile up with the customer’s pain points, or the problems that your product or service is meant to solve.

Now that your customer profiles are complete, make sure that everyone on your marketing team has a copy. If you employ writers, graphic designers, social media strategists or other professionals, they can all benefit from these insights as you work together to create a targeted campaign.

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