How to Define Your Target Audience

Knowing your target audience helps when making decisions about advertising.
Knowing your target audience helps when making decisions about advertising. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

People's decisions about what to purchase can be broken down based on a variety of demographics such as income, age and level of education. Defining a target audience by collecting its demographics provides a precision that dramatically reduces the guesswork many entrepreneurs use when defining a business venture. Clearly defining the target audience is the foundation to creating a focused and effective marketing message. Knowing who the buyer is can also tell a business owner where to place her advertising message so the target audience sees it and acts upon it.

Write a description of the people who will want to purchase your products or services. This should result in a one or two sentence description along the lines of “business women who travel alone for work,” “manufacturers, inventors and home owners interested in green technology” or “people with strong leadership skills who want to start their own business.”

Write down what you know about your target audience before filling in the blanks and refining the definition. Here are some of the things you want to identify: gender, age, geographic location, household size and income, the industry and location of where they work, education, places they congregate and their political beliefs.

Research the target audience's demographics and find out more about them. Check the local library reference section for statistics and survey information. Ask the librarian on duty to help locate and narrow down the available publications — it's their job and they are happy to assist the public in endeavors like market research. A recent edition of the U.S. Department of Commerce's publication "County and City Data Book" will provide the latest census data for regions of interest. Data found in the publication includes age, income, education and earnings.

Define the target audience through the competition. This task can be accomplished by visiting and observing the competition (where they advertise, who they are targeting and who is shopping there) and by locating them online and using online tools to investigate further. Identify online products and services your target audience is already purchasing and investigate the businesses selling and promoting them by viewing information supplied by media measuring services such as Quantcast and Alexa. A competitor's website address is all that is needed by either company in order to view an audience report that reveals the age, gender, household and income of its audience.

Ask current customers to complete a survey. There are a number of ways to approach this, including a contest entry or the awarding of a free gift or discount upon completing a survey. Conferences and events targeted to your general audience can provide an opportunity to learn more about buyers. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce to find out what events are scheduled in the area. Purchase a small booth at events that fit your demographics and plan a process to gather information from visitors.

Investigate trends to learn more about your audience's psychographics, which includes attitudes, lifestyles, values and interests or hobbies. Understanding how a target audience thinks can help a business further target products and ways of marketing. Trade magazines and industry and consumer tracking publications often provide statistics and customer descriptions that are helpful in further defining a target audience. Businesses like Pew Internet and Arbitron publish free information.

Locate information about your target audience using statistics provided by experts. Although this option can be costly -- some companies charge hundreds or more for data packages -- information from these resources is generally current and helpful and can be targeted specifically for your particular business.

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