Attracting customers is critical to success—especially in the early stages of starting a business. Sadly, even for owners with a solid business plan, truly understanding who they serve often takes a backseat to developing their product or service.
Ironically, the two go hand-in-hand. Having something truly exceptional to sell and knowing exactly to whom who it should be sold.
Sometimes called customer personas (or, customer journey mapping), clearly identifying your target audience enables you to assess demand, modify to better meet customers’ needs, and design a marketing campaign that “speaks to” the right people, using the tone and language most likely to appeal to them.
Here are three steps to identify your target customers.
1. Create a customer profile
The people who are most likely to buy your products or services share certain characteristics. The first step toward identifying these prospects is putting together a customer profile. This is essentially a detailed description of your target demographic that includes:
- Age: Do your potential customers mostly fit in a Millennial age bracket? Or are they more often middle-aged or seniors? This is important, because customers in different age groups will respond differently to how your product is designed and marketed.
- Gender: Remember how men are from Mars and women are from Venus? Generally speaking, their needs and goals are often strikingly different. If you promote your business in a way that fails to address these differences, you could end up attracting few people of either gender.
- Income level: Knowing how much disposable income your customers possess should directly influence your marketing strategies. Low-income families may be drawn to products or services that help save them money. Customers in higher-income brackets may respond more favorably to marketing that stresses luxury and exclusivity.
- Location: Broadly speaking, the buying habits of urban residents often differ from those of people living in rural areas. Where people reside and the types of communities they live in influence their purchasing preferences.
Other key characteristics include marital status, occupation or industry, families with (or without) children, ethnic groups, and hobbies and interests.
2. Conduct market research
You can learn about your target audience through primary and secondary market research. Primary research involves learning about customer buying habits through direct contact, such as:
- Surveys — Distribute surveys to potential customers via paper, email, or a web-based services.
- Interviews — Talk to people you trust and whose purchasing habits dovetail with your small business.
- Focus groups — Get feedback from small groups who fit your customer profile through Q&A sessions and discussions.
Of course, you should never overlook current customer as a source of insight. When applied to clients, the same three methods not only help you better understand your target audience but can also guide you into better service skills.
Lastly, do you ever ask customers to fill out forms when they purchase your product or service? If so, they may be open to answering questions about their age, where they live and specific purchasing preferences. Invite them to share information on a voluntary basis.
3. Reassess your offerings
With a comprehensive customer profile in place, the next step is to look at your products or services in a fresh light. Given what you know about the target audience, ask yourself:
- Which features and benefits are most likely to attract new business?
- Which may be of less interest or even actively discourage new customers?
- Which should I place front-and-center in my marketing and paid advertising?
- Which current customers, images, and copywriting should shape my messaging?
This analysis can lead to valuable modifications to your offering and yield new business.
You’ll also want to reassess your target audience periodically. Every six months or once a year, do some additional primary research and refine your customer profile accordingly. As the marketplace shifts and evolves, your ideal clientele may change with it. Get ahead of the curve, and you’ll also be one step ahead of your competition.