You have decided to start a small business. Congratulations on joining the over 32.5 million small businesses that help make this country as beautiful as it is. From niche markets to basic necessities, there are endless business ideas and sectors to fall into. Regardless of what you sell, you need a target audience. You need a customer. This isn’t a one-way street filled with non-negotiations and free sales. Your business must find people who want to purchase your goods or services.
As a digital marketing company, we focus the majority of our efforts on identifying and reaching the particular audiences carved out by our clients. Who wants to buy the product and how do we get their attention? This process may sound simple, but it takes an ample amount of research and market prediction. As a small business, you may not have the assets available to hire a specialist. You may be scrounging to find your target audience by yourself.
Luckily, with a little effort and insight, any small business can get a general idea of its target audience without the help of an outside agency.
- What Is a Target Audience?
- Why Does This Matter?
- Target Audience Or Target Market?
- How to Find the Target Audience for Your Small Business
What Is a Target Audience?
Let’s get the definitions out of the way.
A target audience is the main demographic to which a company sells. It’s the average and mass majority of their customer base. As with all things analytics, the corresponding factors and behaviors stretch beyond that of simple ideas. There are an endless amount of demographic categories and specializations.
To place target audiences under a generalized umbrella, there are five main demographic areas that relate to an audience. These factors are:
- Location of Consumer
- Job of Consumer
If you are a business-to-business company, you may want to decide:
- Size of client businesses
- Industry of client businesses
Defining a target audience can be as broad as one factor or as detailed as all five. For example, a business could have an overall target audience of people 20-30 years old. Furthermore, its target could be women of 20-30 years old on the west coast.
Ultimately, it depends on both the goal of the company and the consumers they pull in. Sometimes these concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Why Does This Matter?
As business owners, everything we do strives toward increasing our Return on Investment (ROI). While there should always be altruistic factors to everything we do, especially in business, the main purpose of owning a company will always boil down to one thing: making money. Unless you run a non-profit (which can also apply to target audience research), your overall goal is to make a profit. If not for the semblance of capitalist comfort, to continue to keep your business running.
Even if you don’t care about profit, your company will not survive without it. Therefore, maximizing income is crucial for having a business (duh).
Marketing is a pillar for making a profit. From creating the company logo to picking the store’s location, every decision you make has an impact on how and how many people see your business.
Knowing what type of people your business appeals to is crucial to making the correct decisions. Knowing that your target audience visits certain websites or reads certain magazines helps you make the most effective marketing decisions.
Here’s an anecdote that no one asked for:
In my days as a reporter, long and far ago, I covered the grand opening of a sugar-free candy store.
The idea seemed sound. The entrepreneur wanted to open a store for children with dietary restrictions. “No child should go without candy,” she noted with a gleaming tint in her eye.
Despite a thoughtful and seemingly-clever business basis, things did not work out as she expected them to. A year into business, she realized that her market did not fall within the target she expected. In fact, her actual audience was much different than children, despite the efforts of advertising toward a younger crowd. Her main customer base ended up being much, much older. Senior citizens with dietary restrictions loved the store, while visits from younger parents with children were far and few between.
With this surprising information, the owner was able to shift her advertising efforts toward the different audience. The logo and name changed. The idea shifted. New product was introduced.
What’s the point of this rambling? If the owner had not realized and adapted to her clientele, she may have gone out of business. It was the ability to understand and work with the actual target market that helped her garner the most profit.
Understanding and shifting your target audience and market are crucial to ROI.
Target Audience Or Target Market?
Let’s clear a few things up.
While perusing tips on the matter, you may find an abundance of articles defining the difference between target markets and target audiences.
Simply put: a target market is the people that you believe can use your products or services. If you sell car parts, your target audience is people with cars.
Consequently, the target audience is the specific subset of people you are advertising to. If you sell luxury car parts, your target market would be people with cars that own certain vehicles and can afford the parts. This can eventually create a statistical journey of location, income range, and ages. These are the specific people you are advertising to.
Sound similar? It depends. For example, in the generalized nature of this article, they are fairly interchangeable. We are discussing how to find the people that you are selling to. We are not specifically speaking of advertising efforts. Therefore, they are one and the same.
On the other hand, if you had a company with locations in Boston, New York City, and Denver and were having a sale in the Denver location, the difference between market and audience would be useful. Your market is already set with the products you sell. Your audience would then be Denver-specific. This may mean you have puns in your advertising that only Denverites would understand.
When discussing the matter here, we can use the two terms interchangeably. If you are just trying to figure out who is going to shop at your new business (like the candy store story prior), this guide will still help. If you are trying to find what specific subsector you are selling to going forward, this guide will still help.
How to Find the Target Audience for Your Small Business
We are 1,000 words in and are just hitting the advertised content. Who knew our target audience was readers with too much time on their hands?
All jokes aside, let’s get to the nitty gritty.
1. Establish a Purpose
As we stated, you started your business to make money. We’ve got that concept down pat. But, to create a successful and long-term business, you have to have more purpose than monetary gain. Not only does establishing ideals and goals help build a company culture, but it helps you determine your target audience before you begin.
Are you opening a pet store to provide no-nonsense food for an industry stuffed with fake ingredients? Are you starting an art-related store because you strongly believe in the benefits of artistic expression in human culture?
Regardless of how poetic or abstract your intentions are, you must have a reason for starting a business. Once you have this purpose aligned, you can figure out what your target audience is out of the gate.
Let’s refer back to the candy store example. The owner’s initial mission was to provide candy for children with dietary restrictions. That was her purpose. Therefore, she knew that her target audience was children (which means the parents of children alike) before the business was officially open.
Where and how the target audience shifts from there is just part of the business-owning journey.
2. Keep an Eye Out… Literally
This may sound obvious: the first step in determining your audience is to let the chips fall where they may.
If you have opened a small business that has a storefront, stay present for the first year or more of operation. What types of people are coming in? What is the average client? Remember the five basics of audience. What are the ages? What are the genders? Where are they coming from?
Furthermore, take the time to speak with your clients. Not only is constant communication a helpful tool for improving your business, but it helps you learn more about the audience. Don’t ask them drilling questions or give them a questionnaire to figure out their job and income range, but try to learn them through casual conversation. You will start to amalgamate a great client base and learn about your average audience.
If your business is entirely online, there are a plethora of tools to help you with figuring out your natural audience. We will get to that later.
3. What Isn’t Your Target Audience?
To figure out what your target market is, it’s important to establish what it’s not.
What groups of people are not coming into your store? What groups of people are only coming into your store once?
It may seem odd to place people into categories, but that’s the entire point here. Be aware enough to realize what isn’t being drawn naturally by your store. If it was not the intended audience from the inception of your business, you may want to look into your marketing, product, or aesthetic. Something isn’t working.
Try to find the middle. What did you intend your audience to be? What did your audience end up being naturally? These things will help you decide on the most profitable future.
4. Google Analytics Is Fantastic
As a digital marketing and SEO-related company, we know a thing or two about Google Analytics.
The free tool created by the internet powerhouse allows you to see a variety of metrics in regard to your website. With just a click, you can see the average ages, locations, and other metrics of the people that visit your site. Therefore, if you are an online business, this is the key to figuring out the information listed in the aforementioned tips.
Even if you are not an online-only business, you should still have a website. That’s what we are here for, after all (shameless plug).
Above is an example of a Google Analytics result for a national company. As you can see, the majority of the visitors are from Denver and Ashburn. With this information, the company can pinpoint its advertising and SEO efforts in these areas. Add in average ages (also provided) and you have figured out a specific target audience off of website visits alone.
5. Who Interacts on Social Media?
If you have social media accounts for your business, you can use similar tools to help figure out what demographics are interacting with your profiles.
Firstly, Facebook Insights provides the same tools as Google Analytics for your company’s Facebook page. If you run entirely through Facebook and don’t have a standard website (like a lot of modern small businesses), you can receive and gather the same audience information.
Secondly, keep an eye out for how followers interact with your posts. While not necessarily the number-crunching specifics of analytics, you can get a good idea of what kind of content your audience leans towards. Do your funny posts get more attention than your serious ones? Maybe head towards more lighthearted advertising in the future. So on and so forth.
6. Check Competitors
Unless you have pinpointed the most niche of niches, there are other businesses that do what you do. More than likely, there are older and more successful businesses that do what you do. These successful businesses have already pinpointed and worked on their target audience, especially if they are large.
There is no shame in seeing what target audience your competitors are aiming at. Mimicking success does not mean you are copying. Mimicking success means you are using someone else’s effective and successful ideas as a launching point for your own. Keep an eye on how your competitors are marketing their products. What designs are they using? Are they humorous and playful? It will give you insight into what the best market may be.
If your competitor is another small business, don’t treat their way as law. They may be trying new things, too. If your competitor is a large corporation, they have the resources and dedicated experts that work to figure these things out. They are probably on the right path.
Once again, we are speaking to small businesses here. There is nothing wrong with looking into what more successful businesses have done or formatted to. You will eventually be able to garner your own resources to put towards these efforts. For now, use what you can.
7. When All Else Fails, Let It Happen
Let’s be upfront and honest. If you are a small business, you probably aren’t looking into extensive advertising yet. Ultimately, if you know your target market and are already reaching them, you are in no rush to find your target audience.
For example, let’s use the candy store again (I know, I know). Though her initial intent was to reach children, she ended up reaching older people. Though she took time to figure out and adjust to her new audience, she was still making sales. There were still candy buyers coming into the store. She did not do extensive research or analytics. She continued to function as a business and paid attention to trends over time.
If you are having trouble figuring out your target audience and can’t afford outside help, just continue to operate as a business. It will come.
8. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt
Our last tip is simple and applies to a multitude of factors within your small business. Be willing to adapt.
If you started your business with the intention of reaching sugar-free children but end up reaching a different audience naturally, don’t die on the aforementioned hill. This is a small example, but even in larger cases. It may not be the audience you intended, but it’s still an audience. It’s still good business.
The only case in which you should not adapt is if the market you have picked up goes against your company’s culture and ideals. If your new market ironically mirrors your established purpose, do the opposite of building a target audience.
That’s another story for another time.