The shift of consumer buying behavior to the online space means it is more important than ever before to define your target audiences. The good news is, this shift makes it easier than ever to learn about your potential customers. In addition to basic information like their location and demographics, you can get a better understanding of the types of sites they visit to learn about local businesses, what content they are interested in seeing, and more. Defining the target audience for your marketing can help you tailor content like social media posts, paid advertisements, photos and videos, as well as help you determine which marketing methods may be most beneficial to your business.

Ultimately, targeting the right consumers can help you get the most out of your advertising dollars. So how can you identify your target audience today? Start by answering the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why.


Who are your current customers?

Get to know your existing customer base. Since they have purchased from you before, you can use them to gather insight that will help you identify your core target audiences. You can reach out to them via email, social media, or in-store share a survey gathering basic information such as demographics, interests, and needs. You can also use this opportunity to learn what customers value about your business or what products or services they are most interested in.

Who do you want to buy your products and services?

Identify aspirational audiences to target as well, to help expand your customer base. But keep in mind that it’s important to be realistic when considering who will actually buy from you. For example, if you’re a high-end boutique whose customer base currently consists of mostly fashion-conscious teens and college students, you may want to expand to a new target audience such as young professional women, but targeting budget-conscious moms might not be a good fit for your products and services.

Who are you marketing to now?

If you are currently targeting specific audiences as part of your online marketing, make sure you track the results to see what targeting efforts are performing the best. For instance, start by tracking phone calls and listening to them for insight into how well your marketing is working. If your efforts are successful, continue to target these groups. But if they aren’t, consider your answers to all of these questions and adjust your message and strategy. Also, monitoring your results can reveal audiences you might not be exclusively targeting, but should. For example, if your search advertising is driving more conversions via mobile than desktop, you should boost your mobile presence by creating an optimized mobile website or landing page to create a smart mobile experience for on-the-go consumers.


What are your customers’ backgrounds?

This is the one of the most important questions to answer when defining your target audience. Identifying things like gender, age, education level, geographic location, hobbies and interests, income level, family status, and more can help you determine what types of online advertising, or mix of online and offline, you should use to reach the right customers for your business.

What do they buy?

Do your current customers buy more of certain products and services? Identifying your best-sellers can not only help you make smarter inventory decisions but also shape your messaging to reach more consumers who may purchase these items as well. Plus, by monitoring your social media and review sites, you can always be on top of what customers are saying about you – and if it’s good, keep up the great work; if not, use it as an opportunity to change.


When do consumers buy your products?

Do customers buy your products or services more during a specific time of the year or on a more regular basis? Knowing the frequency or seasonality can help you craft messages that reach consumers at the right time in their buying journey. For example, a local plumber is typically sought on an as-needed basis, so optimizing content and search ads for “emergency plumbing services” may help you target consumers who are actively making a quick purchasing decision. On the other hand, a consumer shopping for a new car is more likely to research vehicles, dealers, reviews, and offers on a variety of sites over a longer period of time, so it’s important to take the length of your typical buying cycle into consideration.

When do consumers interact with your brand now?

Targeting the right audience isn’t only important for making new sales but also for building your brand online. For instance, by monitoring when your fans interact with your social media posts, you can better plan a schedule of when to post content to get the most visibility and engagement. For instance, if you get more traction on Friday afternoons than Monday mornings, take advantage of that time to share engaging content or special offers and promotions for your fans and followers when they are more likely to see and share them.


Where do your customers live?

Defining where your customers are from can significantly help you focus your targeting efforts. Geographic targeting in search and display advertising can help you generate qualified leads by displaying your message to the audience in your service area. For example, if you’re a dentist in Everett, WA, chances are you won’t get business from patients living in Renton. So to target the right consumers, you should use good keywords, like location-specific phrases, in your content in order to improve your chance of showing up when they search for businesses like yours via search engines and local directories.

Where did they discover you online?

One simple way to identify your target audience is to find out where your current customers first discovered your business. Whether from search engines, local directories, online review sites, social media, or word of mouth, knowing where they found you can help you plan where to focus your targeting efforts.


Why do they buy?

Most purchases can be classified into two buckets: needs and wants. Knowing your products and services and why customers purchase them can provide additional insight into your target audience and the journey they may take to find a local business. For instance, the consumer looking for that emergency plumber will have a vastly different expectation and journey than someone looking for a spa, so by understanding the “why”, you can determine their likely path to purchase.

Why do they buy from your competitors?

Customers have multiple choices when buying today, and the possible reasons consumers may buy from your competitors are numerous. They could provide excellent customer service, engage more with their fans and followers online, have a better online reputation, offer better discounts, or optimize their content online so that consumers find them when they search. So, understanding why they might buy from your competitors over you can help you shift your approach to reach them, engage them, and convert them into new customers.

Answering all these questions is critical to identify your target consumers. Today, the average consumer uses over 10 sources of information to make a purchase decision, up from just five sources in 2010. This makes it more important than ever to know your target audience so you can build a marketing plan that reaches your target audience where and when they are most likely to discover and engage with your business online. To learn more about today’s consumer buying journey and to see industry related case studies, download our ebook, “How Consumers Buy Today: Harnessing the Buying Journey to Get More Customers.”

What other tactics do you use to identify your target audience? Do these answers give you a better picture of who you should target? Let us know in a comment!

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