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  • Why should I avoid generic descriptions of my target audience?
  • What’s a good way to define my target audience?
  • How does this help me stand out from my competitors?

Soccer moms. Yuppies. Tweens. You might hear businesses using labels like these when they talk about target audiences.

It helps them narrow their ideal customers down into an easy group to market to. It makes sense…in theory.

But can a generic target audience like soccer moms really help you do the best marketing?

When you think about it, the soccer moms category isn’t actually a narrow audience at all. It pretty much only tells you that these are women with kids – and a lot of companies go after that demographic.

When it comes to target audiences, remember this: Customers are people, not stereotypes.

Really understanding your customer means knowing more about them than just their sex, age group, social status, and what type of job they have.

What you really need to know is WHY. As in Why they act, think, and lead their lives the way they do.

Basically, you need to know your target audience as well as you know your closest friend.

You may be thinking, “Broad stereotypes are easier to come up with. Why can’t I market to 30-something hipster dads?”

Here’s why: It’s difficult – if not impossible – to be everything to everyone. There are just too many competitors out there, and you won’t distinguish yourself from them.

And stereotypes can lead you to assume your target audience is one group when it’s actually a completely different group altogether.

How do you avoid the broad stereotype trap? Think about the major assumptions you’ve made about your customers – and challenge them.

Ask yourself which of these assumptions need to be validated before they can become a truth. Also, list out anything you might not know about your customers that you should explore.

As you whittle away at stereotypes, keeping some Dos and Don’ts in mind will help you find a better target audience.

Target Audience Dos:

  • Define Them Narrowly: find the nitty-gritty details of your audience.
  • Think Like Them: see the world (and your business) through their eyes.
  • Go Deep: pay attention to context, mindset, emotions, motivations, and desires.
  • Do Your Research: Look into your theories and back them up with data.

Target Audience Don’ts:

  • Be Generic: AKA, avoid stereotypes. Look for what makes your audience unique.
  • Rely Only On Demographics: race, gender, and other stats won’t help you reach narrow definitions.
  • Market to “Everyone”: the “entire world” is not a good target audience, nor an easy one to reach.
  • Follow Your Competitors: your target audience is not necessarily the same as your competitors’.

What those Dos and Don’ts are really saying is: Look at your audience as three-dimensionally as possible. You’ll find a lot of different ways to do this, but we’ll take you through a few jumping-off points.

You can look at definitions that are normally considered generic and broad, and then begin paring them down and refining them.

Instead of the very large 18 to 49-year-old age group, you can look at specific age ranges like the early ’20s or early ’30s.

Along with age, you can look at where your target audience is: city, suburbs, countryside, another country, etc.

What education level does your target audience have? High school, Bachelor’s, Master’s, or higher? Or are they self-educated?

Also look at what type of job they have: professional, blue-collar, business owner, etc.

These descriptions do a decent job of defining your audience narrowly, but you can go further by looking at lifestyles and emotions.

Look at what they like to do and what type of hobbies they have. Are they into arts, science, socializing, etc.?

Your target audience’s values can also tell you a lot about them. Research what they believe in honesty, hard work, community, family, etc.

Finally, look at how they view your business and product. Do they think of you as a pastime, a necessary evil, an escape, or something else?

Let’s see how Pinterest, the visual discovery tool for ideas you can try in real life, found success by narrowing down their target audience.

Founders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp originally created Pinterest as a tool to help themselves collect visual inspiration they found online. When they decided to make Pinterest available to others, they at first weren’t sure who they should market to.

One conference later, they found traction with a community of lifestyle bloggers, which helped populate Pinterest with great content. Based on this, Ben and Evan could have easily chosen the broad target audience of “creatives.”

Instead, Ben and Evan studied how Pinterest’s audience was growing organically. They looked at why people were using their tool and how they were using it.

Through this, they discovered new communities of Pinterest fans – like people who weren’t professional designers, but who were still interested in easy, creative ideas for home decor, fashion, and cooking.

Pinterest focused its marketing to reach this narrow target audience, which helped them quickly grow its user base and develop a global community of Pinners.

To start defining your target audience like Pinterest, think of one current customer who you really value. Then ask yourself some questions about that person.

  • What does your customer do for a living? (teaches high school)
  • Why do they do this job, AKA what motivates them? (cares about society’s future)
  • How do they usually feel on a normal workday? (stressed out)
  • If they had more free time, what would they do? (travel)
  • What would they say your product does for them? (helps me relax)

Here’s your target audience idea starter: (my customer teaches high school because he or she cares about society’s future. This person usually feels stressed out and would travel if there was more free time. My customer often thinks, “If only I had something that helps me relax.”

References: Google Webmasters, Think With Google, Google Primer