I have some bad news for you: Your target audience is hurting your business.
That’s right. Contrary to popular belief, zeroing in on your target audience isn’t the key to business expansion.
It’s preventing you from growing.
Common marketing wisdom insists on the importance of a “target audience.” This term refers to the specific group you aim your marketing campaigns at.
In theory, understanding your target audience helps you decide which products resonate with which people so you can guide your marketing strategy and know if you’ve reached the full potential of your market share. For example, should you focus on reaching more people within your existing customer base or innovate a new product?
Plus, it’s kind of fun! Instead of having to look into the great crowd of the world and wonder how to connect with your buyers, you can look at your specific target audience and feel like you know who you’re writing your blogs or Facebook posts to.
It seems like a solid plan, right?
However, the reality is that the traditional methods of defining target markets often do more harm than good.
Instead of helping them grow, their target audience is preventing them from reaching their business’s full potential.
In this article, I’ve outlined three of the biggest target audience myths that are keeping you from achieving the growth you want. And I also reveal what you should do instead.
Let’s get into it.
Myth #1: I Should Create A “Profile” For My Target Audience
From crafting blog content to engaging on social media platforms and optimizing for SEO, it’s common advice to get extremely specific about your target audience. “Don’t just understand why they want your product, delve deep into their psyche!”
Everywhere you look, there are suggestions to create a detailed “profile” for your target customers. Consider their favorite brands, leisure activities, even down to how they like their coffee.
This leads to assumptions like, “My innovative app is perfect for a 24-year-old millennial, still living with his parents, who enjoys Led Zeppelin and owns an iPhone 15 Pro.”
We often believe that a significant portion of our customers fits neatly into these profiles. So, we tailor our marketing campaigns, hoping they resonate directly with this targeted audience on various social media channels.
But I’ll let you in on a secret: The person you’re picturing is likely not your main revenue driver. In fact, this narrowly defined target customer might be barely impacting your bottom line.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you.
Consider Harley Davidson, a brand often associated with a specific target demographic: rugged, tattooed men who are deeply loyal to the Harley brand. This customer profile has been well-documented and is widely recognized.
And this demographic accounts for only 3.5% of Harley Davidson’s sales revenue (according to Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow”).
Take a moment to process that. The quintessential Harley Davidson owner, that vivid image we all have, represents just a tiny fraction of their sales.
So, who accounts for the remaining 96.5% of Harley Davidson’s revenue? It comes from individuals who don’t fit that narrow profile, people who aren’t defined by brand loyalty or specific demographics.
These are customers who:
- Are indifferent to the brand of motorcycle they ride
- Don’t find their life satisfaction tied to riding a motorcycle
- Don’t typically get brand-related tattoos
- Don’t conform to a unique demographic segment
This isn’t my hunch. It’s a fact grounded in extensive market research and demographic data about Harley Davidson’s actual customer base.
It challenges conventional marketing wisdom, which generally relies more on assumptions to draw conclusions than on concrete consumer behavior data.
This trend, where the most visible and seemingly loyal customers contribute minimally to overall sales, is consistent across tons of different industries.
It’s so common that it could almost be considered a fundamental law of marketing.
But if creating a detailed customer profile is so widely advocated, why doesn’t it deliver as promised?
Continue reading to find out.
Myth #2: My Target Audience Is Unique
When talking to a marketing consultant or agency, many business leaders hear some version of this question: “How are your customers different from those of your competitors?”
Most people believe that people in their target audience or customer profile are different from their competitors’ customers.
This unfortunate assumption is not true.
Think about products you buy frequently. Which companies do you buy from? Starbucks, Walmart, Chick-fil-A, Colgate, you name it.
Now, think back over the last year. How many different toothpastes have you bought? Toilet paper brands? How many coffee shops have you been to? Fast food restaurants?
I’m not talking about your favorites. I’m asking which ones you’ve purchased. Even if you have favorites — two or three brands you prefer over all the rest — you might not purchase them 100% consistently. Sometimes another brand is on sale, sometimes the one you want is out of stock.
Intention is not the key here — action is. Even if you’d prefer to only drink Starbucks coffee, sometimes you need a latte when Starbucks isn’t close.
Even if you love Starbucks coffee, there might be times when you grab a latte from another cafe because it’s more accessible.
Whatever the reason for purchasing a different brand, everyone does it. No one is 100% loyal to every single brand they buy. That means there is a percentage of every customer base that occasionally buys from a different company than normal.
Research tells us that most people buy from more than one company in every category. And your customers do the same thing.
The reality is that you, as a consumer, engage with competing brands all the time. And that means that your customers do the same. They are not exclusively yours. They shop with your competitors too.
This means that your customers aren’t as unique as you might think. They don’t possess distinct thought patterns or behaviors; they’re similar to the customers of your competitors.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth.
Think about the last few cars you bought. I’ve owned a Dodge, Saturn, Nissan, Honda, and Hyundai. I’m definitely guilty of being a customer to competing companies.
A famous study was done by Franklin B. Evans that looked into the difference between Ford buyers and Chevrolet buyers. The study found no difference in the personality traits of the buyers!
Just like with Harley Davidson, the percentage of people who are “true loyalists,” who never buy more than one brand, is tiny.
Surveys of customers within any industry reveal that within that industry, customers of competing companies respond to surveys same, think the same, and buy from more than one company in that industry.
An industry itself can have a unique audience from other industries, but the companies within an industry do not.
In fact, buyers regularly buy from competing companies without a second thought (think back to the toothpaste brands you’ve bought in the last year or the coffee shops you’ve been to).
Studies show this trend expands across every industry. Every company within an industry all share the same audience as the industry as a whole.
Yes, this even happens in your industry. Yes, even with your company.
What this means for you as a business leader is that there is no need to create a customer profile. There is no need to figure out the differences between your customers and your competitors’ customers. Because they’re the same.
Your customers and your competitor’s customers are the same people.
I know this flies in the face of common marketing advice, but stay with me. After the next myth, I share how to create the perfect target audience (here’s a quick hint: it is less about the person and more about the problem that person is experiencing, but more on that in a minute).
Myth #3: My Target Audience Should Include Things Like Values And Demographics
Now we know that your customers are not unique, they are the same as other companies in your industry. But demographics still matter, right? What about psychographics — personalities, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles?
At this point, you might be wondering: Isn’t it a good idea to have some idea of who my customers are? At least their age or income level?
Most of us are convinced that our customers are distinct from those of our competitors. We believe they possess different values, live in different areas, and belong to different demographic segments. This belief is often the foundation of our marketing plans, guiding how we allocate our advertising budget and conduct market research. We think these differences are why customers choose us over others.
Unfortunately, this is false.
Let’s look at an example. An extreme example. Not just about generic companies, but a company that truly tried to market to a unique target audience.
Let’s look at Yorkie candy bars, which deployed a highly targeted marketing campaign aimed at men that famously declared, “It’s not for girls!”
But when we examine their audience demographics through analytics and customer surveys, we find that the actual customer base is well balanced: 56% men and 44% women. It’s a marginal difference. Almost negligible.
This example shows that even with precise marketing campaigns, Yorkie struggled to capture customers outside the normal spread of their target market.
While this is only one example, there are hundreds more.
But before we cross demographic differentiators off our list, there is one area where demographics do matter. Price.
Price is one of the only standout differentiators for brands.
Earlier I mentioned the study comparing the customers of Ford and Chevrolet. While Ford and Chevy share the same audience, Cadillac does not.
The reason for this is that the price for a Cadillac is prohibitive; to buy a Cadillac you must be able to afford a Cadillac.
This simple distinction changes Cadillac’s customer demographics. Cadillac’s buyers make more money than Ford and Chevrolet buyers. Even so, there are often no other significant changes in customer bases.
Surveys sent to customers of rival brands reveal that they even think similarly. Customers of different brands were asked questions like these:
- I am happy with my standard of living
- I can’t bear untidiness
- I try to keep up with technology
- I always look for special offers
Their responses had statistically negligible differences. The responses of almost every company’s customer base are within 1% or 2% of competitors’ customer responses. I know this goes against everything you’ve been taught about your customers, but let me say it one more time—the research points in one direction:
No matter what industry you’re in, your customers are so similar to your competitor’s customers there is no advantage to defining or marketing to a different group.
When You Narrow Your Target Audience Too Far, You Miss Out On Customers.
This is a hard truth that many marketers overlook.
If you focus all your marketing efforts solely on 24-year-olds using their new iPhones in their mom’s basement, you might miss the 37-year-old woman who just launched her own business and could benefit from your app. You might also overlook the 58-year-old gardener who would find value in it.
While narrowing your target audience might seem like a short-term win (as you see an influx of 24-year-olds downloading your app), it could mean missing out on long-term revenue and growth.
Is your brain resisting this idea right now? Is it disagreeing with me? Trust me, when I first came across this concept, mine did too. It can be challenging to shift our thinking away from what we’ve always believed to be true.
The good news is, creating an effective target audience is simpler than you might think. And it makes so much sense that your brain will appreciate it.
So, how do you identify the right audience for your product?
How To Create The Perfect Target Audience.
At this point, we don’t have much of the standard definition of a target audience left. We’ve debunked the marketing myths that are hurting businesses and understand that:
- Customer profiles aren’t as helpful as we once thought.
- Your customers aren’t as unique as they may seem.
- Their demographics and personality traits largely align with others in your industry, and clever marketing won’t attract substantially different customers.
Letting go of these three myths can be tough. On the surface, they seem to make sense! In reality, they are based on hunches and individual case studies instead of large, reliable data sets.
Let’s turn to brain science and social media analytics.
The human brain is a marvelously complex organ that we’re still far from fully comprehending. However, we do know some things. For instance, we understand the brain’s primary objective.
Above all else, our brains are wired for survival. This insight into the target audience defines their behaviors.
Think back to your last restaurant visit. You probably didn’t count the chairs in the room, but you knew the location of the exits. That’s your brain looking out for your well-being.
Whenever we encounter something new, our brain’s initial question is, ‘How does this help me survive and thrive?’ That’s precisely what your customers’ brains are pondering when they come across your marketing.
Connecting with your customer’s desire to survive and thrive is the foundation for creating your target audience.
There are two questions to answer to identify who you’re truly selling to.
1. Which Products And Services Does Your Customer Want?
Be specific. You’re not interested in how someone takes their coffee unless you sell coffee or creamer. Keep your answer anchored to your product.
For example, I sell marketing services. If you’re reading this blog you probably want to grow your business. What’s the connection? My website services help people grow their business.
My answer to “What do my customers want?” could also be:
- Better marketing
- Marketing that makes you money
- A new website
- A sales funnel
But not all my clients know about those things. They aren’t all convinced that marketing is the solution. But they all want to grow their business. So that’s what I went with. In sales calls and throughout the process of designing and implementing their marketing strategies, I connect my marketing services with growing their business.
I don’t change anything I offer, I just change the way I talk about it. You won’t find anyone with a megaphone yelling about a pretty website over here. But we will talk about how our websites can help you grow your business.
You want to connect your products or services with something your customers want.
Sometimes when I’m asking a client this question, they give a long, complicated answer. Or they list of twelve things. Or they say, “Well, they think they want [this], but I know they really want [that].”
None of those approaches work. Keep it simple, keep it short, and make sure it’s something your customers know they want. You can introduce the specifics of how your product helps them down the road.
This question isn’t about you, it’s about your customers.
Another quick example: I have a client who helps people with ideas for a product find a manufacturer and set up a business selling that product.
She walks her customers through dozens and dozens of steps. It takes a lot of work to create a product and set up a business! But she doesn’t tell her customers how many steps she’ll help them walk through.
She tells them she’ll help them launch their product to success. That’s what they want. To launch their product. To bring it to life. To stop dreaming about it and make it! Hold it in their hands, sell it to a customer.
So her answer to this is “Launch your product to success.”
Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple.
2. What Problem Do You Solve For Your Customers With Your Product Or Service?
We know what your customers want, but something is getting in their way. It’s preventing them from getting what they want. And your product or service helps them overcome that problem.
For this question, you might have a different answer for each of your products. And your overall business could have its own answer, too.
The reason for this is each of your products probably solves a different problem. That’s why you have those different products! A vacuum cleans dirty carpets (problem: your carpets are dirty), a mop cleans dirty floors (problem: your floors are dirty), and a duster cleans dusty furniture (problem: your furniture is dusty).
Like with everything else, don’t overthink this! Keep it simple.
Quick side note: it’s okay if you have multiple products that solve the same problem, but this doesn’t happen often in small businesses.
Think about Coca-Cola, most of their beverages and flavors solve the same problem. This doesn’t mean their products are useless, it means they serve the same target audience.
Now that you’ve answered both questions, write them down.
This is your target audience! Your target audience is full of people who want what you sell (or the life that what you sell will provide for them) and have a problem that you solve.
And if you’re worried that this is too vague or that it will make your marketing harder, consider what these two questions can help you discover.
- What your customers search for on Google (they’re either searching for what they want or how to solve the problem they have)
- What kind of person buys your product (a person who wants what you sell and/or has a problem you solve)
- What you should talk about in your marketing (what your customers want and the problem they’re experiencing)
Let me give you one last example:
If we were to create a “customer profile” for the people we think would buy ClearBrand’s products, like everyone suggests, it would be male business owners who know about the power of story and bring in more than $1 million in revenue, but less than $20 million.
However, experience and sales have showed us just how wrong we would have been.
In reality, we have worked with both women and men, people who’ve never cared too much about story… Startups, companies that bring in over $20 million in annual revenue, and companies under $500,000 in annual revenue.
What do they all have in common?
- They want to grow their business
- Their marketing isn’t working
- What they want and the problem they’re experiencing.
It’s true that if we were to break down each customer into a separate “customer avatar” the “male business owners bringing in more than $1 million in revenue but less than $20 million” would be the biggest of them. But it would only be around 50%. So by leaving everyone else out, we would have lost 50% of our revenue.
When you hone in on what your customer wants and the problem they’re experiencing, you connect with them in a much more specific way.
Rather than trying to appeal to their demographic, you connect with what they’re going through. You build empathy and authority.
And when you do this, your business grows.
Throw The Myths Out The Window And Create A Website You Love
It’s time to throw away the old way of creating target audiences and start using something that works better. As I mentioned earlier, there are frameworks and tools that exists to help you ask these questions.
In fact, this is only two of the seven aspects to creating a clear message your customers respond to. These two questions focus on getting to know your customer, the other five parts help you clearly describe what you do and why people should buy (without being a pushy salesman).
When you target your marketing to connect with people in this way, your sales go up, you get more customer engagement, and you don’t miss out on potential customers. To learn more about how creating a website that’s totally tuned to your audience’s problems and goals, contact ClearBrand today.