Identifying and describing the target customer should always the first step in any brand positioning process. If you don't know who your customer is, how can you successfully position the brand? In our brand positioning workshops, we usually get people to identify the primary, secondary and tertiary customer targets. Sometimes, they describe the current customer and then describe who they want the future customer to be. We encourage them to be as specific as possible when defining the target customer. We want them to describe the target's "bulls-eye," that is, the customer who is the most advantageous to the brand. We have found that if you successfully define the "bulls-eye," people on the outer rings will also be interested in your brand. Often we phrase the target customer definition this way - "[Description], but especially [more detailed description]."
As real-life examples of the level of specificity that we are seeking, consider these definitions of primary customers for two different wealth management firms that we have helped brand.
- Successful entrepreneurs with at least $1,000,000 to invest who feel as though they have not been adequately recognized for their accomplishments
- Retired people with fixed incomes and at least $250,000 to invest who have experienced major market losses or are afraid of major market losses and and not sure their savings will last their lifetimes
Sometimes we are asked if one should focus on the direct customer or the end consumer. Our answer is almost always, the end consumer. Because, if the end consumer is not interested in your brand, your direct customer will likely also lose interest in the brand.
People sometimes ask about the difference between target customers and target audiences. There is a significant overlap between these two groups but customers almost always purchase something from your brand, while audiences may be customers or they may be influencers, regulators, vendors, strategic partners or other stakeholders.
To indicate how complicated target customer descriptions can be, I will choose two examples, a research university and a municipality.
Research University Brand Targets
Municipality Brand Targets
- Potential students
- Parents of potential students
- High School guidance counselors
- College guides
- Employers (firms recruiting students for jobs)
- Current students
- Potential faculty, administrators and staff
- Federal, state and local governments
- Private and public sources of research funds
- Accreditation bodies
- Peer institutions
- If the university includes a medical school - physicians, nurses, other hospital staff, patients, potential patients
- The community in which the university is located
- Current and potential residents
- Current and potential businesses
- Specific industries
- Business leaders
- Cultural institution leaders
- Travel writers
- Meeting and event planners
- Event producers, including sports event producers
- Tour companies
- Professional associations
- People living within a certain radius of the municipality
And none of this addresses market segmentation, another important part of customer targeting. For more information on market segmentation, consider these blog posts:
And for another post on defining target markets, click here
Not very often, but every once in a while, I will hear someone say "Our target audience is everyone," or "Our target audience is all adult women." Both of these are much too broad to be meaningful or to offer any direction.