The very first step in a communications or marketing strategy is defining your target audience so that you can tailor your message or pitch accordingly. For businesses, this is usually your typical potential buyers of a product or service. For a nonprofit it could be potential clients for a program, volunteers for an initiative, advocates to spread a message, or donors to support a cause.

It’s all about balance. If you try to reach everone you will likely appeal to no-one, but if only a handful of people meet all your criteria you’ve needlessly gone too far.

When ever possible try to keep it to one target audience per product or service. Different products may often have different target audiences. Gillette created multiple lines of razors to target different audiences based on price point and gender. In the same way a nonprofit might want to define target audiences for clients, volunteers, and donors separately (even if there is some overlap). In other instances a single product might have multiple customer niches that require completely different marketing. For example, an event venue would market the same space in completely different ways for weddings and business parties, or a nonprofit might take different fundraising approaches with college students and business executives.

The following 10 questions are designed to help you better identify your target audience so that you can fine tune your messaging to reach them more effectively.

1. What is the desired action of you target audience?

  • Buying your product or service
  • Donating to your organization
  • Volunteer for an event
  • Advocate by spreading the word and educating others

2. What demographic groups are most likely to take the desired action?

Figure out not only who has a need for your product or service, but also who is most likely to take action (buy, donate, volunteer). Consider the following factors but be cautious not to whittle things down too far.

  • Age Group
  • Gender (M, F, both)
  • Location (local, regional, national &/or urban, suburban, rural)
  • Marital/Family Status
  • Income Level
  • Education Level
  • Occupation

Note: Though you may want to consider things like “race” I advise against it. In most cases, openly targeting a particular race sets you up for more pitfalls than benefits.

3. How do they think?

  • Personality types
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Interest/Hobbies
  • Lifestyles
  • Behaviors

4. What needs, challenges and frustrations do they have?
Understanding where your audience’s needs and frustrations are, helps to shift the conversation from how they can help you (“buy my product”) to how you can help them. Often times this is communicated very subtly. You won’t see Charity Water saying, “We know you feel the need to belong to something that is both cool and makes an impact. We’re both, so you should give us money.”

5. How does your idea, service, or product help your target audience?
What problem does it solve? How does it make their lives easier? better? What would motivate them to pay for it?

6. What drives them to make purchasing decisions? (or donating, volunteering, sharing, etc)
What influences them to take that final step? What obstacles might be in their way? One product I worked with did an amazing job at marketing to potential users of our product and generated tons of interest and excitement on an advertising budget of virtually $0. Unfortunately we significantly underestimated the challenges these excited potential customers would have convincing those that hold the organization’s purse strings to authorize the purchase of the service. The time we were forced to spend on demos and emails walking these leaders through the benefits slowed us down and increased new account acquisition costs.

7. Do they currently use (or support) a product or service of your organization or that of a similar organization?
If so, this means that they have shown an active interest in your type of service (good) but may be open to new opportunities or may be satisfied with the way things are.

8. What media do they currently use?
Consider the magazines they read, tv & movies they watch, websites they visit, social media sites they frequent. For social media, consider the times they are most active and what types of content they engage with (follows, clicks, comments, mentions, likes, and shares)

9. How can you best reach your target audience?

10. Are you confident you picked the right target audience?
It’s all about balance. If you try to reach everone you will likely appeal to no-one, but if only a handful of people meet all your criteria you have broken things down too far. You should also question your assumptions. Will they really benefit from your product or service? If so will they recognize it enough to spend the required money (or time)? Do you really understand what goes into their decision making process or are you just guessing? Lastly how realistic is it that you will be able to reach them with your message?

Not sure of an answer, or want to verify a hunch? I’ve compiled a list of market research resources that can help you find this type of information. Also, with a little persistence google can prove quite helpful in helping track down research that others have already compiled on your target. Search for blog posts, magazine articles and survey results that talk about your target market. You also might want to consider creating a survey of your own where you can ask your current customers for feedback.

Defining the market is the tough part. Now that you know who you are targeting, you should find it much easier to figure out what marketing messages will resonate with them and which media channels will be most effective at reaching them