target market

In marketing, one size does not fit all. One size fits none. Many brands try to be all things to all people. General Mills CMO Mark Addicks once commented that too many brands were targeted to “women, ages 25-49, with a pulse”.

It can be tempting to appeal to everyone. I’ve been in brand discussions where target markets were identified by writing all possible prospects on the board, as if we were cold-calling consumers rather than trying to connect with them. Yet, that broad targeting approach can lead to a split personality that appeals to no one.

A target market is not the same as anyone who could conceivably buy a product. It’s not a catch-all classification. A target market is deliberately exclusive. That’s what gives it teeth. It is what compels consumers to identify with your brand. It is what gives you insight to speak to them so clearly.

Athletic brand lululemon understands their target market. Only with a vivid picture could they write a manifesto so relevant that their consumers would covet bags printed with it. Women wear these bags as badges because lululemon speaks to them so clearly.

My favorite brands pass the lululemon test. They know their target so well that consumers would wear their brand manifesto as a badge.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment at 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

  1. Tessa Stuart says

    Sadly too often true.

    But it is equally possible to over-specify the criteria for the respondents on the basis of how a successful product has performed in another market in another country – to run the groups, and discover that the target market is not these folk at all. Because people have different tastes and different needs and different beliefs in different locations, insight is more, not less necessary. Plus, consumer beliefs, especially about nutrition, change with press coverage of the latest anti-oxidant, at least in the UK…

  2. Kevin McFarthing says

    I don’t like the phrase “target market”, particularly when defined in terms of demographics. Maybe I’m a pedant, but I much prefer the word “audience”. A target implies you’re throwing something at it. An audience is a group of people to whom you talk, appeal, perform to and hopefully win over at the end of your act. It can also be defined in much better terms than age or gender. Quite often it’s attitudinal.

    The mindset you take when appealing to an audience is different to approaching a target market (hopefully).

  3. Gavin Llewellyn says

    Another excellent cartoon and post, Tom.

    You make a very good point about something that often seems to be a recurring problem for many companies and brands (both big and small). The temptation to appeal to everyone is an understandable one – after all, if you aim at everyone it’s surely less risky than aiming at someone? But you and I (as well as the other good readers of your blog) know this to be false. By focusing a product at a specifically defined group allows you tailor your product or service offering to them – and only them (as demonstrated by lululemon example in your post).

    The products and services that really work are those that offer something remarkable and ‘speak’ to a narrowly defined group of people with shared needs, wants and beliefs. Just look at Apple, Zappos, BMW and lululemon. They don’t appeal to everyone so why should you!

  4. Steve Schildwachter says

    Tom, it is incredible how long this mentality has survived after the end of the Mass Marketing Era. In the days of Ye Olde Marketing, broadly defined targets were intentional. Analytics are helping us get over it.

    A great modern antidote to this thinking comes in Dev Paitnik’s book “Wired To Care”. He teaches us to connect with consumers using our natural ability to empathize. It’s a great read.

  5. Libby Dubick says

    I advise financial advisors on their marketing. At least once a month I try to explain to an advisor that “pre-retirees and retirees” is not a target market, it is everbody!

  6. Jann Mirchandani says

    Love this one! (I really love them all, but this one’s great!)

    It’s similar to the mentality of “being all things to all people.” Get over it! Not everyone will like you. But if you believe in yourself/your brand, you will know – really know – what you are about and not even bother trying to be all things to all people.

  7. Gregory says

    The problem with targeting everybody is that you end up producing bland products. But funnily enough, when you focus on a target, you end up with values and products that strike a sensitive chord in everyone.
    It is also striking that brands that have a precisely defined target also have a clear sense of who they are. Michael Jackson lost his identity trying to seduce the whole world. Madonna who reinvents herself every year, doesn’t, but clearly knows what her “brand” is about.
    I love the lulemon example, but some statements are clearly inspired by the Sunscreen Song,

  8. Bruce Levinson says

    A colleague once debated me on this exact point, claiming that a narrow target meant a narrow business. We were managing a personal wash brand at the time, and he might have articulated the target as “people with skin.” You’ve eloquently captured the fact that a tightly defined target audience enables clear positioning, a perspective, a chance to connect deeply with someone….albeit while others outside the target may observe and still be motivated to buy.

  9. Sandra Pickering says

    Spot on.
    Even the biggest brands started from somewhere very focussed, where they could shine and be at their best doing something they cared about. Nike’s story began with a few enthusiasts. Gatorade started with one team.
    Start by aiming to excel with demanding customers with demanding needs – you will need to build strength to satisfy them.
    And, from there, building on those core strengths and extending from them is the route to growth.
    Narrow and deep enables broad and strong.
    And thanks for introducing me to lululemon!

  10. Jeff says

    I absolutely agree with this post. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for securing the right market. When a brand attempts to woo everyone, it becomes boring because there’s a lack of focus. One moment it’s courting senior citizens and the other, fresh grads. It just doesn’t seem dedicated to the people who really need and love the product.

    Incidentally, my latest post discusses why ‘everyone’ is not your target audience, and why it pays to narrow your market profile.

    Read more about why you shoulddefine your target audience

  11. says

    Many thanks for everyone’s insights this week.

    Libby’s target of “pre-retirees and retirees” and Bruce’s target of “people with skin” is very funny.

    I loved Tessa’s point that we often misjudge our target or chase a ghost target that’s not really there. This often happens when we delude ourselves into thinking that we are the target. I felt this when I worked on Haagen-Dazs and we went so upmarket in our communication for a time that we neglected our real core audience. We were talking to ourselves.

    Kevin’s point cracks me up, because my initial draft of this cartoon involved a marketer with bow and arrow. There’s a lot of war metaphor in marketing which, I agree, can lead to an aggressive marketing approach, rather than one built on community.

    This week’s print goes to both Sandra. I love her reminder that a narrow focus isn’t the realm of the small brand. A focused target not only makes the brand more meaningful to the target, it makes the brand more meaningful to all. This is a great synopsis:

    “Narrow and deep enables broad and strong”

  12. Mars Dorian says


    it’s funny and sad at the same time. So many brands suck because their appeal-to-anyone has dumped down their style to utter boredom.

    In today’s flat world with the insane, and I mean INSANE competition, you have to go long tail and focus your message laser like. That’s what I’m doing.

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