target market

It cracks me up that there are two main disciplines that require one-way mirrors: market research and police interrogation (although I imagine that market research is the only one that stocks bowls of M&Ms on the dark side of the glass).

Identifying a target market for a brand is one of the trickiest but most essential aspects of marketing. Yet it can feel like a police dragnet. Too often, marketers define target markets as everyone who could conceivably buy a particularly product: “women, aged 18-49″.

Sometimes marketers are guided by a strategic need for a brand to appeal to a particular demographic group: “we need a product for Boomers” or “we need to appeal to Millennials”, as if these groups were uniform and there was a one-size-fits-all way to attract them. Too many target market statements lack a unique and compelling insight.

Target markets are not a catch-all. The best target markets are deliberately exclusive. Investing the time to crack a target market statement can unlock everything for a brand.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on brands that clearly get their target market.

(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. Chris Marr says

    Hi Tom,

    I have a great example of this here in the UK by the car manufacturer Fiat with their Model 500.

    There are two videos:

    For Mums:

    For Dads:

    Seems to me as if they have done their research on either which segment they want to attract, or which segment they have built the car for. Either way, I think it’s something that we don’t see often from car makers & their advertising. In fact, the brand is hardly visible in the advert and it isn’t mentioned…

    Any opinion on this would be good to read about.



    PS Thanks for drawing some great cartoons!

  2. Vishal Thacker says

    Hi Tom,

    Couldn’t agree with you more.

    I believe that defining the target market is not a matter of simply getting the right demographic profile of your customer, but more so about getting the right “psychographic” or attitudinal profile.

    The reason being that truly successful brands are built around a certain mind set and attitude of the consumer, rather than simply their stage of life, age, income and so on.

    For instance, Dove could be targeted at “Women, 18-50″ but that would build a very different brand in contrast to “Women who believe they are beautiful just the way they are”

    Just a thought.

  3. Nicholas Allo says

    I’m of the opinion, some attempts at target market definition by brands, are rather stereo-typical and my opinion is the Fiat 500L fatherhood advert, is one of such; it doesn’t appeal to the settled father, chauffeuring kids to a multitude of activities and needing his vehicle to cope with what’s thrown at it – like me. I think the challenge may be a prevalence of thought, directed at ‘wants’ and not ‘needs’. However, some adverts do seem to capture quite well, the ‘needs’ of many customers or target markets, as done with the UK TESCO Mobile advert below from the link following:

    I believe that when marketing and target group definition focuses more on needs, than they currently do on anticipated wants, of the marketer or of the customer, the creation of effectively targeted brands will possibly become simpler; almost like making one’s way back along a bread crumbs trail.



  4. Aline says

    Let’s go one step further to say that, in the end, the ones that get know that it goes above and beyond a statement. Your “target market” is a partner in this brand building process. Without them, there is no brand. Without them, all you’ve got is a soulless new product. Find the exclusives target…but connect with these souls that will make your brand come to life.

    I think Nike gets it…Nike+ and the running community…the Fuel band, for every athlete. If you have a body, you are an athlete!

  5. Jeff says

    I think Pop Tarts did a great job of understanding that only 8 year old’s and broke college students eat their product. If you remember the Toaster Strudel product used live shots of hot pastry with icing being spread over the top. (I’m getting hungry) Pop Tarts used cartoon kids in a cartoon land which matched the taste of the product….two dimensional and fake. I thought they NAILED IT!

  6. Lexy says

    Saw a great advert made by the french advertising condoms – child screaming in a shop demaniding swwets wityh the dad looking like he had given up hope. tagline something like “be safe, use a condom” not sure who the target market was, as the guy looked middle aged anyway. so i think they were aiming just at guys with no age range…

    but hey, sometimes ambiguios age targeting can be good i think

  7. Jennifer says

    Surveys are the key to marketing. Once a company has the survey technology down, they can nail ANY marketing attempt. They need to understand Be-Do-Have, emotional tone, and from there they can figure out which demographics and what emotional tone level to pitch their campaign. This is especially true of a company just starting out.

    For example: New cafe wants to open in an area. They survey the people of that area, finding that they are mostly college- age students (Be) who work jobs between classes (Do) who want a really good cup of joe fast and cheap (Have). The students are a bit antagonistic (emotional tone) about it, because they’d love to be able to walk in, get what they want in less than 5-7 minutes (will not mention any specific brand name coffee shop here), and not have to take a loan out on their next paycheck to get it. Marketing goes forward with a campaign that hits all those buttons, and the new cafe becomes the biggest hotspot on campus.

  8. euonymous says

    Difficulties in defining one’s target market can stem more from having a solution and looking for a problem. If your product or service is the result of recognizing a clear need, it is a linguistic exercise to correctly articulate the target market.

    If you got this stuff you wanna sell, you have a problem… who will buy it? If you, or people you know well, have a problem and you devise a solution, how do you define who you’ll sell it to? Ummmmm… the people we designed it for, right?

    The world looks very different to a B2B marketer than to a B2C marketer. In B2B it is, I confess, easy to state your target market assuming you designed your product/service to meet a need. If you are in the B2C world, you are continually trying to expand a market which may or may not have existed in the beginning.

    Brands that clearly nailed their target markets: Apple under Steve Jobs; Ford with the “new Lincoln” ads; the very early Infinity ads with Jonathan Pryce; and most ads/trailers for action movies! Nothing much else jumps to mind, since I see B2B customers SEARCHING for solutions today. There is still a place for “awareness” marketing for both B2B and B2C. If you don’t recognize the problem, you won’t search for and buy a solution. You still want to get that “dingy yellow” out of your white laundry, right? In the B2B world, if you understand your market’s need and your product solves the problem, you simply figure out how to dangle the solution in front of them so they self-identify. That kind of marketing is a lot of fun! Woo Hoo!

  9. Nate Challen says

    Axe is always the first brand that comes to mind for me on this. They know they are targeting men (boys) 13-24 who are concerned with attracting woman, and Unilever’s not worried about offending anyone who’s not in the target. At one point they had a body wash positioned around cleansing yourself after a one night stand. I don’t need to go any farther than the stairway that leads to the floor where my son takes his showers to know it’s working. My son has gotta have Axe – body wash, deoderant, body spray, hair care, shave gel – and I can smell it all the way upstairs!

  10. Phil says

    With digital media now mainstream, surely we can just let a target market identify themselves -and reach them through contextual targeting, SEM, retargeting etc?

  11. bob collins says

    In this day and age the only excuses for a poorly-targeted brand are (a) a client who is afraid (s)he is throwing away sales by not trying to appeal to everyone and (b) an agency that is so lazy they buy 18-49 demos off a media rate sheet. And both of them deserve what they get.

  12. Nick Pateras says

    Great post! I think clearly identifying and defining a target market is the most essential step in coming up with a campaign or even further, full blown-out brand plans, since so much derives from this element.
    I find many brands are guilty of simply, as you say, picking an age range and a gender and claiming that is their target market. A truly successful brand will go further to understand the psyche of their consumers by researching their behaviours, values and social norms, and assessing how their brand is compatible with and enhances their lifestyle.
    Apple and Google are both obvious answers to brands that are successful but with their cult following I feel as though they began with a more product-centric focus in establishing themselves. One brand that has done terrifically in ‘getting’ its target market has been Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Canadian company that sells outdoor recreation and climbing gear. It has tapped into the insight that, somewhat like cycling or yoga, the climbing and outdoors enthusiasts really feel part of a community and thus they built their model such that you sign up to be a member before you can purchase any product. Members also have a say in the way the company is run and can vote in the board of directors election, as well as other neat initiatives such as recycling any used and unwanted outdoor gear. The brand connects its members with each other in a very meaningful way and really stands for what they care about, such as environmentally-friendly manufacturing. This is why my mind first springs to Mountain Equipment Co-op when I consider brand that get their consumers.

  13. Concetta says

    I think where people are missing is that they’re all trying to be the hip kids with their great markets.

    A lot of people go after the “Apple Model” where you target the users with high-quality applications that meet a life need (and a price tag to match) and let the market define itself. By establishing a pattern in which they have satisfied individual user needs, they can effectively go after the B2B market without having to do any additional marketing because their users are already clamoring to have their products at work as well as at home.

    The problem with this is – Apple is a great company that’s got an established pattern of filling unique needs along with a great support system. You can’t really do the same thing with say, breakfast cereal, or even many other electronic products because the backups to the marketing just aren’t there.

    @Chris Marr, I love the Fiat ads. I have a Fiat 500 myself and have been surprised that their marketing hasn’t been more creative here in the states – the irreverent, retro fun of the Fiat isn’t expressed at all and a lot of people have had to take a ride in my car before they believed me that its just as good as a more expensive compact (Mini).

    In terms of other products doing interesting things with their target market – I love how Github and other rapid development tools are targeting any developer who needs to do stuff fast and trying for press coverage rather than lots and lots of splashy ads, and then having the users segment themselves into individual and enterprise customers on their own.

    Sometimes your market defines your product, and sometimes, your product just have marketer’s tunnel vision.

  14. Anne C. Bech says

    Tom thanks for bringing this very important subject in focus. Many interesting comments above about the importance of understanding needs and wants as well as working with both “psychographic” and demographic profiles when targeting on the B2C market. Surveys are mentioned by Jennifer and I could like to ad that investing in in-depth segmentation on a continuous approach in both qualitative and quantitative surveys is one way to get first the understanding of different consumer groups their different or similar needs and second the developing and targeting of your value proposition with a good and unique match of benefit, needs and wants finding the important soul as Alina nicely frame it.

  15. Dan Cobley says

    Today, with the majority of media consumption time on digital screens, identifying, and more importantly, reaching, the target market has got a whole lot easier.
    The target for my line extension might be the people that are interested in my core product (and have visited by site).
    The target for my DVD release might be those that showed interest in the theatrical release by watching the film trailer on YT.
    The target for my new baby product might be anyone who chooses to watch my ad to the end (identifying themselves as interested in baby products) rather than skipping the ad.

    These are all possible with digital in a way they are not with traditional media. Make sure your advertising is taking advantage of these audience targeting tools (and others).

  16. Johannes Schwaninger says

    Couples expecting a baby are a very interesting focus group, because the new life situation strongly impact their behavior: Old patterns fall apart, new buying habits emerge. I find this approach very interesting, because it goes beyond demographics or common lifestyle classifications.

    An excellent example in regard is “Target”. The company uses highly sophisticated data analysis to predict the likelihood of a woman’s pregnancy and then actively promote suitable articles.


    These two articles are very informative:


    Epilogue: Apparently, the algorithm works really well. At one time, an angry father complained in a “Target” store that his teenage daughter received coupons for baby clothes in the mail. Little later, he returned to apologize: His daughter actually was pregnant.

  17. Zoe Sentirmai says

    On one hand we want to be recognised for uniqueness, on the other we’d like to catch a broad demo with the one message. Attention is the new currency. Brands are talking. One-way dragnets no longer catch all. Decision time.

  18. C. H. says

    I enjoyed this post and felt it ties nicely to Tom’s former post about the importance of creative strategy. Target audience is defined in the creative brief, and that definition should inform and inspire the creative team to develop creative work.

    In his book Truth, Lies, and Advertising, Jon Steel (Account Planner for the “Got Milk?” campaign, currently WPP’s Planning Director) states “… The portrait of these people (no longer a number or an average) will be qualitative, descriptive, emotional, and creative.” Another book Using Qualitative Research in Advertising shares three examples of target audience descriptions for a jar of spaghetti sauce:

    1. Moms with kids under 12;
    2. Moms with kids under 12 who probably do not prepare a lot of meals from scratch but generally use a variety of packaged goods as the basis for their meals. These moms may be users of products such as jarred spaghetti sauce & packaged dinners, and they may also be users of foods purchased from the deli counter of their grocery store. They are also busy and highly involved in the lives of their children.
    3. Moms who consider themselves creative and somewhat adventurous in the kitchen, but need to balance their creativity with the demands of the picky eaters in the family.

    It is #3 that offers consumer insight– it describes what’s unique about the mothers who are in the target audience and excludes those who fit the profile demographically but not psychographically.

    I like what Widen & Kennedy recently did for Old Spice’s new line, the Wild Collection. Their target audience is the older end of the spectrum of 18-24 years old males who desire a more mature, sophisticated, and even intimidating look and feel. To appeal to this group of consumers, their new campaign (including the ‘Irresistible” and “Poker face” TV spots) shows well-dressed men in well-furnished contexts and relates to these men’s ambition to win over other men. This sets the Wild Collection line apart from other Old Spice lines featuring Isaiah Mustafa, Jerry Crews, etc., geared towards a younger crowd. (😉

  19. Jen Nelson says

    Hi Tom… okay I’m a week late but still want to say, I don’t disagree with “The best target markets are deliberately exclusive” but that it’s just not complete enough. I’d say C.H.’s post is heading in the right direction, but I don’t have time to read it all (am I allowed to raz your readers?). So how about “The best target markets are deliberately exclusive to those for whom your brand offers genuine, intrinsic value.”

    Okay, I think the grammar is wrong, but hopefully you get the idea!

  20. says

    Hi all,

    Wow, really awesome feedback and examples, thanks! I read through all of your comments several times, because there is such great content here. This week’s print goes to euonymous. I really like the insight around having a solution and looking for a problem.



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