12 Questions for Understanding Your Target Audience

Consumer Buying Journey

Marketing your business is an important way to build awareness of your brand and ultimately generate more customers and increase sales. But it’s important to make sure that you understand the audience you want your marketing to reach. Understanding your target audience can help you improve the return on your marketing investment because it helps you get your marketing in front of the right types consumers: those who are more likely to do business with you. It also helps you create messages, content, offers, and promotions that will resonate with them so they take action.

A myriad of factors goes into understanding your target audience. Beyond pure demographics, you need to fully understand the traits that make up your current customers so you can create a profile of others you’d like to reach with your marketing. Plus, you need to understand their buying journey and factors that play into their decision marking.

So, how can you get started understanding your target audience? Here are 12 important questions to ask.

Who?

1) Who are your current customers?
What exactly do you know about your current customer base? Start by defining a clear profile of the people who already buy from your business so you can create buyer personas that will help you target your marketing. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create an online survey and share it via email to your current customer list, and print a version to share with current and new customers when you interact with them in person.

You can ask questions like demographics, education level, profession, location, hobbies and interests, income level, family status, shopping habits, device preference, and more to begin identifying your target audience based off people who already have done business with you.

2) Who else do you want to buy your products or services?
Once you’ve established a framework of who your current customer base is, see if there are any ideal consumer types you think are missing. For example, if you are a clinic whose customer base is made up mostly of seniors and young families but there is a large university nearby, you might want to consider adding college students to your list of target consumers, if they fit within the general profile you’ve established with your existing customer base. And by adding a new target audience persona into your marketing mix you can potentially open up many new marketing messages and channels – and grow your revenue.

What?

3) What do your customers buy?
What are the products and services that you sell the most to your current customer base? Marketing your best sellers to your target audience is an important growth strategy for any business. But it’s also important to consider what products and services you’re not selling as much of. There may be products or services you want to build a larger customer base for, so it’s important to research the types of consumers who are considering and purchasing them. Is there overlap with your current target audience? Are you missing typical buyers of these products in your current targeting efforts?

4) What are the key factors your customers consider in a buying decision?
Consumers typically use a variety of factors when making a purchase from a local business, such as availability, price, value or benefits, customer service, reviews and ratings, and location. All these factors (and more!) can play an important role the buying process, and it’s important to understand the weight your current customers place on all of these factors.

By understanding key buying factors that are important to your target audience, you can target your marketing efforts and messages to those that weigh heavily in their decision. For example, many local businesses are finding that consumer ratings online are a factor of growing importance for local consumers, so many are investing more efforts in this area of marketing. Or, businesses with heavily price-conscious consumers may choose to develop a robust offers and promotions program to help drive new customers and referrals. 

5) What are the shopping habits of your existing customers and in your industry?
The shopping habits of consumers as a whole have shifted, especially in certain industries. For example, research shows that a growing number of retail shoppers use mobile devices for price checking when in physical stores. Similarly, most smartphone users use their smartphone in a purchase decision, conducting research and information about local businesses on their mobile device. So it’s important to know what the trends are for your industry and pair them with demographic data to create robust shopper personas for your business.

Where?

6) Where are your consumers spending time online?
In today’s fragmented digital landscape, it’s also important to understand where your target customers spend their time online. There are multiple layers to this question that are important.

  • First, the type of device they are using as a primary source of online activity can help inform your marketing efforts. For example, a growing number of local consumers are mobile-first, meaning that their mobile device is the primary device they go to when researching local products and businesses online. Ask you customer based what types of devices they use so you can build better targeting and marketing plans.
  • Second, the places people are spending their time online can be a useful insight in understanding your target audience. Do your ideal customers surf and browse content across the web? Are they searching in web browsers? Do they spend a lot of time in smartphone apps? Are they spending a large chunk of time on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram? Understanding the places where your target audience are spending their time is a critical insight that can help you tailor your marketing efforts and tactics to best reach them online.

7) Where are customers discovering you online?
This is a related question to the above, but it’s an important distinction, because it can help you evaluate the effectiveness of your current online marketing programs in reaching your target audience. The are a few ways you can gain this information. The first is to have a comprehensive tracking program in place for all of your marketing efforts.

This will help you understand how well they are working. Another is to ask new customers where they heard about your business. This can provide you with some additional insights into the consumer discovery process. Together, these insights can help you shape and evolve your targeting efforts.

8) Where do your customers live?
Understanding where your customer base is physically located is actually a very important factor in understanding your target audience, especially for a local business. That’s because you can actually target some of your online marketing activities specifically at people within a specific geographic location.

For example, you can target search engine advertising or mobile in-app ads to consumers within a specific geographic area. You can also use geographic information to help you create keywords for your search advertising, like location-specific phrases, to help better target your efforts towards people who are more likely to do business with you.

When?

9) When do people typically seek your products or services?
Do you have a good understanding of when consumers typically seek a business like yours? Depending on your business type, this could vary based on a number of factors. Seasonal businesses may see spikes in consumer interest during specific seasons, holidays, or months. Businesses that specialize in on-demand services, like emergency plumbing services, might do more business during “off-hours.” And businesses with a long sales cycle may have a target audience that beings their buying journey months or weeks ahead of their purchase decision.

No matter what your business type, it’s important to have a good understanding of when consumers begin considering a business like yours. This can help inform your efforts in a variety of ways, from selecting the right kind of marketing solutions to creating targeted or seasonal campaigns to developing a lead nurturing program to help you close business over a longer sales cycle. So, make sure you have a good understanding of when consumers begin their purchase path so that you can use this to develop your marketing.

10) When are people engaging with your brand online?
In today’s always-on media environment, it can be difficult to get a grasp on when consumers are seeing and engaging with your marketing efforts. But it’s a good idea to look at high-level trends in terms of time. For example: what days or times do people typically visit your website? When are you getting the most volume of calls from your marketing? (You can track this metric with a call tracking program if you don’t already know). What days and times are people engaging your business on social media? All of these factors help paint the full picture of your target audience and can help inform your marketing efforts – and they could even help inform your business practices.

Why?

11) Why do your current customers choose to buy from you?
Do you have a clear picture of why consumers are already choosing your business? Are your products or services in the “wants” or “needs” category? What factors are swaying their purchase decision in your favor? Defining this aspect of your customer base can help you describe and identify an important factor of identifying what your target audience wants and how they buy.

When you can clearly articulate the factors that differentiate your business and create happy customers, you can use these factors to target similar consumers and to create your marketing. For example, if you know that your accessible location and unusual hours of operation have led many business professionals to choose you over your competitors, you can target your advertising and your messaging to that persona to help you land more of that type of clientele.

12) Why do others buy from your competitors?
This question can be harder to answer, but it’s an important exercise to consider. You may want to ask some customers or do a blind survey on your social media pages to get an understanding of this, or you may just want to have an honest evaluation of this question with your team and trusted advisers.

Understanding where the competition has a leg up in the mind of your target audience, whether it be in customer service, pricing, offers and discounts, brand visibility, of a variety of other factors, can help you understand your audience better and help you better target your marketing and your messaging. You can also evaluate the web presence of your competitors and compare this to your own business presence to get a better picture of areas where they might be outshining you online so that you can identify areas you might like to improve in.

Do You Understand Your Target Audience?

Now it’s time to get started. Armed with these questions, you can begin you can define your target audience and use these insights to target your marketing to enhance your results and improve your return on investment.

What other questions do you have about understanding your target audience? How are you using these insights in your marketing? Share your thoughts in a comment.

Tiffany Monhollon

Tiffany Monhollon is an award-winning content, community, and social media marketing strategist who is passionate about helping businesses and professionals succeed online, currently serving as Director of Content Marketing at ReachLocal. She develops integrated strategies from the ground up, incorporating content, community, and social tactics to deliver online marketing, search optimization, social engagement, and reputation management results. She speaks and writes about online marketing and social media for sites like Entrepreneur, MarketingProfs, Small Business Trends, Media Post, Social Media Today, Business 2 Community, and the ReachLocal Online Marketing blog.

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