6 reasons your target is too big

When defining a target audience, what makes marketers reach for the shotgun rather than the rifle? Is it the belief that throwing the widest net possible, with messages to the masses, will return the biggest results? Or is it the fear that if the target isn’t the size of a barn, they might miss their mark?

Even if your target was everyone on the planet. Unless you are Coke, I can tell you that everyone will not be your customer. So Coke, you are dismissed from this conversation. The rest of you might want to continue.

I’ve come up with 6 reasons (I’m sure there’s more) why marketers should re-examine their broad, poorly defined target audiences and stop wasting their money trying to convert everyone.

1. Fear of Focus

Shotgun targeting is an oxymoron. Who takes a sawed-off shotgun to target shooting contest? I’d take a rifle and preferably, a scope. Targeting, whether it’s done on shooting range or in a boardroom, involves focus. And while most marketers will deny using a shotgun approach, they quietly expand the demographic profiles, adding a few extra years to the age group and a larger range of incomes to the demographics. Even savvy marketers who know that behavior profiles are more important than demographics can make the logical mistake of merging profiles, thus widening the net to include more potential prospects.

What these good meaning actions really do is to homogenize the target, making it so big that you can’t possibly miss. This wider target may be bigger, but it has many different wants and needs which means you’ll either need a lot of different messages (can you say big $$$$?), or you’ll decide to be economical and use one generic message to speak to all those different prospects.

Either way, all you will likely achieve is a message that is less meaningful, less appropriate, less memorable, and less effective to your MOST important prospects.

2. Consuming Consumers Consume

Even in tough times, we are a society consumed with consuming. In our search for what we lack, we’ve become little information bees pollinating society with the nectar we believe is the sweetest – just look at facebook and twitter.

These days consumers do a large portion of the communications work for themselves. They are searching and surfing and reviewing and blogging and discussing, creating ripples of messaging like a drop of water spreading across a pond. This means that your message, if it’s meaningful, will be spread beyond your control. It will find the farthest reaches of the target, to the most unlikely of prospects, who you would have never dreamed of talking to directly – so don’t waste time and money trying.

Or you could pursue that generic message, riddled with bullet points and copy that speaks to everyone? Yeah, I share those on social media all the time.

3. Shared Aspirations

Everyone aspires. And everyone doesn’t aspire to just one thing. No, everyone aspires to many things. Humans are not cookie cutter consumers. We are all uniquely programmed with subtle differences in our mental processes that make us more than the sum of our demographics.

My demographics would show that I’m a middle aged (ouch!) male, a marketing communication professional making a living in Los Angeles, married with a child.

These facts would tell you little or nothing about my aspirations or the things that make me tick. And while some of those things are related to middle age (ouch!), most are not. The point is that I will pay attention to messages aimed at the 20-something, recent college grad who doesn’t have a mortgage and spends his hard earned cash to obtain the latest, hottest stuff on the market. I won’t tune out because the message sounds “younger” than me, or “hipper” than me, or “more serious” than me. I aspire to many of the same things as that target. Yet if that message were altered to be sure it spoke to 40-somethings and 50-somethings, it certainly wouldn’t sound younger and hipper.

The result of the more focused message is a bleed factor that means anyone with even a sliver of shared aspirations with the well defined target will get it. You don’t have to talk to everyone. Talk to THE target and let others connect via shared aspirations.

4. Attribute Morphing

Consumers will also morph the attributes of a product to fit their needs. I bought a Honda Element a few years ago. Honda was targeting a young, fun-loving, active lifestyle with messages that were sometimes quirky and odd – a lot like the car itself. While set to extreme outdoor activities, the attributes of the Element were dramatized with shots of the open-air design packed with everything from mountain bikes to kayaks.

I don’t mountain bike and I’ve been in a kayak once, but the attributes of space and a modular design were perfectly clear to me. And soon I had morphed those attributes into my own vision of how the Element would fit perfectly into my busy-dad, dog-chauffeuring, equipment-lugging lifestyle.

Stick with what your well-defined target wants and needs. Everyone else will see what they need.

5. Consumer Morphing

Similar to the attribute morphing, consumers can themselves morph from one behavioral aspect to another. Today I’m a green consumer looking for a car that will save the planet, tomorrow I am a cancer cure advocate looking for viable treatments for my recently diagnosed family member – and the next day I am a traveler searching for the best deal on airfares to Hawaii.

Consumers are constantly in motion. But you don’t have to try to hit a moving target. On the contrary, you aim at the right place and stay on your message, and morphing consumers will enter your line of fire.

We’ve all experienced this, like when you decide to buy a new car, and you’re considering a couple choices. Then suddenly you begin to see those cars everywhere. But there aren’t suddenly more of them than yesterday. You’re perception has changed (morphed) and you are now a specific type of car consumer. More tuned in, open to messages and on a deliberate information search to find the car that fits your self image – which is a unique mix of values and attributes that may also be shared by many others.

So how do you make a brand, product or service easy to find in the vast expanse of the marketplace?

6. Location. Location. Location. (in the mind)

The old real estate adage could be altered here to “position, position, position”. The key to a clear and focused target is a clear and focused positioning. For only when you sacrifice being everything to everyone will you find the one thing that is the most memorable and irresistible to the one person who is your best customer, and who at any given time could be anyone (but not everyone).

A positioning that clearly differentiates is like an address in google maps. The more specific it is, the more likely you are to get accurate and effective directions and the easier it will be to navigate your way to where you want to go.

So when your target can truly be anyone, then you had better be easy to recognize, easy to remember, and easy to locate in the jungle of brands and promises that fill the minds of each and every consumer.

The Takeaway

When you are defining your target audience, a more specific and focused approach will help clarify the message and the channels where that message will be most impactful. Resist the urge to increase the size of the target in an attempt to capture more leads, since in reality that costs more and delivers less qualified leads. Instead, attempt to narrow the audience until you know exactly who they are and what will engage, interest and motivate your perfect customer. And when you talk clearly to that perfect customer, everyone who cares will hear you.

Do you have other reasons or ways to refine your target audience? Let’s hear it.

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