Target Marketing Done Right: Don’t Be Everything or You’re Nothing

If you want to have any hope of succeeding, you need to understand your target market as a subsegment of the population (segmentation), do target marketing right (targeting), and position your products so they appeal to your target market (positioning). These three aspects work together to not only help you appeal to your target market but to distinguish you from your competition. With target marketing done right, you can succeed in even the most highly competitive markets.

So, let’s jump into our discussion of how to do target marketing right by defining our terms.

target marketing
Copyright: scanrail / 123RF Stock Photo

Target marketing

Target marketing is like the magnet in the image above. It pulls out those consumers who are attracted to your brand while ignoring those who aren’t. Trying to be all things to all people often means you’re nothing to everyone. This is a hard concept for small business owners (and even major brands) to swallow. They seem to think that by targeting one market, they’re telling everyone else to take a hike. That overstates the case of targeting. By setting a target market and positioning your brand to appeal to those consumers, you’re not telling the rest of the world you won’t sell to them. Take the Apple commercial as an example of communicating a positive image to your target market.

brand personality

This commercial clearly positions a Mac as cool, hip, and casual while a PC is formal, straight, and functional. You could say the commercial is great at promoting both brands since some users prefer the solidness of a PC over the trendiness of a Mac. That makes space for both brands. If, instead, Apple wanted to look exactly the same as a PC, consumers have no incentive to choose one over the other. The last thing a brand wants is to appear the same as its competition or, possibly worse, to have no image in the minds of consumers.

Thus, your goal in marketing products is to give your brand an image that resonates with your particular target market, an image that makes them feel good about their purchase and good about themselves.

Consumers aren’t the same and don’t want the same things

Face the reality that consumers buy solutions, not products. And, not everyone has the same problems, not everyone is motivated to solve a problem (since consumers face any number of problems and you can’t afford to solve them all), and not everyone believes a specific product will solve their problem. Hence, it doesn’t matter how good your product is, how cheap it is, how much you spend on advertising, or how many of my friends recommend your product; if I have no use for your product, I won’t buy it. For instance, I buy for a small family, so Costco’s huge cans of beans just don’t fit my needs and it doesn’t matter that the big can is cheaper than the small one. I don’t want to waste the food so it doesn’t solve my problem.

We also know that people aren’t the same; they have different incomes and lifestyles, different wants and needs, and different attitudes and beliefs. These differences make for a richer world, but they can play havoc on your marketing strategy since consumers who love one brand are indifferent or may even hate another. Take a truck, for example. According to my son, I’m just not a “truck person”. Instead, I usually buy cars based on comfort. So, nothing you do to sell me a truck will work.

segmentation for successful marketing strategy
Image courtesy of HBR

Hence, success comes from matching your products with a specific target market or markets that are most likely to buy them. Here’s a great example of 2 brands that appeal to 2 different target markets. Both are successful despite their different approaches to marketing products within their product lines.

Trying to be everything to everyone

The Swiss army knife may appeal to you because it has so many uses in a single device. However, that doesn’t work when it comes to targeting and can easily backfire. Nothing offers as good an example of this as media moves in the fractured political world of the US election. I don’t want to get into a political debate but to use these as examples of how trying to be everything to everyone can easily backfire.

In the US media market, Fox News has a massive following, making it the most-watched cable news network out there as of November 2023. Other cable and network stations envy this position and seek to carve out a piece of its viewership as their own. Unfortunately, they don’t understand the concept of target marketing so they seek to offer products that appeal to the Fox News viewer. For instance, NBC/ MSNBC recently hired (then quickly fired) the former chair of the Republican National Committee. This move caused a huge uproar among loyal viewers (who trend more liberal) and their existing employees. It remains to be seen how this action will play out over time but hiring a single voice was never going to make the station more popular among Fox News viewers.

When trying to appeal to your target market, it’s best to think of the old advice to “say in your lane”.

Great tips for target marketing

Creating segments

The first step in target marketing is to build a picture of a population and naturally occurring groups within that population. Historically, marketers did this using demographic and geographic variables because that information was readily available from sources like the Census. Gaining attitudinal information, while much more valuable, was expensive. Today, with the explosion of social media and access to big data, it’s more feasible to use attitudes, norms, values, etc, when dividing up your population into segments.

target market
Image courtesy of Prisync

You can think of segmentation as a process that starts with a mass market of everyone who buys a product; a population. A broad market is smaller and consists of some subset of consumers based on some criteria. For instance, you may segment based on location. A niche market contains consumers who share a broad range of characteristics. Thus, your starting point is a population, and, carried to the extreme, you have segments of one. Neither of these two positions provides much value, but knowing where to stop in creating segments is more art than science.

Choosing your target market(s)

Next, you must choose one or more target segments from the population. Choosing multiple target markets requires that you either create specific products for each market or choose segments that share some critical characteristics. For instance, a car company may offer a family car, a sports car, a truck, and a van to appeal to consumers with different needs and family sizes. Some choices just make no sense, such as Mercedes, known for its luxury sedans, building a truck or SUV (which it did). That’s why Toyota built a new brand, Lexus, to appeal to upscale consumers rather than create a luxury Toyota.

To create success, you must first understand your target market. What do they like? How do they live? What factors are most critical in making a purchase decision in your niche—we call these “hot buttons”—and where can you reach them?

Position the product to appeal to your target market

Positioning involves taking your understanding regarding what your target market wants and translating that into product features, marketing messaging, product placement, pricing, even packaging plays a part in positioning. Consistency is the key and each element of marketing products must fit into a neat position in the minds of your consumer.

Take Godiva chocolates, for example. Godiva is expensive by anyone’s standard so they don’t sell it in every convenience store. You don’t even find Godiva in the candy aisle of your local grocery store. Rather, Godiva is sold in specialty stores; they even have their own stores in some upscale retail centers. The gold packaging reinforces the notion of something extravagant and expensive. Specialty packaging for holidays and market messaging also supports the position of Godiva as a high-quality product worth the extra money. Is the product the “best” chocolate in the world? Objectively, no, but everything about the brand’s positioning makes it an excellent gift or a special treat. Should they create a cheaper version to a mass market? Absolutely not! If they want more revenue by mass producing low-priced chocolates, they should develop another brand. Clothing brands do this effectively, taking couture products that sell for thousands of dollars, mass producing them with cheaper materials and labor, then selling them in department stores as XXX, by WELL KNOWN DESIGNER.

Reach consumers where they are

To reach consumers, your message must find them where they are, whether that’s on digital platforms, like social media, in print used for direct mailings, or embedded in magazines, on TV, or even outdoor advertising on billboards and bus benches. Part of knowing your target market means knowing which media attracts their attention.

On social platforms, you’ll find differences in the types of users they attract. The following graphic shows age differences across the major social platforms. Check out the full list of differences across social media users on each platform by using the link at the bottom of the graphic.

demographics across social media
Image courtesy of IWD

Frame the right message to attract the right market

Your message must resonate with your target market.  That means marching everything about your message, from the words to the color palette to the actors used in messaging to what motivates your target market. You may not know it, but colors suggest certain emotions and bring up certain connotations, like Godiva’s golden packaging. Match your colors to the message you want to send

The same is true regarding the actors hired to represent your brand. Does your target market think this actor is admirable? Offensive? An actor (or influencer) with a wholesome image works well when selling things like insurance, while a TikTok star is great for selling trendy fashion brands. Hence, choose the right actor with an image that reinforces your brand and its intended image.

Be aware that actors and their images change over time; think of Tiger Woods during his adultery scandal. His post-scandal image might not position your brand in the best light. Associating an actor with your brand creates a lasting impression. Choose actors carefully or avoid them altogether by using a gecko as your spokesperson or using images of a dead actor in marketing products since it’s unlikely their image will change over time.

Conclusion

Doing target marketing right means understanding your target market and matching everything about your brand to elements that reinforce the brand image that’s likely to appeal to that target market. Don’t ever try to attract consumers outside your target market by including elements that appeal to them unless you know that those efforts won’t turn off your existing target market.

If you want to attract a new target market, consider using a different brand name or developing separate products that appeal to that market. Attempting to be all things to all people often means that no one identifies with your brand, which leads to failure.

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