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Figuring out what you want to do is fairly straight-forward: find a problem, present a solution. What can be difficult is determining who the people are who have that particular problem and reaching out to them with the solution. Unless you have someone specifically coming to you in need of a solution, it can be hard to validate your idea.

Defining your target audience is all about bringing clarity to your brand. It’s easy to think that everyone needs what you have, but the truth is that if you try to reach every single kind of audience, your brand only becomes more diluted and confusing.

In this episode, we walk you through what a target audience is and the crucial reasons why you need to define it. You’ll learn the value of starting small and the power that comes from learning who you’re trying to reach and how to tailor your message to reach them. Grow a stronger brand by narrowing your focus and reaching the people who truly need what you have to offer.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Defining your target audience brings clarity that allows you to execute what you’re doing the best that you can.
  • Begin determining who your target audience is by defining what problem you’re solving.
  • Figuring out who has a specific problem helps you further refine your solution.
  • Defining your target audience doesn’t mean those are the only people that are going to come to you.
  • Be a student of the people you’re trying to reach.
  • Target audience is about is funneling the correct people the correct way.
  • People who want to hire you will be just as enamored with what you’re teaching as someone who wants to learn from you.
  • If you’re trying to communicate with everyone, you’re going to communicate with no one.
  • The more you niche down, the more room you have to grow later on.
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Show Notes
  • 01:22 Cory: Today we’re talking about defining your target audience, what that means, how you can do it, and why it’s important. This is a question I’ve seen to be prevalent with people who are either starting brands or are trying to sort out what their niche is.
  • 02:10 Kyle: In your opinion, what’s really important about a target audience?
  • 02:12 Cory: Target audience is important because it initially provides clarity into what you’re doing. There are a lot of people in brands or trying to create their own business, but they don’t really know what they’re doing, where they’re going, who they’re doing it for, and even if they have some of those things down, there’s not a lot of clarity. You could ask the question, “Who is this for?” and someone might answer, “Well, anyone can benefit from my product.” Ok, but will anyone? Who are those people? Who are you marketing toward? The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the importance of defining your target audience—it brings clarity and helps you know where you’re going.

Defining your target audience brings clarity that allows you to execute what you’re doing the best that you can.

  • 03:17 Kyle: The clarity with this is knowing who you’re talking to. It’s figuring out what your business is all about, who you’d like to target, and why people would care. You’re determining what the market is for your offering.
  • 03:39 Cory: Or if there is a market for what you’re offering. There’s so many people who build on their strengths and sell them, yet there’s no one there to buy that thing or who needs that service. You can ask what the market is, but is there actually a market? Are there people who have this problem I’m solving? That’s key because you can spend years dialing in your process, then get to the end and realize there’s two people in the entire world with this concern. Well, better find something else then.
  • 04:31 Kyle: Even more clarity comes in who you speak to, but also how you speak to them. This is a little more on the marketing side, but it still applies heavily to your brand: how do we speak to these people? How do we appeal to this particular audience and what do they want out of what we’re offering? If they need this for xyz, then you need to help them determine why they need this thing and that’s a bit of a process. How do we start determining that target audience?

Begin determining who your target audience is by defining what problem you’re solving.

Determine the Problem You’re Solving

  • 05:19 Cory: Damien asked, “I feel like I have many different strengths. How do I know which one I should play into to maximize my audience?” That’s not necessarily the place to start, the place to start is to say: what problem am I capable of solving? Is it an actual problem? Let’s say there’s a city in Texas that doesn’t have wells, so the problem is that there are no wells for water in this town. When you start with the problem and you define what it is, you get more clarity on if you’re best suited to solve this problem.
  • 06:47 Kyle: The great thing is even if you do have many different strengths, you can utilize those to go towards a single goal. If there’s multiple problems you want to solve, it’s best to start with a single problem, grow an audience around that, and then you can start moving into other things. Different strengths are a big plus here and I think that’s something people overlook when talking about going into a niche.

Having multiple strengths doesn’t limit you when you commit to one thing.

  • 07:34 I come from a UI design background and I’ve done many other things in the past, like photography, but all of those come together in a way that puts them all in one direction—icon design. I can then maintain my brand because I can do photography for my website, social media, or products. I have these strengths I can play to, but those strengths aren’t necessarily things I’m trying to go after all these audiences for. Just because you’re good at some things, doesn’t mean you need to grow an audience around them. You need to grow an audience around the things you have a passion for and would like to make a difference with, not necessarily around what your strengths are.
  • 08:35 Cory: You also need to be capable of addressing that audience’s problem or painpoints as well. Step one: determine the problem you’re solving. Figure out what people are struggling with, whether it be walking up to someone and asking them a question or presenting a survey, writing a blog post, etc. Some of this is for if you’re starting a brand, but also if you’re trying to get more clarity for an existing brand. Step two is to outline what makes your solution unique. You need to say, “Here’s the problem and here’s how I’m going to uniquely solve that problem.” An obvious and somewhat humorous example of this is the fashion industry.
  • 09:35 There are a lot of places you can buy clothes and they’re all solving the same problem—everyone wants to be clothed. Clothing companies are all providing the same solution, but they’re providing it in different ways. You can go to Gap, H&M, or Walmart, which has a very target audience, for different styles and ways to express yourself. There could be various solutions to a problem, so what makes me stand out in the way I’m presenting this solution to the people who have the problem?
  • 10:40 Kyle: Your example is really great, because something like jeans from a bunch of different brands are all going to look fairly similar. Some will stand out, but if you took all the branding off them, they would look pretty similar. The key here is that a brand has decided to specifically target a certain audience. For example, the Gap or Old Navy is going to target a different audience than JC Penny or Kohls. There are different levels of people they’re trying to reach and because of that, there’s a different audience that comes to them. They’re solving a problem, but they’re also solving a unique problem in what their audience struggles with.
  • 11:46 If you’re targeting high school students, you would talk about the problems high school students have, like why these jeans help you stand out from the crowd. You’re using that to speak to a unique situation that another brand probably can’t because they’ve already been associated with something, like an older generation or younger children. Toys ‘R Us selling jeans isn’t necessarily going to appeal to people in their 30’s. You have to understand the unique situation, even if you have a product similar to what other people have.</li>
  • 12:37 Cory: Also, when you specify who you’re reaching, that can help you with things like pricing. If your target audience is high school students, you’re probably not going to be able to sell them a pair of $1,200 jeans. Figuring out who you’re trying to reach is going to help you to clarify your process, figure out what your price point needs to be, what your budget needs to be, what kind of manufacturers you can use, etc. You’re defining the problem you’re solving, defining what makes your solution unique, and step three is to define who has the problem you’re solving. That’s the order I believe you need to go in. Kyle, do you think you can start with something you’re doing and then move into finding an audience around that thing?
  • 13:47 Kyle: I think it’s very possible to start with the thing you’re doing and then move into understanding who that audience is. That requires structure. When I started doing icon design, there weren’t a lot of other people doing specifically icon design only. I’m only aware of a few other people doing that currently, but at the time there wasn’t a big voice in that space. Trying to understand who the audience was for that, there was a little bit of validation in the fact that icons are an obvious need, but for someone to niche into that defining my target audience was a little difficult upfront. It took a little bit of guesswork. I knew the target audience for that was technology companies or people trying to build apps or websites, because that’s where most icons land these days.
  • 15:10 I knew these people would be in the 20 to 35 age bracket. I tried to formulate a target audience by starting with these guesses, and the important thing for growing my brand has been listening to my audience. Now that there’s an audience grown around this specific thing, I’ve had a chance to talk to these people, and find out why they care about this topic. My understanding of my target audience has grown and shifted. I need to sit down and redefine that again at this point. To answer your question, I do think you can start with either a good understanding of what the target audience is or it might take a little bit of investigative work in understanding who wants this thing.
  • 16:26 Cory: It’s important to do that investigative work at some point. There’s going to be varying levels of difficulty depending on when you start to do that research. A lot of people have said, “If I only ever do research of my target audience, when do i actually get to do the thing I’m working On?” You can start whenever you want, you just have to understand that there’s going to be varying levels of difficulty of reaching your audience.
  • 17:00 Kyle: Let’s say you’re just starting and you don’t understand who your audience is completely, figure out who your potential audience is and then try to find those people and tell them what you’re doing. Maybe even tell people you know who might be interested in what you’re doing. I talked to Justin Michael, the developer at seanwes, since he makes apps and websites and I asked him, “Would you hire me? If you would, why?” I got some good understanding of who my target audience was there. There are opportunities for that, but if you can’t do that, start growing your audience and then understand who’s coming to you.

Do I Really Want to Leave People Out?

  • 18:16 Cory: Some people in the chat have been asking, “How specific do I get? Do I really want to niche down? Do I really want to leave people out?” Yes, you have to get specific. If you look at any successful corporation or brand and understand who they’re trying to reach, you’ll find them asking questions like:
    • Where do these people live?
    • What kind of lifestyle do they enjoy?
    • How many friends do they have?
    • What clothes do they wear?
    • What are their day-to-day concerns?
  • 19:01 All of this stuff is wrapped up in who your target audience is. The guy who’s going to be stumbling over himself to buy their next product is Dave, who lives in San Diego. He surfs, he’s unmarried, he’s 26, and he really likes wearing aviator glasses. When you’re defining your target audience, get specific. It can be fun. Are you trying to reach a certain age? Do they live in a specific location? Am I reaching men, women, or both? Married, unmarried, does it matter? Ethnicity, occupation, etc. are all things you need to peel apart. Figuring out who has a specific problem helps you further refine your solution and funnel those people in the direction you want them to go. It’s all about tailoring your message and how you present your product so you can bring those people to the solution.
  • 20:36 Kyle: This is where a lot of tough conversations come in. People want to be inclusive and they want everyone to enjoy what they do. They don’t want to feel like, by defining these things, that they’re rejecting anyone.

Defining your target audience doesn’t mean those are the only people that are going to come to you.

  • 21:03 These are just the people you’re directly targeting. There may be other people coming to that that you didn’t expect. In the beginning, Facebook started targeting college students. They weren’t targeting the 50 or 60 year olds that are on Facebook now, but they’ve brought them in over time. Know that by defining these things, you’re not saying, “I don’t want these other groups of people to come in under this.”
  • 21:33 These are just the people who you think will be most interested in what you’re doing and the people that are going to latch onto it the most. If you can appeal to them, you have a stronger audience. It’s about your audience strength, not necessarily narrowing down to only certain people. You’re saying, “This is what I would like to strive for because, through research, I know they’re the ones most interested in this.”

It’s Not All About Numbers

  • 22:07 Cory: When people think about their target audience, they want as many people as possible on board. However, you can have 1,000 people following you, but if only two people are actually in your target audience or market, that’s way less than any kind of percent! If you have 1,000 people following you and you release a product, they won’t care because they weren’t actually your target audience. Whereas, if you have 30 people following you and they’re all in your target, it’s 100% success. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the effectiveness of who you’re trying to target and if you’ve got them on board.
  • 23:02 Kyle: It’s possible to say, “Why would someone follow me if they’re not my target audience?” but maybe you’re so disjoined with what you’re doing that someone follows you to figure that out. Someone may come across your design portfolio on Instagram and they like some of it, but they aren’t sure about some of it, they might follow you to figure out what you’re all about. They follow you, but they’re not following you because they’re behind what you’re doing. They’re following you because you’re interesting to them.
  • 23:43 You’re not necessarily appealing to a specific problem they have or solving anything for them. Maybe you’ve managed to grow a large audience and they think by following you, you’ll follow them back. There’s many different motivations for people to follow you that aren’t related to caring about your business. Those numbers don’t matter, because in the end that number could be just people that are interested. It’s not people that are invested in what you’re doing.
  • 24:33 Cory: Investment is everything. I see so many people with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter or Instagram who release a product and engagement is next to nothing because there weren’t actually people who were invested. You see these people with thousands, if not millions, of subscribers on YouTube and then you look at their sales or video counts and it’s nowhere near the amount of people that are subscribed. There’s an indication of people who are invested, and there’s an indication of people that are tagging along that aren’t within those people’s target audience.

The people that just follow you because of a trend aren’t the people you’re trying to reach.

  • 25:33 Kyle: Even the number of likes you get don’t necessarily mean you’re reaching your target audience, and they don’t necessarily mean they’re not reaching your target audience. There’s plenty of people who are silent watchers that enjoy your stuff, but don’t act on it—they don’t comment or like it. They’re still behind what you’re doing, or maybe there are people who follow too many people to notice what you’re trying to establish with your brand. The best way for me to understand my target audience is by having a newsletter and talking to people. They know what they’re signing up for, they can unsubscribe at any time, and their inbox is much more personal.
  • 26:41 Cory: It’s interaction. It’s talking with people instead of just assuming you know everything. If you assume you know everything about the people you’re trying to reach, it shows how little you actually know. People are so intricate, different, changing, and their personalities are evolving. There’s a lot of nuances there, so you have to have constant connection with your audience instead of putting forth something and expecting people to buy it. That’s why Twitter is so huge right now, because there’s a level of engagement on there where you can post something and immediately get someone’s input. If I have an issue with a company, I can just hop on Twitter and tell their account about my problem.
  • 27:56 There’s no other barriers between me and them—I don’t have to go on their website and fill out a customer feedback form. They may direct me there, but it’s the immediate contact that’s so valuable. There’s a huge aspect of having that interaction to be able to connect with your target audience and to continue to learn more about them. You have to be a student of the people you’re trying to reach 100% of the time, otherwise you’re going to be ineffective.
  • 28:39 Kyle: It’s a big problem when you’re ignoring people reaching out to you in any form. It’s easy to say, “I’ve already talked about that, they should know that,” or not have time to respond to it, but that’s not helping you to find a target audience. If you’ve already talked about something and someone is asking a question about it, that just means nobody listened, or maybe this person just now came across you and they think what you’re doing is awesome. If someone who’s supposed to be in your target audience reaches out to you and they’re confused, then there’s a great conversation you can have. Ask, “How can I make this better for you? How can I make this more clear?”

You can have a fantastic product or service, but nobody will want it if you’re not reaching anyone.

  • 29:44 That’s a big tragedy I see with a lot of different brands. They start off in the direction they think they should go, they don’t put a lot of thought into it. They think people will be interested so they put it out there and people don’t latch on for whatever reason, and they don’t try to figure out what the reason is.

Reaching Your Target Audience

  • 30:13 Cory: I’ve gotten a few questions about this. Let’s say you defined your target audience, you know the problem, now how do you reach those people? We’re actually going to talk about this in a couple of episodes. Sean McCabe from seanwes is going to be on with us and we’re going to talk about content marketing. There’s so much wrapped up in that term “content marketing”, but the truth is if you’re solving a problem, people need to know you’re able to solve that problem. This comes through the content you put out. If you say you’re a great photographer and you can take the best kind of wedding photos for my wedding, I need to be able to see those photos.
  • 31:12 I want to read about how you accomplish that and who you’ve accomplished that for. I want to read case studies, because if I’m in your target audience, you need to prove to me that you’re what I need. That’s the benefit of having an online presence—you have this blog, video show, podcast, etc. that says, “I’m going to help you solve your problem and this is how.” It’s not just about having a landing page, it’s also about saying, “Here are other ways I’ve solved this problem for people just like you.”
  • 31:56 Kyle: There’s a lot of confusion around this topic. You could potentially have two different types of people coming to you. This is something I have in my own brand, these people who would like to hire me to make icons for them and go through a client process, or people wanting to learn how to make icons in a similar way that I do. A lot of my content is targeted toward the people who would like to learn how to make icons, but at the same time, it’s not—there’s a give and take there. By teaching what I know and sharing that with people, I’m showing a potential client that there’s proficiency there.
  • 33:02 They may not even want to learn what I’m sharing or read through many of my blog posts, but if they see I’m teaching people and people are benefiting from it, it makes them think, “This guy knows what he’s doing.” If they doubt something specific, I can send them to a blog post. The hire page on my website actually has a link to a blog post I wrote that talks about why icons are important. That definitely appeals to the people who are trying to figure out why they should start making icons and how they can turn it into a career, but it also appeals to the people wanting to hire me. With that in mind, your target audience may be inclusive of students and clients.

People who want to hire you will be just as enamored with what you’re teaching as someone who wants to learn from you.

  • 34:16 The idea is to reach an audience that will get behind what you’re about, no matter how they relate to you. For example, a big future goal for me is to run a coffee shop. There are several different coffee shops I follow on various social media that are even across the country. I’m following them to get some insights on how they run their coffee shop, how it looks, what they’re doing, the types of people coming to them, etc. Some of them have understood there’s people like me and they’ve started teaching things.
  • 35:04 Even though that may not necessarily bring people into their coffee shop location, it’s going deeper. It’s putting them in a position where, if I’m going to that city, the first place I’m going to go immediately for coffee is that place because they know what they’re doing. It’s the same with any brand. Your target audience is focused and there’s a certain type of person you’re trying to reach, but that type of person can either be someone who hires you to do that or someone who consumes content because they want to learn how to do what you’re doing.

Expanding Your Audience

  • 36:12 Cory: Starting small gives you room to grow. If you start small and say, “My audience is going to be the people who want to do this thing because ultimately I want to get to the place where my market is then the people who are going to want to pay me for my product.” All that target audience is about is funneling the correct people the correct way. If you’re trying to pay the bills and you want to keep doing what you love, you’re ultimately trying to bring in people who want to give you their money. That’s not to sound crass, but your business needs money so you can continue to help people. You’re also using one aspect of your audience, like people who are learning, as a means by which to create a funnel for the people who want to hire you. You’re writing blog posts and posting on Dribbble, Twitter, or Instagram with all this valuable information that sets you apart from either the competition or it makes you look like an expert.

People need to see you as the expert and that’s what content is all about.

  • 37:53 Kyle: People don’t know you’re proficient in something until you actually show that you’re proficient in that thing. Your target audience might be acquiring clients, but you’re not going to do that just by saying, “Hire me! I’m proficient at this thing!” you wouldn’t go up to people in a shopping mall and say that, because nobody knows if you’re good at that or not. If a brick layer demos what he’s good at by building a wall in the middle of the mall and talks to the crowd that gathers, then eventually, someone would want to hire him for that. It’s getting a target audience, but at the same time, the target audience is going to benefit from you teaching things, whether you’re trying to acquire clients or customers. You get a target audience out of a crowd of people by showing the value they’re getting out of what you have to offer.
  • 40:13 Cory: A more effective way for that brick layer to acquire what his goal is would be to go to his local contractor’s convention to show what he can do. There are other people with similar interests there, instead of just going out and trying to hook in whoever he can. He’s very specific in saying, “I’m going to this place to display my work to these people, because these are the people I’m trying to reach.”

The more you niche down, the more room you have to grow later on.

  • 41:16 A target audience is not a limit, it’s a target. When you’re establishing a brand or trying to define it, keep in mind that limitation breeds creativity. You don’t have to appeal to 35 different types of people to get results. You can appeal to one and get everybody in that category. If my audience is English, Spanish, and Italian speakers, how in the world am I going to write a blog post or create content for all three languages? It would be impossible. Understand that you need to communicate with them, but if you’re trying to communicate with everyone, you’re going to communicate with no one because you’ll have to use words that nobody in every language is going to understand.
  • 42:37 It gives you freedom to operate in that category. I was recently doing some research on sleeping problems for my daughter and I was reading a medical journal that had all of these terms that I couldn’t understand because I’m not their target audience. They’re communicating to people who understand those terms. I was reading the wrong article. If they were trying to reach me, they were doing a terrible job, but if they were trying to reach other doctors, scientists, or researchers, then they were probably doing a great job. They were speaking in a way that was understandable to the people they were trying to reach.
  • 43:38 Kyle: Over time, that audience can grow and change. How many times have you heard of a famous author from another country coming here? They’re expanding their audience to this area. Keep in mind that if eventually you’d like to try to reach a broader audience, niche down and start somewhere you can shine—something that will bring people in to understanding what your brand is about. Later you can grow and expand that once they’ve understood who you are and what you do.

Can Your Target Audience Be Too Narrow?

  • 44:51 Cory: It’s so important to remember that starting small gives you room to grow, but starting big makes it difficult to niche down and really communicate with the people you’re trying to connect with. You can always grow. Emily asked, “Can your audience definition be too narrow? Or will specificity only help in the long run?” One single person could be a little too narrow if you’re trying to do bigger things.

You can always grow who your audience is.

  • 45:39 There might even be people who hop on board who aren’t in your original audience and then you can evaluate if adjusting your language to reach these people will compromise your values, mission, or purpose. You can expand your definition of target audience to bring these people in that you didn’t know had this problem. You have to be careful with that, but it’s possible to grow by folding these people from a different category into your target audience. Be cautious that as you grow, you don’t lose track of what you’re doing or the problem you’re attempting to solve.
  • 46:33 Kyle: You could start something tomorrow and if there’s one or two people who are interested in what you’re doing that validate it, that’s a good place to start. If those are the only one or two people that are interested in it ever, then there needs to be a reevaluation. At the beginning, you may not have more than one or two people that express interest, but it doesn’t mean there’s not more. I would argue that there are a lot of people that care about it if anybody expresses that they have interest.
  • 47:17 You kind of are talking to just one person when you write things. I try to think of the person on the other end that’s reading whatever it is I’m putting out. I ask myself: how are they going to consume this? I consolidate my entire audience into a single persona. I understand where you’re coming from Cory, saying not to find just one person you can appeal to, but I wanted to encourage people because they may not have a ton of people interested at the beginning but if they never do, they definitely need to reevaluate that.