If you don’t know your audience, how can you be sure they even need what your business is offering? Target market research is the ticket to understanding — and reaching — your audience. It takes work, but if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, you can outperform your competitors and achieve success. Here are three common research challenges and how to overcome them.

1. Identifying target market demographics

If you’re just starting a business, it can be challenging to gain insight into your target market’s demographics — and making assumptions can be dangerous. The better you understand demographics, such as age, gender, income, marital/children status, geography, occupation and religion, the easier and more affordable it will be to choose the right marketing channels and create targeted ads that reach likely customers.

Find obvious product connections

There are several strategies you can use to identify target market demographics. Start by considering your product: Is it intended for a specific gender or age group? A makeup company can confidently focus on women, while a retirement planning firm can easily identify people in their 60’s as its target audience.

Study competitors

Another strategy is to examine your competitors. Find companies that sell similar products and services, then study their marketing materials, case studies, mission statements and other literature to find clues about the demographic characteristics they target. They’ve already done the research, and you can use that to your advantage.

Run test ads

Test ads are perfect for validating your target market. One strategy is to create a simple landing page that collects email addresses or offers an incentive or sweepstakes entry, then run cheap Facebook ads and analyze the results to see which demographics respond.

There are two ways to go about this. You can run ads targeted according to the demographics you’ve listed and measure response rate. Or, you can run ads with little to no targeting to see if respondents match the demographics you’ve listed. Even better, run both types of ads: If respondents between ad groups share the same demographics, you can validate your list and move forward knowing you’ve identified your audience.

customer demographics

2. Knowing what your target market will respond to

Once you know demographic data, you need to figure out what your audience will respond to. In other words, what will motivate people to buy from you?

You need to know:

  • Their biggest problems
  • Their greatest desires
  • Where they spend their time, online and off (what they read, social media they use, events they attend, etc.)
  • Their goals, hobbies and interests, and how those are relevant to your brand
  • What pitches they respond to (are they bargain hunters, or do they buy luxury products?)
  • Who do they currently buy from? What do they like about your competitors? Dislike? What would make them switch to you?

The answers to these questions will help you identify whether you’re uniquely positioned to serve the needs of your target market, or what you can adjust to fit their needs before you invest a lot in marketing.

Create surveys

One of the best ways to get answers to these questions is to send surveys to people in your demographic audience. You can reach people via your opt-in email list; if you don’t have one yet, consider running social media ads with an incentive to complete your survey (a gift card or a sweepstakes entry, for example).

Talk to people

Make a list of demographics according to your research, then reach out to people who fit those demographics. Ask questions to learn more about their goals and motivations. Tell them about your products and services to see if they express genuine interest.

send surveys online

3. Segmenting multiple audiences

Your research will likely uncover multiple audiences, or customer segments. Segments might not share the same motivations or interests, or they might not be in the same purchase cycles. So, you shouldn’t expect a one-size-fits-all marketing approach to resonate with any segment.

Create customer personas

Solve this challenge by creating customer personas. Customer personas are fictional characters who represent specific market segment characteristics. Each persona has its own goals, motivations, demographics and story.

For example, a company that sells financial planning products might have three very distinct customer personas:

  • College Chris: Young, newly-independent and facing the prospect of student debt, Chris wants to get a handle on finances and a head-start on his career. He is seeking trusted advice on how to plan for the future.
  • Deliberating Debby: Debby is a middle-aged woman who is considering a career change. Though she is eager for change, she wonders and worries whether she’ll be able to afford her lifestyle without the income or benefits her current job offers. Debby has children headed to college, and she is unsure whether she can help pay for it. She doesn’t want to work for the rest of her life and is seeking advice on how to position her savings and investments for a future retirement.
  • Retirement Randy: Soon-to-retire or recently-retired Randy faces the prospect of having a fixed income. He wants to know how he can make his money last and leave a legacy for his children and grandchildren. He’s contemplating a move to a retirement community and wonders if he’ll still be able to afford health insurance and play a few rounds of golf every week without jeopardizing his finances.

As you can see, these three personas represent very different customer segments, and they’ll need to be approached differently for the financial planning firm to be successful.

customer personas

Researching your target market doesn’t have to be a headache. Leverage the strategies in this article to gain insight into your audience and how to market to them to achieve a high response rate, brand loyalty and, ultimately, the sales volume you need for success.

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