The Bull's-Eye Keeps Moving!
Does your target market really exist? And if so, is it worth the effort?
By Marc Gordon
One of the first steps in developing any marketing campaign is to decide who
you want to market to. This is commonly defined to as your target market and
is essentially a profile of your ideal customer. Taking into account such
demographics as age, gender, income, and location, a plan is developed to
reach that specific group by appealing to their unique wants and needs. In
theory, a business that is able to clearly communicate its ability to
satisfy the needs of a specific market will be more successful than a
business that isn't.
And this is where some business owners, and even some marketers, can lose
site of the big picture. While trying to market to everyone is generally
accepted as not a very successful strategy, on the same token, trying to
market to a very defined group may also result in less than desired results.
Where does this leave us? On the one hand, marketing to "the whole world"
can be expensive, time consuming, and unprofitable, while focusing on a
clearly defined group can result in missed opportunities and a lower than
So what can you do to reach those people that you think are your best chance
for becoming customers, while not excluding others groups who may in fact
also be customers? All at the same time staying on budget. The answer is
The first thing you need to do is come to terms that, unless you're an
industry specific seller, there's a pretty good chance that your target
market is a moving bulls-eye you will never be able to hit head on. This is
especially true for consumer based products and services.
For example, a company that sells dental supplies will have a client base of
dentists, orthodontists, and other kinds of doctors who work on people's
mouths. This is a clearly defined group and anyone within this group is
deemed as a potential customer. Therefore it makes sense to focus all
marketing efforts on this group. Advertising at dental trade shows, in
dental magazines, and through direct mail would be a logical and effective
means of reaching this group.
But what if you were a restaurant specializing in Indian cuisine, for
example? Or a high end woman's clothing store? While it would be easy to
classify their target markets as East Indians and wealthy women
respectively, the fact is that potential customers can be found far beyond
these groups. Investing time and money to reach only these groups would be
So how can a business with a limited budget effectively market to a wider
audience without wasting time and money? The first step is to find common
elements amongst all the groups you are targeting. I call it Trait Mapping.
It's a simple and effective process that will provide you with a clearer
picture of where your market lies. Let's work through this together.
First draw 3 large circles on a piece of paper. They can be anywhere on the
page, but should not overlap. Each circle will be named. One will be
"Customers I Have", another will be "Customers I Need" and the last one will
be "Customers I Want". Write each name above a circle.
Let's start with the "Have" circle. Using single words or phrases,
describing traits, both good and bad, that your current customers have.
Include anything you can think of. Where they live, income, age, gender,
interests, where they work, how they commute, even personal characteristics
like hobbies, social groups, etc. If your business is brand new and you
don't have any customers at all, then leave this circle blank and move on to
the "Need" circle.
In the "Need" circle, write down the same kinds of traits, both good and
bad, you did for the "Have" circle. The difference is that these traits will
describe customers that you absolutely need in order to stay in business.
Depending on your business, it may be a large corporate account that is the
source of most of your sales, or a customer with a great deal of influence
among the community that has the potential to bring you business through
referrals. Think of these customers as the ones you would never want to
lose. You might mention things like purchasing habits and average spends in
addition to the kinds of traits mentioned in the "Have" circle. It's okay to
repeat traits that you think are also relevant to this group.
Finally, do the same thing for the "Want" circle. These traits will describe
the kinds of customers you would like to deal with every day. Think of it as
your ideal customer. As with the other circles, mention every trait you can
think of including income, age, gender, etc.
By now all three circles should be full of descriptive notes. There should
also be a number of common traits amongst all three circles. On a separate
piece of paper, write down all the traits that are only common between all
three under a column titled "Essential Traits".
Next write down all the traits that are common to just any two circles under
a column titled "Important Traits".
In a third column, write down all the remaining traits that appeared in just
one circle. This column will be titled "Unique Traits".
Finally, write down any negative traits you may have come up with. But
instead of placing them in their own column, write them next to a positive
trait that they are most likely to be associated with. As an example, a
restaurant might realize that customers from their closest market area also
tend to have the lowest per table bill. The negative trait of "stingy" would
be linked to the positive trait of "location".
What you have just created is a precise targeting system of what are the
most important traits of customers you currently have, customers you
absolutely cannot afford to lose, and those that you would like to have.
By knowing these traits and having them broken down into the categories of
essential, important, and unique, you will better be able to focus your
marketing efforts towards attracting customers that share common traits.
Although the "essential" traits will be the most influential in how you
plan your marketing, it is important not to overlook the other two columns.
• Even potential clients who posses all the "essential" traits may not buy
from you for any number of reasons. Personal taste, loyalty, or a resistance
to trying something new can be just a few reasons people will never respond
to your marketing efforts.
• Market trends may result in "unique" traits becoming "essential" traits.
For example, environmentally friendly products that were once aimed at just
a select group, are now gaining popularity among other groups.
• The characteristics of the population within your area may change. Income
levels, ethnic diversity and age may all impact on what traits may have
greater influence on your marketing efforts. For example, a new housing
development results in a greater number of young families in the area
surrounding an upscale restaurant. The owners may consider becoming a family
style restaurant in order to attract a greater portion of the surrounding
• Purchasing habits can change resulting in a group once thought of as a
weak market, becoming strong. For example, as the prices of LCD televisions
drop, groups who at one time could not afford them are now the faster
• Certain traits that you view as positive may be associated with ones that
you consider to be negative. For example, customers that are frequent
purchasers may also be fickle and demanding. You will need to measure their
worth in order to decide if investing any marketing efforts is likely to pay
As you spend more time examining your market place, you will continue to
discover new customer traits. View these as opportunities from new groups
that are just waiting for someone to notice them. Every few months, revisit
the Trait Map you made to see if it is still relevant. If not, make a new
one. Don't be surprised if many of the traits are now in different columns.
After all, it is your ability to adapt to a constantly changing market that
will ensure your success for many years.
This brings us back to the questions at the beginning of this article: Does
your target market really exist? And if so, are they worth the effort?
Yes they exist. But just like the dart board metaphor, remember that the
area outside the bulls-eye is actually bigger and easier to hit. So don't
ignore all the other groups in an effort to market to only one. An effective
marketing campaign should effectively communicate your message in a way that
appeals to a specific group, yet can be understood by every group.
About the Author:
Marc Gordon is a professional speaker and marketing consultant based in
Toronto, Ontario. His firm, Fourword Marketing, specializes in helping
businesses create a brand identity and developing effective marketing
campaigns. Marc can be reached at (416) 238-7811 or visit