5 Steps to Finding Your Target Customers

by | How To..., Strategy

There are a lot of people telling me to blast ads all over Facebook and Instagram, but that doesn’t resonate with me. How do I find where my target audience lives without running ads all over the internet?

— Max

When I heard Max’s question, I immediately thought, “It sounds like he’s put the cart before the horse.” Why? Because in order to know how to reach your target audience, you need to know who they are.

You need to really know them.

Blasting ads over social media is not a marketing strategy (as I think Max already knew). That’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

What it means to know your audience.

Instead, you need to know who your audience is in a very detailed — dare I say intimate — way.

Does that mean you need to be best friends? No. But it does mean you need to understand as much as you possibly can about your target customers.

For example:

  • How old are they? Teens? 30’s? 70’s? Every stage of life has its own set of worries, priorities, likes and dislikes.
  • What types of jobs/careers/education do they have?
  • How do they get to work or school every day?
  • How do they like to spend their free time?
  • Do they vacation? If so, how, where and why. If not, why not?

Without understanding exactly who you’re speaking to, your message and, ultimately, your sales and marketing plan will fall flat.

How to recognize and find your target customers.

When it comes to finding your ideal customers, these five steps will help you find them where they live—and by ‘live’ I mean where they hang out and spend their time.

1. Define your ideal customer segments.

Before thinking about where your target audience lives, you first need to focus on identifying your ideal customer segments (or types of customers) as specifically as you can.

Many people make the mistake of casting too wide a net and selling to “everyone” — meaning anyone who might conceivably be in the market for their product or service. That’s like saying that your restaurant caters to people who like “food” or “eating.” Identifying ideal types of customers helps you get more precision than that.

Customer segments vary depending on your specific business, but generally they can be divided into groups based on a variety of factors, such as:

  • Behavior
  • Interests
  • Type of problem
  • Demographics

Keep in mind that identifying the ideal customer segments for your business is a matter of quality, not quantity. To help you do that…

2. Create customer personas.

For each type of ideal customer (i.e., customer segment) you should be creating a detailed customer persona.

This requires putting yourself in that specific person’s shoes and imagining everything about them — where they live, where they’re from, their job, interests, likes/dislikes/quirks. The more specific, the better.

Another word for this is empathy. As your company’s founder, naturally you have your own perspective as a business owner. Customer personas help you to take the customer’s perspective, which is far more valuable.

But that’s just the beginning…

3. Customer research.

Developing an effective customer persona takes research. Some may be possible by searching the web, reading a variety of content, etc.

But there’s only so far that will take you. There’s a limit to how much concrete, usable information you’ll find that way because you’ll always be limited by other people’s data—which isn’t necessarily going to be 100% applicable to your unique business.

The most crucial part of your research MUST include the next step, which is…

4. Talk to people!

There’s no substitute for the candid, detailed information you can get when you effectively interview your target customers. That’s why I suggest you develop a list of questions that you can ask in person (and supplement with an online survey, if you like).

You can also gather valuable data by observing your target customers in real life, if it’s relevant to your business. For example, you can stand in the store aisle to see how customers interact with your product (or the competition’s), or you can observe outside to see how much foot traffic there is on, say, weekdays vs. weekends or day vs. evening.

I guarantee you will learn more by directly interacting with your potential customers than you will through any other means. The more you engage with them, the more opportunities you’ll have to collect crucial insights and understandings that will equip you to create a better product-market fit — in other words, a better fit between what you’re selling and what your target customers want to buy.

HELPFUL HINT: Don’t forget to ask for contact information, in case you’d like to follow-up!

5. Get out of the building.

Whether you’re talking to people, observing them or both, you’ve got to get out of the house or office.

If finding your ideal customers means standing in front of the grocery store to talk with young professionals as they grab dinner after work, or going to the local park to interview parents or standing at a bus stop when the shift changes at the local factory, then do it. A lot.

By the time you’re through you should feel like you’re inside their heads, and it will make a world of difference in your ability to reach your target audience.

These boots-on-the-ground grassroots strategies will teach you more about your target audience than anything you can learn online or from hearsay. More than that, you will gain valuable insight into how to reach others like them and how you can improve your products and services.

Know your customers first – then you can find more of them.

Discovering where your target customers live and what matters to them starts with identifying who they are and what makes them different from all the other market segments you’re not targeting.

It’s literally an exercise in detective work. Interviewing people, looking for clues about similarities and differences—this will help you learn precisely who you’re trying to reach at both the general and specific levels.

Once you have that information, you’ll know how to recognize those customers who are the best fit for what you’re selling—that in itself will put you ahead of the game and make it a lot easier to start pinning down where to find them.

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