Defining your target market can sound like a useful (if annoying) exercise—useful to get you to think about who uses your product or service, annoying because, well, doesn’t the product or service define the market? People looking for an immigration attorney won’t look in a list of dentists, and a word like drill will have a different meaning to a dentist at work than to one searching for a cordless electric drill to put together a bookcase at home

Still, defining your target market is more than a useful exercise, whether you’re creating a website, a marketing campaign, or a single blog post. For one thing, as linguist Martin Joos pointed out in his classic The Five Clocks, we all have different styles of usage and move freely between them depending on what audience we’re addressing. Basically, as soon as you start creating content, you’ve targeted someone.

For example, you’ll write differently about a children’s book if you’re addressing a child than if you’re addressing a librarian (the true market for children’s books, according to Kristen D. Randle after her novel The Only Alien on the Planet won a Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award).

Choosing a voice can be almost automatic. If you’re comfortable writing about a topic and want to share it with others, you’ve already defined your audience as people who care about that topic. But it can be useful to step back and think about who you imagine your reader to be, how old they are, their education and income levels, problems they have that your content can solve, and questions it can answer.

Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How—5 Questions

Or 6, some inspired by a Content Sparks article.

1. Who Are You Writing For?

What problem will your product or service solve for them? Think about what problem it solved for you and about why you wanted this particular solution. Or maybe you’re creating content just to delight your audience. Who do you imagine you’re delighting? How will it make their lives better? Maybe just by delighting them? (Remember Burt Bacharach’s story about his composition teacher Darius Milhaud telling him he didn’t have to be ashamed of a good melody, something he could whistle.)

2. What Are Your Core Values?

How do your core values align with the content you create? How do they align with the core values of your target audience? Writing for Forbes about marketing to millennials, Jayson DeMers says his generation cares strongly about social responsibility, strongly preferring brands that demonstrate action, not slogans.

3. Where Are Your Customers?

Where do they hang out? Are they on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook? Answer questions, talk with them, contribute to discussions, show you care about things they’re interested in. How about offline? Do they go to conferences, conventions, festivals, sporting events, resorts, concerts, trade shows? You can be present at these events, of course, but you may also want to create related content, like a breezy history of Beatles’ tribute groups, or a guide to attractions in the area where the event is being held.

4. Why Are You Writing—What’s Your Call to Action?

The answer might seem obvious—you want them to buy your product or service—but Content Sparks points out that there are other reasons for creating content, such as expanding your online presence, getting more subscribers for your newsletter, generating traffic for your website, or increasing your search engine rankings.

Or maybe you’re trying to create anticipation for a new product, create buzz, get something to go viral, or warn people about a telephone scam like lowering your interest rate on a credit card (which would require you giving them your credit card number so they could negotiate a lower rate). The call to action would be different for each situation.

An important caution: Don’t try to pretend you’re doing something else. Make sure your information about telephone scams is solid, not just a come-on to buy your junk-call-blocking service.

5. How and When Will You Demonstrate Your Value?

It could be through testimonials or case studies, or an invitation to post reviews. And be sure to respond quickly to reviews—DeMers says millennials are used to getting information quickly on their smartphones, but they’re not the only ones; they teach their parents and grandparents how to use devices and what to expect. Thank your customers for taking time to write a review, and address any problems they raise. Resolving a frustrating problem can be a great way to keep customers and gain repeat business.

It’s also not uncommon to offer a free whitepaper or e-book to people who sign up for your e-mail list, or follow you on social media. But sometimes the content demonstrates its own value. See Claire McDermott’s article for Content Marketing Institute about the power of documentary storytelling.

Some Tips for Finding and Defining Your Target Audience

If you put keywords like “content marketing target audience,” “targeted content marketing,”
“target audience definition,” in a search engine, you’ll find a lot of articles about doing demographic research to find out who uses your content, and why—their age, education, and income, what they’re looking for in products, and what their pain points are.

You’ll also find articles about creating personas of your customers, like, “Jane is a 24-year-old product manager who needs well-written content for a startup with a great product but not a big marketing budget.”

That kind of target audience definition can be really valuable in helping you think about the needs of people you want to reach, especially if you’re bringing a product to market or introducing a new service. But if you’ve already got a product or service on the market, what do you do? You probably know what areas your product sells in down to the zip codes (or at least you know where orders are coming from), and already have demographic data from to help in marketing content to your target audience.

Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms all have analytics available (with Pinterest analytics coming soon) that can tell you things like how many people are following you, and from what countries and cities. They can even tell you what times of day you’re getting high traffic, if you want to time your posting. There are also analytics independent of social media platforms.

So you can learn a lot about what kinds of people visit your site, but that doesn’t mean you know a lot about individual users, how they use your products, and what might work better for them. Why not ask them?

In December 2012 Tyson Foods asked mom bloggers to decorate chicken nuggets for Christmas. “Why Should Cookies Have All the Fun?” Here’s a picture Redhead Mom included in her blog:

Daniel Sayer, writing for Content Marketing Institute, reports, “The campaign netted Tyson 8.8 million social impressions in just four weeks, streaming past its goal of 2.6 million impressions over eight weeks.” Sayer included a source, with the words 8.8 million as his anchor text, but the source is no longer available, which suggests a couple of ideas about targeted content marketing:
Check the links in your content occasionally, and if the content is still useful, why not repost it or rework it with an updated link?
Noting the short lifespan of social media posts, Content Marketing Institute suggests creating “an online hub where content shared by influencers can live after it falls off customers’ Facebook feeds.”

Another way to find out what your audience is thinking is to hang around support forums and see what kinds of questions they ask about your products and services or similar ones. Responding to their questions can help you see what improvements you need to make or how your services can meet their needs. It can also establish you as an authority and may be a way to mention your products as a solution to problems people have.

Again, take care to give value. What DeMers says about millennials holds true for their parents and grandparents as well: They’ve been bombarded by advertising all their lives and want more than, “But wait! We’ll double the offer. Just pay a separate fee.”

Two Tips for Where To Target Your Content

1. Try targeting niches

Curata Blog analyzed blog posts that still pulled in traffic after several months. They found that the one thing the top performing blog posts had in common was that they addressed a niche audience. If you can think of ways to tie what you offer into the needs of a niche audience, even tangentially, you’ll be addressing an audience your competitors aren’t because they think it’s too small.

2. Try guest blogging

Consider some purposes for creating online content:

1. Make people aware of X
2. Establish yourself as an authority or influencer
3. Drive Traffic to your site
4. Address niche audiences
5. Entertain or share
6. Create goodwill through good content

Guest blogging can help accomplish all these purposes. Blogs need new content regularly—content worth their readers’ time. A thoughtful, interesting guest post can help you establish your voice as one worth listening to. Blogger Linkup and similar sites can help you find blogs in your area of expertise that need guest bloggers—or niches you can address.

And Finally—Leave Room for the Audience You’re Not Targeting

The landmark sitcom “All in the Family” (1971-9) was designed to celebrate the counterculture of the early 70s and tweak the noses of everyone else, represented by loudmouth bigot moonlighting cab driver Archie Bunker. With a dreaded Saturday night timeslot, it didn’t get a high rating the first season. The people it was celebrating were out doing their own celebrating, not watching television. The people who were watching were blue-collar workers who identified with Archie and made the show popular enough to move to a prime Sunday slot. It ran for 9 seasons, spun off 3 other shows, and landed Archie’s armchair in the Smithsonian.

If you find you’re getting a lot of hits or other responses from people you weren’t targeting, maybe it’s time to create a second campaign targeting them, and see who else ends up wandering into the target.

Jaime Theler