I'm sure you have never used an online dating service. But if you had, you would have taken some sort of compatibility quiz, answering questions to build a profile of your ideal match. Based on your inputs, you would be given a list of selected singles, all of whom should (in theory) be a good fit for you. In effect, you defined your target market and used that definition to find members of it.
The same principles apply to business. For a company, a “target market” is simply a group defined by parameters that describe your most attractive sales prospects. It’s the people who are going to buy your stuff. Or, if you prefer, the people your company wants to “date”. Variables commonly used to define your best prospects include; demographics (gender, age, income, occupation, education, and household size), geography, psychographics (values, lifestyles), consumer behaviors and prior relationships with products.
What does this have to do with online surveys? A lot. When you start a survey project, you need to think very precisely about what types of respondents will be able to give you the best information. But to think clearly about that, you first need to define your company’s overall target market.
One way to define your target market is to think about people who have been your best customers so far. For example, for an auto dealership, these might be people in a certain age range who currently spend at least $300 a month on an automobile lease, or by people who have more than two sets of wheels in their garage. Or consider a food industry example. In this case, the parameters might include how often people dine out or how much a week they spend on groceries.
Another way to think about it is to imagine a dream world where you could easily reach people with the greatest likelihood of buying your product. Where would they live—the city or the burbs? What kind of clothes would they wear? What kind of car would they drive? How educated are they? Would they have kids? What is it about their lifestyle that makes them a good fit for your company? By answering questions like these, you will have a good start on defining your target market.
Target Markets & Polygamy
In reality, your company may have multiple attractive customer groups to target. In fact, large companies often take an approach of five to eight market segments of interest. For each segment, they may have different products, services, marketing messages, packaging or pricing.
If you do find that you have multiple target markets—or segments, if you prefer—you will need to do some careful thinking;. Which ones are most attractive? Which ones should you focus on now, versus later? How many can you realistically address at the same time?
Target Markets & Research Planning
Now you’re ready to decide what types of people you want taking your survey. In most cases, that means conducting the research among members of your target market(s) After all, you don’t want to test product ideas or pricing with a group of customers who are unlikely to buy your product. And you don’t want to let people outside of your target market influencing (i.e., skewing) the data that you will use for decision-making. If you do, you could waste a lot of time making yourself attractive for a really bad date.