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Saturday, March 26, 2011

How To Use Surveys To Find & Profile Your Target Market

Scientists studying endangered animals examine their behaviors and track population counts. They know where the target species lives, how it behaves, and what it needs to thrive. While we certainly hope your target market isn’t “endangered,” there are parallels. To sell to your market successfully, you need to  know where it is, how it behaves and what it needs (or wants) to buy.

Online surveys can be an efficient tool for finding and profiling your target market. With some careful planning, you’ll get data that will inform important sales and marketing strategies. Following are the two key steps to thinking through this process.

Step 1: Choosing Your Target Market Selection Criteria

When we talk about finding your target market, we have to be precise about our criteria for selecting one. 
Do you want to focus on customers who:

  • Have high awareness of your product category?
  • Have high awareness of your brand?
  • Currently use a competitor’s product?
  • Have specific purchase plans for your type of product?
  • Have plans to purchase and preference for your brand?
  • Have specific personal values or aspirations?
  • Have specific levels of price sensitivity or “premium” preferences?
  • Have specific behaviors (either related to your product category or related contextual behaviors)
  • Have relevant needs for your product or product category (even if they haven't articulated those needs yet in terms of having purchase intent)?

Some of these may not be possible for your company. For example, if you are a start-up still building brand awareness, then obviously that’s a practical consideration. And in any case, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  So a good starting place is to select two to four possibilities such as the items above, and translate those items into questions for your survey. In the end, your survey analysis may show that some items will be more useful than others—so be sure to include a few.

Step 2: Determining How Will You Find Them

Once you have some possible criteria identified, you need to figure out how to find these groups in the real world. Whether you plan to do traditional advertising, PPC, direct mail, direct sales or a social media campaign, you will need at least some of the following demographics and behavioral data, such as:

  1. Geography, which may be by category (such as urban, suburban, rural), or may be more exact (such as specific countries, regions or cities).
  2. Common demographics such as age, gender, income level, education level, marital status, household type (kids, no kids, etc), and occupation (even a simple status such as employed, self-employed, retired, student).
  3. Retail behaviors. Where do they shop for your product category? Or for related products? Are they shopping online?
  4. Media behaviors, which includes print, television, and online behaviors. For example, online behaviors may warrant asking questions to identify the sites, games and applications they use, and which ones they like best.

Not all of these items may be relevant to your category, but this is a good list to get you thinking about what types of questions you need, so that you will be able to find desirable target markets.


With some careful planning, your data analysis will tell you a few things:

  • Does your target market exist? That is, is it large enough to find and measure easily?
  • Does it have any distinctive profiling attributes? And are they compelling enough such that you can determine how to appeal to its members? A target market should have some key attributes that separate it from the general population.
  • How attractive is the target market? Maybe you were seeking to define a target market based on its members having a combination of specific values and needs, but the research shows that those people also happen to have no relevant purchase plans. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker (low purchase plans may be due to low awareness of available products or due to the perception that available products are poor quality), but certainly suggests some challenges.

And always remember: as much as it is important to know what your target market is, it is important to know who is not in your target market. You don't want to waste valuable marketing and sales efforts tracking the wrong species.


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