A New Approach to Target Marketing

by Bruce Tait, for American City Business Journals  •  Published December 2015

arrowIs It Time To Start Thinking About Targeting Differently?

The idea of a single “target group” has been a pillar of marketing for decades. Generations of marketers were taught that brands that try to be everything to everyone end up being nothing to anyone. It is inefficient to try to reach everyone. Moreover, a brand that tries to appeal to a broad set of consumer segments will end up with a broad, milk-toast appeal that has no real point of view. It becomes a commodity.

However, in the last 10 years we’ve noticed that many marketers bristle at being asked to identify a single target group as a prerequisite for defining a meaningful and differentiated brand strategy. As more and more marketers are focused on customer journey mapping and related tactics, multiple “personas” have often displaced the target group as the framework for thinking about the consumer. The idea of focusing on just one target group has started to seem like a quaint artifact from a pre-digital age.

Can Personas Replace The Target Group Concept?

A persona is a profile of a type of customer – often defined in terms of characteristics that will impact how they behave in the context of search, a website, or other vital steps in a “purchase funnel.” Each persona could have a distinctly different journey map that helps designers and marketers think about how to optimize their experiences (and sales). But it is very rare to find a brand manager focused on just one persona.

There is nothing wrong with personas. A diffuse focus on several personas can be very useful for the tactical decisions required to manage a purchase funnel. But lack of focus on one type of person, profiled attitudinally as well as behaviorally, makes it nearly impossible to define a meaningful and differentiated brand strategy. Perhaps we need another targeting concept to help focus a brand’s position or strategic point of view.

A New Approach: The Strategic Target

The strategic target is not so much a group of people as it is a conceptual foundation for thinking about a brand. It’s the person for whom the brand would be perfect. There may actually be very few people in the strategic target. But this strategic target is highly engaged in the category and highly aspirational and influential to others. Winning over the strategic target starts a ripple effect that reaches much larger volume targets – and multiple personas.

The best brands have very clear strategic targets. Nike’s could be described as the best athletes in the world; Apple’s as creative minds; Harley Davidson’s as independent rebels. In each of the above examples, it’s easy to see how the DNA of the brand is predicated on the definition of a clear strategic target.

It’s usually not easy to identify a single-minded strategic target. But it’s a vital foundation for marketers who need a brand strategy that will set them apart from their competitors.