in Marketing, Startups

For Startups, Target Audiences can be a Challenge

Bullseye by Joe Prosperi (prosperij) on
Bullseye by Joe Prosperi

Within a marketing strategy, it goes without saying that target audiences are a key consideration.

For all the focus on nurturing an idea, addressing a point of pain and developing a product, the ability to achieve traction hinges on the ability to connect with target audiences. Again, it’s an obvious statement.

The trick and challenge is identifying target audiences, their demographics, needs and buying behaviour. For some products, target audiences can be straightforward, while other products appeal to a variety of target audiences with slightly different needs.

For startups, getting a good grasp on target audiences can be a challenge because they may not have the resources to conduct in-depth research – be it through surveys, interviews, focus groups, etc.

It means developing target audiences can be a quasi-guessing game that include a number of assumptions. In an ideal world, these assumption are pretty accurate so a startup’s sales and marketing activities are aimed in the right direction.

It also possible the target audiences that had been identified are either not right or a startup attract customers who weren’t originally identified or seen as a priority.

It is important to continually get as much information about their customers. Who are they? How did they find you? What are their needs and motivations? How did you find you? What alternatives or competitors did they consider?

Getting this information provides valuable insight that can confirm target audiences or deliver eye-opening information about new customers and new sales opportunities.

So how does a startup begin the target audience process?

It begins with creating personas that identify a customer’s age, education, needs, goals, purchase risks, how they get information and do research, and the buying process. This will help you create a pretty good buyer profile. Keep in mind, there can be multiple buyer personas for your products.

Buyer personas provide direction and insight into the ways to reach the different parts of your target audiences. If possible, you can interview people who fall into these buyer personas to test your assumptions and, if necessary, tweak or overhaul them.

The reality for startups is nailing their target audiences can be difficult to achieve out of their gate. But by taking the right approach, you can establish a good foundation upon which to build.

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from Mark Evans Tech written by Mark Evans of ME Consulting. Follow him on Twitter @markevans or This post was originally published in Sept 18, 2012 on

  1. It’s good advice Mark. @aprildunford:twitter has a couple of good workbooks and worksheets to help startups document/explore/devine their market segmentation;

  2. good post Mark. Identifying your target audience also allows you to determine which social networks or channels to use. This is important, in my opinion, as these network do take significant time to manage and thus having a focused strategy is important.

  3. Great post! This is a favorite topic of mine at the moment. It’s surprising how hard it is to get a detailed grasp on who you are really targeting. 
    Bigger companies don’t struggle as much with this because so much of their revenue comes from their existing customer base – it’s really a game of increasing share of wallet more than going after “whitespace”. 
    For startups the biggest problem I see is a target market defined too broadly to be actionable – i.e. “we are going after mid-market” or “we’re targeting men 25 to 50”. The goal of a good segmentation is to make it easier to figure out how to reach the folks you need to market to. If your segmentation doesn’t help you do that then it’s too broad. 
    I recently worked through some of this stuff with a company. The original target was “Fortune 1000 companies” but after we dug into the data on existing customers and spent time with the sales force the sweet spot segment was more like “Non-technology Fortune 2000 companies that have large distributed internal development teams”. That changed the way we thought about the buyers and made it much easier for us to target these companies and buyers specifically.  

  4. Does a startup really have the time to develop prospect personas? Well they better take the time to do it. But I think they must do it lean, rather than following traditional marketing persona building of age demographics etc. 

    You need to start with your assumption of who has the problem you are trying to solve, and start interviewing them during customer discovery to learn the keyword phrases & buzzwords they use, so you can learn and start speaking in their domain language, and sort of sound like you know what you are talking about. 

    The next step is to find how if this profile of prospects gather in certain areas, so you learn how you can find more of them and expand your contacts. 

    Third is to build some form of trust with a few of them so you can pick their brains and gather new information as you discover new assumptions that need testing. 5 people in some form of diversity should be enough to gather intelligence but not overwhelmed you with data.

    Throughout all of this, you need to always be looking for:
    – which messages, delivered with which emotions (painful enough to cause action), will move this persona to get involved with my company?
    – where do I put these messages so other suspects like them will learn about me, and become prospects?
    – how can I measure success and failure (how do I defined those) so I can get better at this as fast as possible?

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