Define the target market


There’s one golden rule in marketing – you must have a well-defined target audience.

Marketing without a target audience is like throwing single-use darts blindfolded at a dartboard, and hoping you’ll hit the bullseye every time. 

But getting down to the nuts and bolts of defining your specific target audience can be daunting – it’s a big, vague task with no beginning and no end.

To make it easy for you, I dug through a lot of material to get you to the answer quickly.

The result is a 5-step process you can implement quickly, with a little help from research and your own experience.

Why bother spending the couple of hours?

You don’t need to, unless you care about these things:

  • Less wasted money and effort on chasing prospects that don’t fit
  • Sharper focus in the time you do have for developing new business
  • A more compelling pitch that clicks with your target much more reliably
  • A virtuous cycle of happier clients, longer tenures, more referrals – and a happier you

Are you ready to reap the rewards?

Marketing without a target audience is like throwing single-use darts blindfolded at a dartboard, and hoping you’ll hit the bullseye every time. 

The 5-Step Process

Here’s the process in a nutshell:

  1. Define the demographic
  2. Isolate their primary pain
  3. Identify their attitude
  4. Zoom in on the real buy
  5. Pinpoint the deal clinchers

Let’s dive in:

1. Define the Demographic

When you go fishing, you have to know what kind of fish you want. Ditto with marketing.

The kind of fish is defined by the broad demographic you’re going after.

To get started, look at the most common types of clients you have. What defines them in terms of external identity?

Then think about the ideal next client you want to serve. The key is, if a prospect walks in, can you quickly slot them into one of these groups?

Build out a quick word picture of your ideal client in these terms:

  • Age: Define by age groups, for example, under 30, 31-45, 46-65, 65+. Or take a broader brush and paint in groups “Early adults”, “Emerging accumulators”, “Pre-retirees”, “Early retirees”, “Veteran retirees”. 
  • Gender – For simplicity, let’s stick with the traditional groups of male, female and other. Do you have a preponderance of one gender? What gender is your ideal prospect? An insider tip for you: the women’s market is highly underserved in the wealth and investing businesses, so take an extra moment to consider if you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
  • Family status – Is your ideal client married? Single? Divorced? Recently widowed? How about kids? Do they have any? Are they still dependent on the parents? How about elders? Is your target client responsible for a parent’s care or finances?
  • Occupation: Is this client employed? A professional? A business owner? If so, what stage? Are they looking to exit or just starting up? Or do they not work for income? 
  • Income and financials – What’s his or her family income? Where does it come from? How much do they have? In what assets is this money typically tied up?
  • Ethnicity – In this demographic cocktail, don’t forget ethnicity. Ethnicity and race can have huge impacts on your market opportunity. It’s a lens to spot big underserved markets that the traditional model has missed. Hispanics and Asian Americans are two good examples. Do you have bright spots of ethnic groups you succeed with in your current business? Can that be nurtured for greater growth? 

But two people in the exact same demographic can have dramatically different preferences and potential as prospects for your business.

This is why you demographics are the first and not the last step in defining your target audience.

Let’s see how this plays out…

2. Isolate their Primary Pain

How to define your target audience

Photo by David Rotimi 

Two people of the same age, with the same income and in the same occupation can have dramatically different “heat maps” of financial worries in their heads.

Isolating the primary pain helps you paint the “heat map” you’re going after.

John and Jim

Take John and Jim, for instance.

They’re both 45-year old executives at a large multinational company downtown.

They work in the same area and make roughly equal incomes, with about equal amounts of money in the bank.

Both have two kids, a house in the burbs and a dog.

Demographically, they’re identical.

But take a peek under the hood and two dramatically different pictures emerge:

John’s Story

John is:

  • going through a contentious divorce, and is staring at the prospect of starting life over in middle age – a prospect he never dreamt would happen to him.
  • wondering how he can support alimony, and still pay for his kids’ college,
  • worried about saving enough for retirement in all of this

Jim’s Story

Jim, on the other hand:

  • has a special-needs child at home, and an aging parent with Alzheimers.
  • is struggling to figure out parental care in consultation with his four siblings
  • worries constantly about how to provide for the care of his child well past his own lifetime

Will the same pitch work for these demographically identical people?

Clearly not!

A killer pitch will walk the tightrope between not being tone-deaf on the one-hand and not descending to a generic and meaningless pitch on the other.

You instinctively do this all the time in person.

But when you want to scale your rainmaking, you have to do this work upfront – before you meet the prospect – this is what gives your pitch the intangible pull that makes them want to talk to you.

So ask yourself this:

What’s the trigger that has caused them to look for an answer now, so they can go back to “normal”, even if it’s a new and unfamiliar one? Is it:

  • A life event – such as a divorce, a remarriage, a child going to college, the loss of a job
  • A financial wake-up call – such as hitting a milestone birthday, death or illness of someone close
  • A nuts-and-bolts problem – such as the sudden vesting of stocks, a big inheritance they don’t know how to handle

Nailing the trigger is what will help you craft a resonant, compelling pitch that feels like it was written specifically for them. 

3. Identify Their Attitude

Have you had the experience of talking to a couple, possibly, where one was sold and the other wasn’t?

The finance industry evokes dramatically different, sometimes extreme attitudes and beliefs.

Knowing what you’re walking into will make the difference between being seen as “one of us” versus being yet another snake oil salesperson and dismissed as background noise.

  • What’s their level of trust in your industry? Generally high or low?
  • Have they had prior experience with your type of business? How do they feel about that?
  • What’s their default behavior on the topic? Are they do-it-yourselfers who have finally run into a challenge too big for their capabilities? Or do they prefer someone else to handle everything for them?
  • What’s their perception of value and price? Are they “you get what you pay for” type of consumers , or looking to push every dollar two miles extra?

Identify attitudes upfront so you can craft the rationale that will address these attitudes with precision and skill.

4. Zoom in on the Real Buy

There’s an apocryphal story in marketing that no customer ever went to the store to buy a 1/4-inch drill – all they want is a 1/4-inch hole. They only buy the drill because it gets them the hole.

What’s your client’s “1/4-inch hole?”

You’ll be tempted to default to the tired “peace of mind” and “live with intention” cliches here.

Resist that temptation.

Dig deeper and ask what specifically  will change in the emotional landscape of their minds after you’ve done your magic. Do they now:

  • Have clarity in the sea of confusing information?
  • Feel increased confidence in their decisions?
  • Understand the specifics of their situation that shows them the path forward?
  • Feel reassured that an expert has taken a look?
  • Have a greater sense of control over their future?
  • Have greater accountability to do what’s needed to secure their future?

These are the first level benefits.

Dig deeper to understand for your specific audience and their specific needs how these benefits play out.

For example, for someone going through divorce, understanding the specifics may mean that they can now take divorce decisions without the fear that they are jeopardizing their own or their kids’ future because of ignorance. 

That’s the “1/4 inch hole” they’re buying.

How to define a target audience

Photo by Matt Artz 

Focus on the benefit they get and what new and better specific future that leads them to – that they can’t access today.

Michael Kitces has written an excellent piece on the six sources of value that financial advisors provide. Check it out here for more inspiration on identifying your clients’ real buy.

5. Pinpoint the Deal Clinchers

You know the cardinal rule of selling:

Emotion makes the decision first and logic then finds ways to justify it.

So you always have to engage the emotion first and only then offer bulletproof logic for why dealing with you is the smartest way to move forward.

But every consumer is different, and responds to different emotional and logical persuaders to make the decision.

To really make your target customer profile come to life, nail the emotional buttons that light up their emotional brain.

What influences them the most emotionally?

  • Social proof – Others are doing it, so it must be the smart thing to do
  • Authority – These people really know what they’re doing, so they must be the best
  • Liking – Whether it’s a personal affinity or affinity to a shared identity or belief
  • Exclusivity or scarcity-  the perception that only a select group of people get to use this service 

Next, logically,  what gives this person the most comfort that they’re not taking undue risks?

  • The tangible financial value they get from your expertise, relative to the cost
  • The processes and discipline you have put in place to manage their money?
  • Credentials and experience (although this also signals authority)
  • Safeguards and assurances – for example, they can take their money out anytime and get a pro-rated refund of fees
  • Experience with others like them (see, targeting matters!)
  • Recognition and endorsements (also more social proof!)

The list is bigger- and is driven by the specifics of how you design your offering to match your target audience’s needs. 

How to define target market

Photo by Belinda Fewings 

How to Bring It All Together 

You’ve done the heavy lifting of thinking through these questions.

Create a word portrait as simply as possible – even a bulleted list in a Word document is good.

The key is to keep this portrait front and center in all of your marketing activities.

Do everything as if you are doing it for this one person:

  1. Give them a name and even a photograph
  2. Write your marketing addressing it to them one-to-one
  3. Devise prospecting campaigns so you go where they hang out
  4. Talk in a language they hear, relate to and identify with
  5. Lead with the pain that’s occupying the most of their attention

Most important: offer them value they can’t refuse.

Are you ready to hit the bullseye?


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