Many people starting a business, when asked about who is going to buy their products or services, say something like:

“Well, people are going to buy my stuff.”

It’s not just people beginning a business either. Some business people get lucky, and start making sales, without actually trying to get a specific type of customer to buy from them.

In his book Contemporary Marketing, Dave Kurtz says that a target market “a group of customers a business has decided to aim its marketing efforts and ultimately its merchandise towards.” While it’s not a bad definition, it’s not really an explanation.

A better explanation, I think, is this: a target market is a group of people who share similar needs and wants that would be satisfied by purchasing your products or services. As a very broad example, if I were selling any type of automobile, I would be much better off focussing my attention of people who needed an automobile (either they don’t have one, or the one they have needs to be replaced), rather than on “anyone who has a driver’s license.”

To refine things a bit, let’s suppose I sell an expensive 2-seat sports car as my only product. Let’s talk about who is NOT part of my target market: people who want a truck, families who have children, people who can’t afford a sports car, people who are driven around by other people every day, and so forth. So of all the people who need or want a new automobile, only a small section of that larger group are even interested in buying the sports cars that I sell.

We can eliminate people who don’t want, or can’t afford, our sports cars from our marketing efforts. Rather than trying to hit “anyone with a license,” we can concentrate our efforts on being seen by only the people who want and can afford our car. This allows us to focus our attention and marketing efforts. Laser focus.

The term “laser” originated as an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”. Succinctly, a laser beam is a tightly (or highly) focussed “bunch” of light (photons). Because it’s tightly focussed, it can stay bundled together for extremely long distances. We know how far away the moon is, for instance, because we can bounce a laser beam off it’s surface and measure the time it takes to get back to us. Lasers can also be made of just one color of light. (All colors together make “white” light.) So substances that only react to certain colors of light (red, as an example) might react to one laser, and not any other.

The fact that some things only react to certain colors of lasers is important. This concept extends to marketing, and the messages we send out. The “color” of our particular message, say the fact that our sports car can go almost 500 miles on a tank of gas, will only resonate with people who are 1) in the market for a sports car, 2) can afford our sports car, and 3) want a car they don’t have to fill up very often. I haven’t said why it can go 500 miles on a tank. Perhaps it has an extremely large tank, or perhaps it gets superior gas mileage. By getting even more focussed in our message – telling people exactly why it can go so far – will also narrow the group who is interested in our message.

I’ve been talking about the marketing messages we send out. What about our original question – what is a target audience? The two are joined at the root.

The focus of the marketing messages that you send out can define the target. That’s putting the cart before the horse. But when you define the people you want to reach, you can then customize the messages that have the best chance of getting through to them despite all the “noise” in which we’re each immersed on a daily basis.

This book is all about defining your target market, and then being able to craft a message that cuts through the daily clutter to reach them. I tell my direct customers that you want to put yourself where prospects will trip over your message and you. I say this because most people who want or need your products and services will not be looking for you. How can they? They don’t know you exist!

I recently spent quite a bit of time in San Franciso’s China Town. The main street there is Grant. Most tourists don’t really wander off Grant – perhaps 20%. And of all tourists, most don’t go up Grant more than about 6 blocks. On the corner of the 5th block (Washington), there was a woman standing passing out colorful menus from a restaurant down the side of Washington. Her target market could be loosely defined as: hungry tourists at the corner of Grant and Washington who wanted to see food and prices from a Chinese restaurant. She was there from 11 AM to at least 10 PM every time I walked up Grant Ave, always trying to hand me a menu.

It’s basic, but this is one way of defining your target market, and trying to interact with them. Not everyone took a menu, but I saw people who did. Sometimes it was reflexive – that it, they took it because it was thrust at them. But other people actually looked at the menu. Of those that looked, some turned right and visited the restaurant. She was literally delivering her message by putting herself where her target audience would unknowingly find her. These were people who, a few moments before, didn’t know that particular restaurant existed. By being there with a menu, she got customers for the restaurant.

The more you know about your target market (or target audience), the more tightly you can focus your messages (Yes, messages. Plural.) so you can be tripped over, or found by those people.

Given all this, let’s describe a target market this way: A Target Market or Audience is a very narrow group of people who want or need your products/services. Because you understand them, you can enter the conversation already going on in their heads and introduce them to your products/services through laser focussed messages in such a way as to get them to self-select as your customer or not.

I’ll be explaining the other points in my description that I haven’t touched on here. I wanted you to understand that defining your target market, and customizing your messages so that they’re seen and registered by those people, is essential to business success.