Finding the Perfect Target Audience for Your Online Store

In a perfect world, everyone would naturally be drawn to your online store. No matter what the demographic, your design and products would immediately resonate. Wouldn't that be nice? Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world.

With the vast selection that consumers have online these days, companies need to do more to gain customers. Think about it from your own perspective—are you more likely to buy from a store that tries to be everything to everyone, or a store dedicated to your personal needs and interests? Consumers reward the effort that companies put into understanding and serving them as individuals. To garner attention and favor, you need to put some extra effort into your marketing, and a big part of that is determining your target audience and figuring out how to cater to their needs and desires.

Why and how should I determine my target audience?

Once you know who you are focusing on, your company’s marketing decisions will come much more easily. What one consumer loves, another may hate, so you want to make sure your design, wording, imagery, and overall brand is in line with the needs and tastes of your precise target audience. You'll also need this information if you write a business plan for your online store.

Here are the preliminary questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What are you really selling? If you're selling physical products, this usually won't be hard to determine, but if you're selling services, you may need to dig a little deeper. For example, if you're selling alarm systems, you're not really selling equipment, but the feeling of security. Your customers don't buy security alarms just to look at the technology they can incorporate into their house or car; they buy them for a feeling of protection. Occasionally, this can be the case with a product as well. If your online store sells nail polish, you're not selling just the polish—you're selling a sense of fashion and style.
  • Who will the product serve, connect with, and appeal to? There are many aspects to think about here. You can start with the basics: consider age range, gender, stage of life (teenager, college student, newlywed, parents, grandparents, etc.), and amount of disposable income. This should give you a general idea of the types on consumers you should be focusing on. It's important to think about who will ultimately use the product, but often it's even more crucial to make a connection with the person who will be buying it. For example, teachers get a lot of apple-related gifts, but they don't purchase them for themselves. If you're selling teacher gifts, you should appeal to the kids and parents looking for an item to express their thanks at the end of the school year.
  • How will the product be used? Giving thought to how a product will be used helps determine how that product should be represented and sold. If you're selling sports equipment, consider showing it pictured on the field or court. Emphasize its resiliency and performance-enhancing features. If you're selling something for a more advanced athlete, it's a good idea to provide in-depth information about the specifics of the product and its appropriate uses, because experienced athletes have greater needs than a casual or first-time user.

Once you've deciphered your target audience, you'll be able to show them what they want to see, tell them what they want to hear, and be more likely to make the sale because of it. This is not to say you should lie or twist your words, but there are many ways to deliver the same message. "Yo! Look at my awesome stuff!" sounds a lot different than "Hello there, please feel free to take a look around my online store," but the underlying message of both is the same.

How do I put this into action for my online business?

Once you have your target audience defined, it's important to make sure that every aspect of your site (design, layout, products, text, pricing, promotions, etc.) aligns with the vision of your target audience. One way to make sure your site is on track is to test your assumptions on real people. The best way to do this is to create a focus group of people meeting your target audience profile. These testers can check out your site's journey from homepage to purchase so you can get some good feedback on what you are doing right and what you need to improve. Gather friends and family who fit your target audience and kindly ask them to take a few minutes to walk through your website and give you some honest feedback.

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Did the language resonate?
  • Were the pictures appealing?
  • Was the design of the site easy to use?
  • How many of your products would they want to purchase?
  • Did they have any difficulties navigating your online store?
  • Did they come across any photos or writing that was unappealing or confusing?
  • Was the cost of your products in their price range?
  • How many similar products have they bought from your competitors? How can you make yours stand out?

Take this feedback to heart. If the group you gathered didn't seem as interested in your site and products as you thought they'd be, it might be time to go back to square one and reassess the audience you are marketing to.

As Lincoln famously said, "You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Take this to heart as you embark on your targeting process. A strong target audience can drive profits and provide excellent structure for your online store's strategy. And once you have your audience identified, your online business will reap the benefit of intelligent, unique marketing. Yup, it'll take some work. But as any expert will tell you, it's well worth the effort.