Discover the importance of target audience profiling

By Cindy Kennaugh, On The Mark

A target audience profile (TAP) is a written and very detailed appraisal of your customers' characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors. TAP information typically falls into two categories: demographics and psychographics.

  • Demographics    describe who your customers are. The most frequently used demographic variables include age, gender, occupation, location, marital status, income, education level, and nationality.
  • Psychographics    describe why your customers act as they do. For example, you might determine that you have price-sensitive customers who choose the least expensive option, or trend-conscious customers who prefer the newest, most fashionable option, or early adopters who are open to choosing new, unproven options.

Why do I need to do TAPs?

Sharing high-quality customer profiles across your organization pays off in several important ways. Target audience profiles:

  • Help the company make better, more consistent customer decisions about how to best market and sell, including which products and services to offer and how to most effectively communicate their features, benefits, and availability.
  • Reduce confusion among functional areas through a common business foundation for decision-making.
  • Make it possible for your staff to treat customers more consistently because everyone is working from the same comprehensive information.
  • Save time and money by minimizing missteps and rework stemming from inconsistent knowledge about the customer base.
  • Improve overall marketing focus and communication effectiveness.

Who needs to use TAPs?

Traditionally, TAPs are used mostly by marketing communications (marcom) departments. Indeed, marcom departments need highly detailed customer profiles in order to generate effective communications. TAPs do, however, merit a much wider audience.

Everyone in marketing needs — and should demand — this level of information. A clear and accurate understanding of one's customers fosters better market research, better products and services, better marketing strategies, and better communications. In fact, good customer information extends beyond marketing into virtually every functional area of your company.

TAP fundamentals

Before you start building your TAPs, take the time to consider such things as how many TAPs you need, who you need to profile, and how much detail to include in your profiles.

How many TAPs do I need to create?

The answer to this question depends on your objectives. There is no one comprehensive TAP that contains all your customer information insights. You need to produce multiple TAPs as needs arise.

If you're trying to increase the average revenue per current customer, you need to profile existing customers. If you're preparing a communications plan for your expansion into new market segments, you need to profile prospective customers.

Which customers do I need to profile?

Everyone involved in the purchase process should be profiled. Customers can usually be segregated into two categories: decision-makers and influencers.

Decision-makers might include "Mom" or "CIO." Influencers might include "teenager" or "systems analyst." You must understand the specific characteristics of each category and the relationship between them. What are their relevant needs, goals, beliefs, fears, and selection criteria? Where do they get information? Who initiates the purchase?

How detailed does a TAP need to be?

The level of detail depends on the breadth of the customer segment under consideration. TAPs can be prepared for an entire company, for a product line, or for a particular product.

On the one hand, the greater the breadth of the customer segment (that is, company-wide), the more general the information needs to be. On the other hand, TAPs for a particular product or service needs to be quite specific.

Where can I find customer profile information?

TAP information should come from multiple sources, and the process of building a TAP has a lot in common with market research. Typical data sources include:

  • Existing TAPs
  • Marketing and sales staff customer knowledge
  • Third-party research reports and articles
  • Conversations with customers

Read the related market research articles under More information. As you can see from these articles, you gather secondary market research data from external sources, and you gather primary market research data by conducting surveys and focus groups. TAP research applies secondary market research techniques much more commonly than primary market research techniques.

Closing the gaps

Regardless of how much information you gather, it's usually not enough. You almost always have to make some assumptions and estimates based on your experience. It's just part of the process.

Present your educated guesses as a range. Estimating the average age of your customers? Say "between 25 and 35" instead of "30". Are they price-sensitive? Say "somewhat to very" instead of "yes". Doing so acknowledges uncertainties while giving decision-makers something specific with which to work.

Some parting advice

  • Use, share, and update your customer profiles often.    TAPs should be a living document. As your understanding of your customer changes, you should consider adapting your strategies and policies in response.
  • Don't rush the customer profiling process.    The information you gather will be the foundation for many significant decisions. It's worth doing your TAPs well the first time.
  • Don't assume your organization already has a thorough understanding of its customers, thus making target audience profiling unnecessary.    Few companies actually know their customers that well.
  • Talk to selected customers.    Under the right circumstances, they are often willing to share their perceptions and experiences.

More information

About the author    Cindy Kennaugh is President of On The Mark, a Silicon Valley–based consulting firm specializing in all aspects of business-to-business marketing in the high-technology industry.

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