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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Steps to Defining Your Company's Audience

It’s probably safe to say that the way you talk about certain aspects of your life is a little different based on who you’re talking to. Whether it’s about your significant other, your budding Pinterest addiction, or the numbers (or lack thereof) in your bank account, you don’t necessarily tell the story the same way when you’re talking to your best friend versus your grandmother.

The same is true for your business. When you’re discussing your brand, it’s essential to have a clear sense of who you’re talking to, so you can choose the most relevant messages for that audience and present them in a way they’ll be understood. You can have your company’s one-sentence pitch perfected, but if you’re delivering it to people in ways they can’t relate to it, your message will fall on deaf ears. Think: trying to explain your favorite pin board to your grandmother before she understands what Pinterest even is. Not going to work.

Fortunately, figuring out your audience doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. Follow these three steps to ensure that the next time you tell someone about your brand, you’re speaking their language.

1. Build a Foundation

The essential first step to communicating to your audience is to understand who they are on a demographic level. Think of the various people you’re targeting with your brand, and answer the following questions for each of them:

• What is their age?

• What is their gender?

• What is their ethnicity, race, and cultural background?

• What is their education level?

• What is their religion?

• What is their economic status?

• What is their sexual orientation?

For each demographic group you outlined, build a sample “person” from that data (if you’re a visual person, take this information and turn it into character profiles). What’s her name? How old is she? How much does she earn? Is she in a relationship? Your audience isn’t going to be homogeneous—so creating a handful of “example users” can make this process a whole lot easier.

2. Peel the Onion

Once you have your audience demographics defined, it’s time to dig deeper to identify who they are. This is called “psychographics,” or the attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles that will allow you to better understand what your target audience cares about, and why.

• What are their attitudes or predispositions?

• What are their habits?

• What are their values?

• What are their interests?

• What are their opinions?

Now, overlay these psychographics on each of your demographic profiles. What does each “person” care about? Worry about? What does she like to do in her spare time?

While there are no standard psychographic profiles (for example, not all 25-year old females care about weddings and not all high school grads want to go to college), you can make some general assumptions about the people you’re trying to target, e.g., start by thinking about 25-year old females who are planning their weddings or high school students who do want to go to college, and build their profiles from there.

3. Review and Refine Your Message

Now that you’ve defined and learned a bit more about your key audiences, you can tailor your brand messaging to ensure that your story will be relevant to each group. Take the key messages you’ve developed for your company, and think about how you can fine-tune them for each of your audience profiles. Do certain demographics—people in different age groups or geographic areas, for example—need additional context? Which of your key messages are most (and least) relevant to each group? Are there anecdotes that would help strengthen your message to a particular audience?

Throughout this process, it can be helpful to check out the competition as well. Who are your competitors targeting, and how? How do their messages shift based on the different audiences they’re targeting?

When you’re done with this exercise, you’ll have a much more intimate look at the people and groups your brand is targeting. Just remember—there are real people behind the demographics, psychographics, and the character profiles you drafted. You can start by guessing what they might want and what messages might resonate—but there’s no substitute for getting real input and feedback.

So listen to your audience, engage them in meaningful conversations, test your ideas and the assumptions you’ve made, and refine your messages as you learn more. And soon, you’ll be able to talk about your brand to all your key audiences—and all in their own languages.

Photo courtesy of Don LaVange.