Understanding target market, buyer personas and customer journey maps


a 11-minute read | Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated in August 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Understanding who you’re talking to is what makes the difference between a successful marketing campaign that truly speaks to your customer and one that gets completely ignored. It’s not about selling to everyone as much as it’s about strategically getting the right information to the right people, at the right step of their customer journey. This is why understanding your target market, creating a buyer persona, and mapping out its journey is so crucial.

If you asked a business owner who their target market is and who their ideal customers are, a surprising number of them wouldn’t have any idea how to respond. It’s easy to understand why. Perhaps they didn’t come from a marketing background. They may be very good at what they do, but that doesn’t mean that marketing is their thing.

What we’re talking about here is a basic fundamental activity that every business should be doing. Gaining a deep understanding of your target audience and the different buyer personas will change the way you make decisions for the better. So let’s dig into:

  1. Target market
  2. Buyer personas
  3. Customer journey maps

Step 1 | Your Target Market

If you want to hit the sales, you need to understand your target market. Otherwise, you won't be able to hit your business targets effectively.

In order to sell your services or products effectively, you have to know who you are selling to. Your target market is usually broad, almost a generalization of the ideal customer for your business. It describes the kind of person that is most likely to buy your services.

For example, if you run a roofing business, your target market would be much different than a business that runs a video game arcade. It would be:

  • Home or property owners, for one.
  • A bit older, old enough to afford roofing services.
  • Concerned about protecting their property and their real estate investment.
  • They would have disposable income.

To determine your target market, you have to understand the exact problem that your product or service is designed to solve. Working backward from this problem helps you identify your ideal customer:

  • Who will find value in what you offer?
  • Does this person have problems that you solve?
  • What type of a person finds those problems to be the most troublesome?

These are the types of individuals that might make up your target market. Physically write down who your ideal customer would be, whether that’s on paper or digitally. For a roofing company, it might look something like this:

25-50-year-old married man, home-owner, with a household income of over $100,000 per year.

Once you know who your target market is, you can focus on finding ways to reach that target market and also breakdown your audience in different segments. We’ll look at this in more detail in the next step.

Factors that make up your target market

Pinpointing your target market can be difficult if you have no understanding of all of the different aspects that can make up the demographics within your target market. When outlining your own, consider the following:

1. Where are your buyers are located?

If your business only provides its services within a certain area, like a city, county, or state/province, then that drastically narrows down your target market and alters your marketing strategies. You wouldn’t want to waste advertising dollars showing ads to people that live in Florida when your business only operates in Ontario. Stick to your targets.

2. How old are the individuals that you are targeting?

When Taylor Swift releases a new album, she isn’t targeting 55-year-old men with her advertisements. They aren’t interested in the product that she produces. Who is interested in the product that you produce?

3. Is Your Targer market generally male, female or either?

Limiting yourself to a single sex can be dangerous if you haven’t done the proper product research. For instance, on the surface, a makeup company might only assume they are targeting women. But, with a little prying, they may find innovative ways to market their product to men who might also be interested in their products. Don’t limit yourself unnecessarily or base your strategy off assumption; be open to opportunities, but honest about who buys your product.

4. What is your target market interested in?

Just because someone plays soccer and is interested in sports, doesn’t mean that they are going to want to purchase products from your baseball supply company. When outlining target markets remember to focus on the ideal customer who will buy regularly or in large quantities, not fringe demographics that might be interested in small doses. You’re ideally looking for loyal customers and repeat business.

5. Is the individual in the right situation to be interested in what you have to offer?

A roofing company wouldn’t want to waste time talking to someone that rents an apartment, and therefore is not responsible for maintaining or replacing the roof. However, they would be interested in talking to the management company in charge of those decisions.

These are all examples of individual aspects of a target market. The truth is that any target market should be a combination of these factors. So, your target market isn’t just women, but:

18-35-year-old women, in Southern Quebec, with an interest in kneeboarding.

Outlining a target market doesn’t mean that you won’t accept customers outside of that market; it just gives you a point of reference for every marketing choice you make moving forward.

Is this appealing to my target market?

This question should be your first thought before investing any large sum of money or effort into a marketing campaign. Once you understand who your target market is, it’s time to break that audience down into different buyer personas which will help you narrow down different groups within your target demographic.

Step 2 | Build Buyer Personas

Identifying your buyer persona will help you grow your business in a very efficient way because you'll be able to deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

Every business has many different types of customers. Sticking with our roofing company example – their clientele would include homeowners, business owners, apartment complexes, office buildings, and generally anyone with a roof they are responsible for.

That includes a huge number of different people and they are often all different. They have different wants, needs, and budgets. Sure, both Tommy Homeowner and Billy CommercialProperty need roofing services, but they have completely different problems that need solving with very different budgets.

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.

Peter F. Drucker (2009). “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices”, p.97, Harper Collins

Certain marketing messages will be effective with either, but they don’t overlap all that much. Tommy Homeowner probably won’t respond well to marketing that focuses on the needs of Billy CommercialProperties. While Tommy Homeowner might be concerned about keeping his family safe, Billy CommercialProperties might be more concerned about legal liability. As you can see: different problems, similar solutions.

Buyer personas are important for understanding your customer base and creating marketing messages that are specific to their needs. Writing down buyer personas of your typical types of customers helps to give you an understanding of what you’re doing right and what could be improved upon. Do you feel that your messaging matches at least one of your personas? If not, that could be a sign that change is needed.

Once you understand the different buyer personas that you are dealing with, then you can craft custom sales funnels and marketing materials specifically for them. You see, every buyer persona has a different experience when working with your company – you just need to make sure it’s as positive an experience as possible!

Digging deep into the buyer personas

With a basic understanding of buyer personas, you can begin to flesh out the personas of your buyers in greater detail. It isn’t as simple as giving them cute little names like “Billy CommercialProperties” and “Tommy Homeowner” – although that part is always fun. You have to actually understand who each persona is, what each persona wants, and the potential barriers to winning their business.

The Buyer Persona Institute has some excellent information to dive into this in more detail, as well as free buyer persona templates, but in the meantime, here’s a summary of some of the key questions you will need to consider. Read the following list and think carefully about each question:

  • Basic buyer persona profile. Who are they? Where do they work? What kind of responsibilities do they hold? How are they going to evaluate the product you deliver?
  • Priority initiative. What conditions trigger the buyer’s decision to look for a solution that you offer? Why are they interested in your product?
  • Success factors. After purchasing your product, what kind of outcomes is this persona expecting? Can you reach or exceed those expectations? What are the problems that your product actually solves?
  • Obstacles. Why might this person have concerns about your product or service? What might prevent them from purchasing from you? Essentially, these are the doubts that might run through a buyer’s head before purchasing your product, or during the time when you are attempting to close the sale. This helps you to outline well-thought-out answers to common questions and concerns.
  • Customer journey map. What is the process that the customer actually goes through when purchasing your product? (More on this in a bit.)
  • Think back to previous experiences that you’ve had with buyers in this persona. What kind of questions did they ask? What answers were successful? Take notes and use previous experience to your advantage.

This is the real meat and bones of the buyer persona outlining process. This is where you nail down the facts about who they are, what they want, and how you should engage with them as a customer.

You’d be surprised about how much you can learn from people by sitting down and fleshing these ideas out. A lot of your preconceived notions about particular buyers might vanish before your eyes.

A truly detailed and carefully-constructed buyer persona list can be a starting point for every marketing project that you take on moving forward and an excellent point of reference when working with external marketing companies.

Step 3 | Customer Journey Maps

Let’s look at the customer journey in more detail. When we talk about customer experiences with our services or company, what exactly does that include?

  • What is the individual journey of each customer that buys your product?
  • At what point do they interact with your business?
  • How is payment handled?
  • Where are they taken on your website after submitting information or scheduling a consultation?

Every interaction that your business has with the customer is all part of the customer journey.

Think about your latest customer. Write down every step they took to purchase your product, from where they found you, to filling out their information on your website, to receiving a follow-up call a week later.

How often do they have to contact you in order to purchase the product? Are you collecting information in two different steps that could be done in one? Maybe adding an additional input to your contact page can eliminate an entire phone call from the process and get the product delivered a day earlier?

Mapping out and writing down the process that a customer goes through to purchase your products can be hugely beneficial. Not only can it help you identify areas where the process can be streamlined and improved, but it can actually enlighten you to times where your customers might be getting frustrated throughout the process.

In essence, the customer journey is an essential part of your product. Sure, you might install a new roof on their house – but the customer remembers much more than just the service rendered. They judge your business based on the quality of work and the end result, but they also remember how working with you made them feel. It directly impacts future business and whether they might recommend you to others in the future.

Steps to mapping the customer journey

Now that we have an understanding of customer journey maps and how they are helpful, it’s time to put one together for your own business. Whether you do all of your business online, offline, or some mix of the two, it’s not too complicated to outline a buyer journey for your processes. Remember: a customer journey map is a framework for improving the customer experience. When outlining these steps, let’s consider the typical steps that might be included.

Customer Acquisition – How did the customer find you?

Where did the customer first learn about your business? How did they know that your product even exists? Some common answers might include:

  • Print Advertisements
  • Online Advertisements
  • Yellow Book Listings
  • Online Directories
  • Google Search
  • External Links

There are an almost infinite number of ways your business could be found, if you are doing everything you can to get your company in front of your target audience. Depending on how the customer is acquired, there might be different steps and completely different journey maps that need to be drawn up to accommodate that customer.

Touchpoints – How did the customer reach out?

Once a customer finds your business and becomes interested in your product, they will contact your business through one of your touchpoints, or communication points. These are the channels you open up to customers. A few common touchpoints that would be a part of a customer journey map include:

  • In-Store
  • Website
  • Contact Form
  • Phone
  • Call Centre
  • Email
  • Social Media Network

Ultimately your goal should be to funnel your customers into your sales funnel at the same point, regardless of how and where they first interacted with you.

Pre-Sales – Steps taken before purchase

After reaching out to you through one of your available communication channels, how does the customer go about having their questions answered and doubts resolved? The way you accept payments might be unique to your specific business. Those that sell physical products might have a straightforward process, while those that offer services might have a more complicated one. Some of the common steps in the purchasing process might include:

  • An initial conversation with the prospective customer, serving as an initial sales pitch.
  • Answering questions, ironing out the finer details and putting together proposals.
  • Pre-Sale support. Answering final questions, quieting doubts.

The pre-sales process is very likely to be unique to your company and product.

Purchasing – How and when does the customer pay?

Once the customer has decided that they will indeed purchase your product, how do they go about it? Taking payments is the most important part of any transaction. You want it to be smooth and painless for the customer. A few popular steps during the purchasing process include:

Post-Sale Communication – when, and how will you reach out in the future?

One goal of any business is to turn a single sale into repeat business. Nurturing past and present clients is an important part of any customer journey that often gets overlooked. Decide when and how you want to reach out. Some common steps include:

  • Follow-up email.
  • Follow-up phone call.
  • On-site visit.
  • Direct-mail newsletter

At every point of going through your customer journey, think about the personas you built up earlier. Are there any points that might prove particularly difficult for your target market? For example, if you have forms of online communication, with no phone number or clear email, this might prove more difficult for older customers to grasp, as they are often used to having direct contact with companies offering products or services.

All of these areas are interlinked and just show how important a true understanding of your target market is. We hope these steps will help you understand your target market in more detail and you can get started on building up your buyer personas. Remember that nowadays marketing is customer-centric, so targeting the right audience with just what they need is a must.

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