Target Market vs. Target Audience

January 23, 2017


(Yes, there's a difference.)


Who the Heck Do You Think You’re Talking To?

Several years ago I was at an industry event in Europe and I was sharing a drink and a conversation with man from Brazil — let’s call him Carlo. 


At the time I was responsible for the sales, marketing, and communications for a software company. But Carlo … he ran his whole operation, spanning hundreds of physical servers, on an entirely different platform. He was heavily invested in that technology to the tune of millions of dollars. He used products similar to the ones I marketed that were not competitors because they were designed to run on the hardware and software he had on his network. 


We talked business for hours. I added him to my mailing list, looped him into our social media, and sent him a Christmas card. We also added Brazilian Portuguese to our language packs and the auto-translation of our email marketing campaigns. 


The following year I saw Carlo again and we met after the conference and discussed other things shaping the technology landscape. 


Two more years passed and I received a phone call — not from Carlo, but from another company in Brazil. Let’s call him Luiz. Luiz had a technology company too, but he built his company on the infrastructure that our software was designed for. He said, “Carlo said I should talk to you.” 


What Does That Story Tell You?

If you just said “word-of-mouth” or “referrals” you might be missing the larger point. 


What Carlo Was NOT

Carlo was not my target market. He was never going to buy my product, experience our customer support, or get a service contract. He was never ever going to send my company any money for any reason whatsoever.


What Carlo WAS

Carlo was, however, squarely within my target audience. He was in the broader community of people who understood, used, and valued the kinds of products and services in my industry as a whole. I intentionally made Carlo a part of my audience with social media, email newsletters, and by establishing a personal connection. 


This was not a part of some grand, over-arching plan of strategic genius. At the time it was something I just did. While other “salespeople” and “marketers” came to industry events with highly defined target market profiles and preset meetings of high priority prospects, I would meet as many people as I could, ask them about their business, talk about Jazz music and politics, and get their business card. I came back with hundreds of cards from every trip. 


Most of the sales and marketing folks I saw at those events have long gone. Even though I no longer sell software and the company I started focuses on communications and messaging, I am still doing business and getting referrals from all of the “target prospects” those other guys were so precisely pursuing. 


This Is The Way the World Works — Now More Than Ever


This is not just true of traditional sales and marketing functions. Now — due to the rise of social media, cloud, mobile devices, and (soon) the internet of things — it is true of every aspect of our personal and professional lives. For Example: 


If you are in Human Resources and you are concerned about employee retention, you may have an outreach program for your most valuable employees, but what kinds of messages are you sending to the spouses and families of your existing and prospective employees?


If you are building a new datacenter or factory and are negotiating with the local builders and city governments, what kinds of messages are you delivering to the people that live there and the small businesses in the neighborhoods? 


If you are looking for your lost cat who got out of the house, what do the thousands of people who surround you know about you? Is it only what they read on the paper sign you taped to the light pole on the corner? Was the first time they met you when you knocked on their door to hand them a flyer? Are you a part of the neighborhood community … or do you just live there?


If you are starting a local coffee shop to service the neighborhood, you might have a great website and use only the best coffee beans, but what are you telling your potential customers about everything else they care about besides coffee? What are you telling the businesses that surround you? What does the person across the street — who only drinks tea — think about what you are doing? Why should any of them care?


Perhaps more importantly, why should you care?

All of the people and businesses I just described are actual and potential audiences for the messages and content you create. And here is a little secret — NOT sending messages and content is a message too. Silence is perhaps the most powerful message you will ever deliver. 


Mixed within and around all those audiences IS the target market for all of the things you want to do and accomplish. If you focus only on those who have the money then your interactions are purely transactional with the cold economic calculation of a pricing and service model. If you focus on the audience — everyone in and around the community of those you serve and beyond — you will gain belief and loyalty beyond the cold, impersonal math. 


This Has Always Been True

We all know on an intuitive level the truth of these things. But up until fairly recently, businesses could thrive while ignoring these truths. But the power of technology has gained an inexorable foothold and provided the world’s largest megaphone and a sense of urgency into the hands of all those audiences. 


Turns out that people resent it when they are sliced and diced into market segments based purely upon demographics and buying power parity. All of those audience members are talking amongst themselves, and somewhere within them is your customer. 


In short, if you don’t know the difference between target market and target audience you are already a decade behind.


Thanks for reading. 


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