Types of target audience, and how to use them

I often see brand teams getting their knickers in a twist when it comes to targeting. When presented with a tightly defined core target, some team members will protest that the target is defined way too narrowly. After all, we do want as many people as possible to buy us, right? On the other hand, having a target definition of  "everyone" is unlikely to lead to great creative work as its way too broad.

In this post I try to clarify the different types of target definition and how to use them in brand positioning.

1. Core positioning target – guides positioning

Having a tightly defined core target can help create and execute a distinctive brand positioning.It allows you to tap into the human emotions this person feels. I remember talking to one creative director who said he always imagined a single, real-life person when working on a brand. Indeed, it can help to describe the core target using a pen portrait that describes the person, including not only their functional needs, but also their attitudes to life. See below for an example for the Top Gear brand (The car magazine and TV show). 

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2. Portrayed user – guides communication

The second type of target is the user you portray in your marketing activity. This could be different from your positioning target. So, Nike's core positioning target might be young, style conscious urban guys 18-24, but in their marketing the brand often uses celebrity athletes to create aspiration.

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3. Consumption target – guides distribution and activation

This is the broadest target of all, and is the group of people you want to buy your product. This group of people will include the positioning target, but also other people who aspire to the same set of values. This concept was recently brought to life for me at Heathrow airport. Whilst browsing the stores I saw an ad for Beats by Dre headphones. Very cool, edgy people were portrayed in the ad.

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Later I was in the queue to get on the plane. And next to me were two Beats consumers wearing the distinctive "b" branded headphones. But as you can see below, the consumption target was a bit different fron the portrayed user! This raises a separate question about how a fashion brand like Beats stays hip and cool as it goes more mainstream… but that's a post for another day.


In conclusion, who you position against, who you portray and who you sell to can be different targets. They each have a role to play to help you build your brand and SMS (sell more stuff).