How to target your ideal customer—without alienating the rest of your audience

By Brittany Taylor

How to target your ideal customer without alienating the rest of your audience

Dec. 22, 2015 

We like numbers—big ones, if we can wangle them—which is why the obvious measures for content marketing metrics are all about increasing numbers (think: pageviews, visitors, followers, and likes). But the obvious answer is often the wrong answer, and in this case, that holds true.

The problem with tracking these blockbuster metrics is that they won’t tell us whether or not we’re moving in the direction of our goals. All they can share is that some people like what we’re doing right now. That feels great…until we notice that our sales numbers aren’t rising alongside our Instagram celebrity. Well, why would that be?

The reason is simple: Our audiences are not the same as our customer bases.

Ideally, our audiences and our customer bases would overlap perfectly, two happy circles of people listening to us 24/7 with their wallets open. But for most businesses, that will never be reality. In this post, I’ll be digging into this idea. Here’s what to expect (and where to find the goods):

Part One: The different types of people that make up your audience and customer base

Part Two: Why this conversation matters for your business

Part Three: 4 ways to differentiate your customer base from your audience

Part Four: How to incorporate differentiation into your content marketing strategy

For content-creating businesses, customers, not audiences, are the end-game. Here's how to target yours (without alienating your readers) | via


The different types of people that make up your audience and customer base

Let’s break it down. Think about your small business like a department store. When you walk in, shopping for a new pair of jeans, you see five kinds of people:

People like you, who are trying to wrestle the perfect pair of dark-wash skinnies out of your mitts

People with money to spend who love everything they see and are buying whatever jeans (and sweaters and boots) that catch their eye

People who want to buy lots of things they see on the racks, but can’t afford to

People who are sitting in chairs next to changing rooms, twiddling their thumbs because they do not want to be there

People who walk in with money to spend and walk out empty-handed, unable to find what they’re looking for

If you’re not in the business of necessary things, like food and water and electricity, these people all exist in your business realm, too. Here’s where they fit in:

The people like you are your direct or indirect competitors. They may offer similar products or services, or different solutions to the same problems you solve. In most cases, they won’t become your customers, but they might be part of your audience, just as you might be part of theirs.

The people with money are the customers you want to attract. They’re the people who can afford you. The only trick is offering the products or services they want and need at a value they acknowledge. This is your target market, so pay close attention to them!

The people who can’t afford what they want comprise the bulk of most audiences. They’re the people who want to consume all the things and do so aspirationally. They Pin your pictures and subscribe to your blog, but they’re slow to shell out for any of your not-free or low-cost offerings.

The people sitting in the chairs are the people who don’t care about what you’re doing. They’re not your customer base, they’re not your audience, and that’s OK. Let them go, but give them a good experience if you come into contact with them. You never know when their situations will change, and they’ll return to you as prospective customers.

The people who walk out empty-handed are the customers you might be losing out on. Not all customers are for you, and that’s OK, too, but if there’s something about your message or attitude or quality of work or user experience or customer experience that isn’t working for them, those are all elements that you might want to revisit and rework in the future to prevent other prospectives from buying from a competitor instead of from you.


Why differentiating your target customer base from your audience matters

Now that I’ve got you ambling around department stores staring down other shoppers, let’s turn our focus to what all of this means for your small business.

First (and most importantly), it guides you to build better products. What your entire audience wants versus what your paying customers want are two different things. And certainly, they exist at different price points—one that’s sustainable and profitable, and another that won’t work for your business long-term. Can you ask everyone what they’d shell out for? Absolutely—and you should. But in your surveys, include demographic factors that will help you distinguish probable customers from unlikely ones, and then weigh their wants and needs accordingly.

Second, it helps you invest your resources more efficiently. When you’re spending time catering to everyone, you’re wasting a lot of time. That might be OK with you, but it’s a decision you should make consciously. Should you produce blog posts that get lots of likes, or longer content that tends to convert buyers? Should you spend hours on Twitter conversing with colleagues, or researching companies on LinkedIn? Should you mail cute stickers out to everyone who likes your Instagram photo, or to leads you want to nurture? Time is money, and this is no less true if you’re a start-up or a new entrepreneur or a small business owner who has yet to make the Fortune 50 list.

Third, it improves your understanding of your clientele. And the better you know them, the better you can work with them in all stages of the sales and work flow. How do they prefer to communicate? What types of messaging are most effective? Where do they hang out, both online and off? What other areas of business or life are they concerned about? What other problems do they have? The more questions you ask and the deeper you delve, the more you’ll know. The more you know, the stronger your relationships with them can become.


4 ways to differentiate your customer base from your audience

Time to get down to the nitty-gritty! Here’s how to turn your focus from your browsers to your buyers (and keep it there).

Highlight different metrics. Instead of focusing on the easy pay-offs, like pageviews and total visitors, look instead at the numbers that matter most. If you’re a local business, use Google Analytics’ location function (Audience > Geo > Location) to track the number of visitors from your city, state, or region. Other great metrics to track include time spent on page (particularly on product pages or certain blog posts) and pages per session. Both of these illustrate a high level of interest from your website viewers.

Emphasize engagement. Likes and retweets are increasingly easy to come by. Comments are not, so treat them like the gold they are. Respond promptly, start a conversation, and take notes of names, social media handles, websites, interests—anything that you can use to build the relationship tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. Remember, people who know you are more likely to buy from you. When you commit to developing your relationships, you’re investing in your business at the same time.

Listen in. When you use social media as both a marketing tool and a listening tool, you gain information about your ideal customers that they wouldn’t necessarily tell you on the phone or through email or via a survey. On Twitter, for example, you can build private, your-eyes-only lists to track certain users (try sampling users with things in common, like new businesses in the same industry, or business owners you met at a conference) or keywords. Listen for pain points and expressed interests, and be open to what they tell the world, even if they’re not speaking directly to you.

Evaluate the customers you already have. Hello, built-in focus group! If you have good relationships with your clients, they will be happy to give you insight into their needs. Think of this symbiotically, not as though they’re doing you a favor: remember that it’s easier for them to keep using the same service provider than it is for them to start over with someone new. They will want to help you build a better business so that you can better serve them. Make it easy for them to give you feedback. Ask only what you need to know, cater toward their schedule, and use the form of communication they prefer when possible to encourage mutual cooperation.


How to incorporate customer/audience differentiation into your content marketing strategy

Now, let’s talk about where content comes into play with this whole customer/audience differentiation conversation. It’s often tempting to market to the largest common denominator. We want to reach everyone. We don’t want to alienate a single soul. Sound familiar? However, when we target everyone, we tend to become so generic that we stop marketing on a human level. Instead of a customer, we see a number—and that’s no way to gain support.

Think small instead of big. I want you to go as small as you can possibly go. Don’t think about “female creatives.” Think about “female creatives in the data mining industry who want to start their own businesses.” Go niche, and then consider what that very narrow sector would want to buy and to read or see on social media to be convinced to buy. What do they need? What problems do they face? What questions do they have, and how should you go about answering them? These brainstorming questions will help you better focus on those with buying power rather than on those with eyes that read.

Market to your clientele. We’ve targeted your small sector of ideal clients. Now, address them. Spend time where they hang out, not where you want to hang out or where your friends hang out. Different demographics spend time in different spaces doing different things, so study up on those numbers so you can spend your marketing time wisely. Get their attention by speaking to their interests, their needs, and their wants. Speak to them. Help them. Ask them questions. Remember, this is your crowd. Stay focused on them. 

Welcome your audience, but don’t cater overwhelmingly to them. Other people are good for business. They could become potential customers. They could spread the word about your business. They could bring other friends who might actually be potential customers into the fold thanks to their shares and likes. So, don’t ignore them (because that’s just plain rude). Don’t treat them any differently than you would a potential customer. But don’t spend 90 percent of your time on the people who aren’t contributing to your bottom line.

One more thing: Differentiation isn’t about excluding people.

In fact, what I think you’ll find when you put on blinders and really focus your efforts on certain sectors is that your audience will grow.

You’ll find people in your audience that you never would have expected. They’ll stick around because you’re providing great value—targeted value—even though that value is created for the benefit of your ideal customers rather than a broader audience.

Some of them will convert and many of them won’t. But your customers will remain with you because you’re feeding them first.

That’s smart, don’t you think?