Business Monday: What Is A Target Market and How Do You Define Your Ideal Customer?

target market

Image by Karen Gunton |

You’ve been leaving brochures in stores, put an ad in the local paper, volunteered to do massage at your favorite animal shelter, set up a booth at a rescue event, but you are still struggling to get customers. Where are they? Why aren’t people calling? Take a look at your marketing strategy: the problem might be that you’re marketing to the wrong people. Or to too many people.

One common mistake is to market to everyone in the hopes that potential customers will happen to come across your info and pick up the phone. And sure, that might happen, but this approach means that you have to do a LOT of marketing in order to capture just a few customers, and it’s really just hit or miss. This shooting in the dark method is generally not recommended by marketing pros – what you need is a more targeted approach.

We have all heard the terms “target market” and “buyer persona”, but what exactly does that mean? Well, your “target market” is simply the people who are most likely to buy from you, and the “buyer personas” are the hypothetical profiles of the individuals that comprise your target market; your ideal customers, the people you want to reach. Makes sense, but how do you figure out who they are? And once you know, how do you find them?

Veronica BoutelleIn part 2 of our interview series with Veronica Boutelle of dog*tec, we are digging deeper into this subject (don’t miss the first post in this series, “Tips for Starting Your Animal Health Business“).

Veronica, how important is it to know who your potential customer is?
Well, it can save you quite a bit of time, as it allows you, as you said in your introduction, to spend your marketing time more wisely.

When in the course of planning / starting your business should you define your target market?
Pretty early on you should have an idea of who you’re going after. The name of your business, your logo, your website copy and design—all of these early steps should be aimed at your intended future clients.

How do you figure out who your target market is?
This tends to be done in a pretty low-key way in our industry. Most dog pros don’t have the cash to hire marketing and PR firms to do an audience analysis for them. But that’s not really necessary, either. Instead of your pocketbook, use your eyes. Wander around your area. Explore a bit online. What kinds of businesses are thriving? Who’s going into them? What cars are they driving, what kind of coffee are they drinking? My dog*tec colleague Gina Phairas always asks, “Do your clients drink Starbucks, a boutique coffee, or brew at home?” These kinds of questions can tell you a lot about who people are. And just do some thinking: Who are the kind of people who are likely to pay for a massage or other non-traditional therapies for their dogs? Where are you most likely to find them? For example, I’d be more inclined to do marketing at the high-end vet office that offers alternative therapies than the one run by the very traditional vet who’s about to retire. I’d be more inclined to do marketing at the health food grocery store or farmer’s market than the chain supermarket.

Where do you find the stats to figure this out?
If you’re after numbers you can contact your Chamber of Commerce and also search online. There are a number of demographic sources you can tap for free these days.

What if you find that your target market consists of several very different groups? Does that mean you should narrow your focus and distill it down to a smaller niche?
Niches are generally the way to go, but it’s not always an option in this specific area of service, as you’re already narrowed down to high-end dog owners who are willing to spend more on their animals and who are bought into or are predisposed to be open to alternative therapies and services. So you probably are talking to various audiences—everything from someone who sees their dog as their child to someone who wants to keep their agility champion at the top of her game. So you’ll have to craft various messages to speak to all your audiences.

For the buyer persona, how specific should you get? Is “females, 18-45, married” enough, or do you need to drill it down to something like “females, 35-45, married, working full time, no kids, living in urban areas, use alternative medicine for themselves, like to go to concerts and the beach”?
I’d try to get a little more specific. What I’m really after is the marketing message. I need to understand who my target audience is well enough to do two things:

1. Find them
2. Know what to say to them when I do

You need to know who your clients are so you can think about how you can help them, what messages will appeal.

It’s not a matter of telling them what you do – “canine massage” or “warm water therapy” are not marketing messages, they’re statements of service. What can you do for them, the human client? Are you relieving their stress or worries or fear? Easing their guilt? Giving them their canine companion back? Helping them to win titles? In short, in what way can you make the humans’ lives better or easier by what you do for their dogs?

So once you know who your buyer personas are, how do you direct your marketing efforts directly to them?
The simple answer is that you craft your messages for your audience and then get those messages into the places your potential clients are likely to come into contact with them. I recommend the use of content or community marketing rather than advertising, as it helps to educate people about what you do and why they might want it in a way that simply stating what you do (no matter how cleverly) just cannot. So write articles, create tip sheets, give talks, do demos. Make your website and Facebook page rich resources of information and useful advice. In short, make yourself useful while displaying your expertise and professionalism.

Veronica Boutelle, MA Ed., CTC, is the former Director of Behavior & Training at the San Francisco SPCA, and the founder and owner of dog*tec, a business and marketing support organization for dog-related businesses.

Cattie Coyle

Cattie Coyle

Founder and Editor at Animal Wellness Guide
Cattie is the founder and editor of Animal Wellness Guide. She is a freelance photographer, graduate of Bancroft School of Massage Therapy’s small animal program, and has studied Applied Zoopharmacognosy. Learn more about Cattie
Cattie Coyle
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