One of the first things I ask prospective clients is to specify their target audiences. Nine times out of ten they’re sure to respond, “We want to appeal to everyone!”
I give the same response to them all: Try to make your product for everyone and you’ll appeal to no one.
If a company doesn’t know who they want to target, I’m very likely to forgo working with them. Without a target audience, there’s probably not going to be any valuable user research, making it nearly impossible for me to succeed.
Sometimes clients give me opportunity to do some initial research to discover potential audiences. Then with some good options in front of them, they can make the decision on whose needs to address first. This is about so much more than user experience — it’s a business decision, and must relate directly to the company’s vision, mission, strategy and value proposition.
In all fairness, many companies start out without clearly articulating the aforementioned and wait to see how the market will respond to what they put forward. I’ve particularly seen this with startups. Early success can certainly happen by putting some bait out there and waiting to see who bites. But in order to sustain success over time, organizations must have a target audience for whom to optimize the experience. Otherwise they’ll never be able to differentiate themselves from the competition.
In his post he said something that particularly stuck with me:
The world doesn’t need another blandly appealing mainstream idea. I think the real opportunity is to find a niche and give them something they will walk over hot coals to buy. Even if it’s polarizing. Especially if it’s polarizing. By giving something truly remarkable to a niche, the idea can still be appealing to a wide audience. But it needs a niche at the core. The mainstream is not a target market.
It reminded me of a recent situation in which I found myself insisting to the CEO of a major online communications company that trying to be the next Verizon was not a strategy. “We have a target market of 55 million customers in the United States,” he said.
“You have a potential market of 55 million customers,” I maintained. “But who are you targeting right now?” I don’t think they had ever before considered this question.
Whether it be business executives or college students or transnational families, there is a smaller subset of the entire world to focus on. In time, your product offering can expand to attract other target markets.
Just remember: each audience has their own set of needs, and if you don’t have both eyes firmly planted on them, they’ll be sure to notice.