The end of the target audience?

One of my pet peeves is website owners who think they should target “everyone” with their website marketing. Look, I don't care what you offer, “everyone” is not your target.

The truth is, no matter what you have to offer, it isn't really for everyone. And the sooner you figure that out — and start focusing your efforts — the better you'll do. Really!

I know it's hard. You want to go after everybody, because you don't want to leave any sales on the table. The fear is if you narrow your focus, you'll miss potential customers.

I remember awhile back on one one of the discussion forums I frequent, a site owner asked for a review of his computer sales site. He insisted his product was intended for everyone.

But not everyone needs a computer. Not everyone can afford a computer. Some people live in remote areas with no electricity and couldn't use a computer even if they wanted to. His site was only in English and he only offered English-language support — so there was nothing there to appeal to non-English-speaking customers.

No matter what he might have wished, his products wouldn't be suitable for everybody. And therefore his site shouldn't try to appeal to everybody. But no matter how I tried to convince him Chinese toddlers, nomadic Masai herdsman and my technophobic mom were not among the target customers for his gaming-enhanced computers, he seemed to have trouble narrowing his focus past “everybody.”

Take the First Step: Identify Your Target Audience

When you try to target everybody, you usually end up appealing to nobody. You get generic, bland content in a generic, bland site. You won't offend anybody, but you'll likely not generate much excitement, either.

Instead of trying to appeal to everybody (and ending up with something so blah and colorless it bores the world to tears), zero in on your target audience. Use the words and phrases they would use. Select a color scheme they would find attractive. Organize your site in a way that makes sense to them.

Will you lose a few sales from people who aren't in your target market and hate your color scheme, can't figure out what in the world you're talking about and for the life of 'em can't locate anything on the darned site? Possibly. But you know what? You probably wouldn't have gotten that many sales from them to start with.

Certainly not enough to make up for all the sales you'd be losing with your unfocused “everything for everybody in general, and nothing for anybody in particular” website.

Engage your most likely customers, focus on giving them exactly what they want, and you'll most likely get more total sales.

Kick It Up a Notch: Personas

Okay, I admit for dramatic purposes I overstated the “death” of the target audience. As you can see, they're still very much alive (and still a darned useful concept).

And for those trying to work their way up from “focusing” on everybody, identifying a target audience is an excellent first step. Once you get to know the groups who would be most interested in your offer, you'll almost automatically create an online experience more likely to appeal to them.

Which almost automatically means improved website performance.

But once you've got the target audience thing down pat, there's no resting on your laurels. If you really want to rev up your site performance, it's time to take it to the next level.

To become a true Ninja Warrior web marketer, grasshopper, I recommend you learn about and use personas.

Recently I came across this article about personas and headlines at Psychotactics. And of course, over at GrokDotCom, the Eisenberg brothers know a lot of reasons to like and use personas.

So whattheheck is a persona? And what makes a persona different from — and potentially better than — a target audience?

Well, personas are individuals; target audiences are groups. While writing for a well-focused group is better than trying to appeal to everybody, writing to an individual is even more powerful. When your customers believe you're speaking directly to them, one-on-one, you forge a stronger personal connection. You'll be answering their questions before they even ask. You'll reduce friction in the sales process... and therefore make more sales.

Finding it hard to believe me about results? Afraid it's going to be a complicated, expensive process? Here's an example from the GrokDotCom article:

Just ask Steve Franzman, founder of, a client who used personas to boost conversion by 400%, and get a 2 to 1 return on a floundering Pay-Per-Click campaign... [the company] used just four simple personas to get enough perspective to rework the entire website.

Wow — a 400% boost in their conversion rates with “just four simple personas”? So what's holding you back now?

If you're concerned that by writing to individuals, you'll exclude too many prospective customers, consider this insight from the Psychotactics article:

Writing a headline just for [one persona] seems like marketing suicide, but actually it's quite the opposite. Because a million mothers with the very same problem will look at your headline and say, “That's me! This is exactly the service I wanted.”

It matters not if your site is consumer-oriented or B2B, whether you sell products or services, whether a conversion is a direct sale or if you're trying to generate leads. You can learn to use personas effectively to improve your website's performance.

Intrigued? Want to learn more? Here are two articles to help you get going:

Bottom line, if you think your products or services are intended for everybody, think again. Start by considering who might be your target audience. Focus your attention on this target audience and I bet you'll see an improvement — possibly a significant improvement — in your site's performance.

And even if you already have the target audience down pat, there's still room to improve. Learn to use them appropriately and personas can be your new best friends.

November 20, 2007

Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting


Great Post, I been recently trying to find my audience. I want to cater to everyone, lol. Some very interesting points you made there about finding your audience. Thanks.

Yay!!! Finally someone gets it. I've been doing my nut recently with clients who seem to think that once they have a website they get everyone. Truth is as you put it, not everyone wants them.

Trying to put this simply and explaining the concept is a whole other matter however.

To anyone that tries - "Good Luck!"

An only slightly more frightening thought is that when the site owner says “everybody”, their perspective is so narrow that they actually mean the “targeted” people you mention and have no concept that there may be other markets out there.

Your opening example is this in a nutshell. The Spanish speaking population is growing. You quickly recognized the shortcomings of an-all-English-all-the-time company trying to target this group. It can’t. When the company owner says everyone, does he even know this group exists? Is his perspective so closed off that, by default, he would point to the same people as defining his everybody that you would point to as defining the target?

I am not sure where more danger rests; with the person who truly and naively thinks they can target literally everybody, or the person who is ignorantly defining everybody as a very small group. The first wastes money today. The other gives up opportunity tomorrow.

Dear Diane,

Great post!

I am the Educational Coordinator for my BNI, (Business Network International) Chapter. We are a closed referral network as you probably know. We hammer this concept all the time. I may spell this wrong, but it is related to something in our thought process called our reticular activator. Best example that folks can relate to is the new car phenomenon. You finally narrow down your selection and then you pick a color that you figure will entitle you to a tiny bit of exclusivity. So what happens? You driving your new pride and joy past its twin all the time. Where did all these look alikes come from? They were there all the time, you just never noticed because your reticular activator was not tuned in.

While helping BNI Chapter members focus in on their target market, I have found two things that help. First ask yourself who is your BEST customer,(a real person) and why? Secondly, where do you make your BEST profit.

It takes some honest digging, and sometimes the results are unexpected.

Hit the Bullseye,
Tom Doiron

Furthering what Tom wrote, when you identify a specific client type in a BNI or similar group, you ignite OTHER people's RAS (reticular activation system).

In my last infominute I shared a story about a plumber using my service. All of a sudden three team members gave me referrals of similar tradespeople - not plumbers, but the whole trades category opened up in their minds!

Thanks to all for your comments! Tasty food for thought in there from everyone.

@Mack - wanting to cater to everybody, eh? Don't make me have to come over there and smack you! LOL

@Robert - it is a tough concept for some to wrap their heads around, isn't it! I feel your pain. Best of luck to you with your client.

@Steve - Excellent point! And you're right, that is probably an even more frightening possibility, especially in our global economy. Businesses, even small local businesses, can't afford to think in those narrow terms, IMO. Any ideas of how to help them broaden their perspective?

@Tom - thanks! I had noticed that "reticular activator" syndrome but never knew what it was called. Excellent questions to help begin focusing on the right customers! Absolutely, I agree it's hard work, and well worth it in the end.

@Anita - it is interesting how all it takes sometimes is for one person to toss out a basic idea to unlock hidden creative thinking in the rest of the group!


So true. My personal favorite is the client that wanted to target companies as small as the smallest that have ever bought from him. I pointed out how that would dramatically increase his marketing costs and lower his ROI, but all he could see was the increase in "potential customers". When we were done, all of the results came from the 10% I wanted to target and 90% of the cost were in the 90% he added to the list.

What a great article, Diane. I absolutely agree that there is absolutely no such thing in marketing as everything for everyone.

Thanks for the great information, you made me realize that we really need to evaluate our targeted audience, I mean advertising on facebook may seem to be nice because of their inbound visitors, but realizing the fact that most of them are teenagers and people ages from 16-30 so if our website is dedicated for baby boomers it wont click on facebook..

@Traffic Geyser: from what I understand, one of the fastest-growing groups of Facebook visitors are us "older folks." I think it's important to not let stereotypes get in our way when we're planning our marketing campaigns -- that's an easy way to overlook good opportunities. (That said, I don't know that FB advertising is the best use of a limited budget, but that doesn't have anything to do with the demographics of FB. I'm just skeptical about social media advertising in general at this point.)

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