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A target market is a particular group of consumers at which a product or service is aimed. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer.
That sounds pretty similar, doesn’t it?
Don’t be fooled — “target market” and “buyer persona” aren’t just different names for the same thing. The differences may be subtle, but understanding those differences is the first step to identifying your ideal customer, tailoring your messaging to best speak to that customer and closing high-value sales for your business.
Let’s compare and contrast each.
Target Market & Target Audience
A target market, and more specifically, a target audience, describes a particular audience of consumers within your market who will care about your product the most. Typically, target audiences are more popular among B2C companies than B2B.
For example, the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion created the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children to teach people between the ages of 12 and 18 to eat healthily. Although their target market is obviously much broader — their mission is to improve the health of all Americans — the messaging of this particular offer was tailored to resonate with a younger subset of their market.
Target audiences tend to focus on demographic and psychographic information, including geography, gender, age, marital status and other information about consumer lifestyles. In other words, a target audience delineates the attitudes and behaviors of a specific group of people with regard to purchasing decisions.
Ideal Customer Profiles & Buyer Personas
Unlike target markets and audiences, buyer personas are more often used by B2B companies and serve as a subset of the ideal customer profile (ICP). Once you understand the types of companies that are a good fit for your product or service, you can begin to identify and define the types of people within those companies who will be most receptive to your solution.
Like target audiences, buyer personas should include demographic, psychographic and behavioral information. However, buyer personas tend to go more in-depth about the role and influence these people have within their companies, emphasizing their goals and motivations.
So What’s the Difference Between Target Markets and Buyer Personas?
Target markets were built for B2C companies, which target individual consumers who act as the only decision maker. In B2B, however, there are usually multiple people involved in the sale, so it’s important to understand the relationships between those people, the buying power of each and the way that information travels through their companies.
That’s why buyer personas often include company-related information, including job titles, industry, annual revenue, number of employees and more. Generally, this stuff isn’t relevant for B2C sales; for example, marketers at Coca-Cola wouldn’t tailor their messaging based on job title, because people from any role, company or industry could purchase their drink.
Regardless of the type of ideal customer description you build out for your business, you should use that description to inform and refine every aspect of your content, marketing and sales strategies.
An In-Depth Look Into Buyer Personas: Users, Champions, Decision Makers
As I mentioned earlier, the reason B2B companies can’t confuse target audiences and buyer personas is that, for most B2B products, the buying process within a company involves a number of different people.
For example, let’s say you sell CRM software. The person who experiences the most direct benefits from your product — the end-user — is likely going to be a marketer or a salesperson. However, the end-user probably isn’t the person who has the final say on the sale; in this example, the decision-maker is probably a CEO or CFO because they’re in charge of the budget.
Additionally, the person who researches your product during the initial stages of the buyer’s journey might be neither the end-user nor the decision-maker. Instead, this person acts as the champion for your product within the company. In the example of CRM software, the champion might be a CMO, because they’re looking for a solution that will make their entire team more efficient, but they probably don’t have the final say on the marketing budget.
In order to attract, engage and delight your customers effectively, you need to be able to tailor your messaging to users, champions and decision-makers in every layer of the sales process.
In other words, you should have content that appeals to:
The end-user (“my product makes your job easier because…”)
The champion (“here’s how to make the case for my product to the stakeholders in your company…”)
The decision-maker (“here’s why the investment in my product is worth it...”)
Creating content for everyone involved in the buying process helps you gain buy-in more quickly and ensures a smoother, more successful sale.
Moving Toward a Customer-First Future
Without taking the time to understand the goals, challenges and motivations of your ideal customers — as well as the direct impact of your product or solution on those goals, challenges and motivations — all of your marketing and sales efforts will be little more than a shot in the dark.
Don’t make assumptions about who your ideal audiences are. Collect information about your current customers through interviews, surveys and data analysis to validate your ideas about who you believe your ideal customers to be. Once you understand that, your marketing, sales and service teams can each use this information to help them increase efficiency, win rates and revenue generation.
Particularly, B2B companies should be careful not to neglect the end-users, champions or decision-makers — a holistic marketing and sales strategy that targets each individual involved in a sale will drive the most success for your business.
Guido is Head of Product and Growth Strategy for New Breed. He specializes in running in-depth demand generation programs internally while assisting account managers in running them for our clients.