‘All People Ages 18-55’ Is Not Your Target Audience

Ask a retail financial institution to define its target audience and you will frequently hear something like, “All people ages 18-55.” They might say it “skews slightly towards women.”

Reality Check: This is essentially the same thing as saying, “We’re targeting everyone with money and a pulse.” That isn’t a targeted market segmentation strategy, it’s basically the same thing as saying “we serve the entire market.”

“Try to appeal to everyone, and you will end up appealing to no one.”
— David Ogilvy, ad legend

Everyone’s heard the expression, “You can’t be all things to all people.” But when you define your target audience so broadly, you’ve committed a major error in branding. You should be concentrating your brand on a specific, focused segment. Instead, by essentially targeting “all people,” you have to offer all the things those people want — all the product, services, rewards, benefits, features, online access, service options, etc.

The rationale behind this common branding mistake is understandable. Most financial institutions attract deposits — usually from a more mature audience — in order to make loans to younger, credit-driven consumers. But this only defines your basic business model. You still need to build your brand around a specific market segment.

It seems many organizations view marketing as “an entire company” communicating with “a target audience.” But groups don’t talk to groups. That’s not how human communication works. People talk to people, one-to-one. The marketing messages you send aren’t being received by “all people ages 18-55.” They are being received by real people, individuals like your husband, or your sister, or your mother, or your daughter.

Beyond Demographics

Demographic data can hurt as much as it helps. Putting everyone into buckets based on age, income and gender is easy and manageable, but in most cases, it grossly oversimplifies the definition of a real target audience. Demographics may have been sufficient for the marketers of yesteryear, back when concepts like “target marketing” were in their infancy. But these days, you need to be placing more importance on things like lifestyle and psychographic profiles.

Reality Check: Knowing someone’s age, income and gender may give you a vague idea of the financial situation they’re in, but it really doesn’t give you any insight into the real issues and concerns they face.

The essence of branding hinges on two central concepts: relevance and differentiation. The more you focus your brand around a narrow market segment, the more relevant you can become. You can tailor your products, messages and experiences specifically for this audience, thereby maximizing the relevancy of your brand. On the other hand, as you widen your target audience, your brand will increasingly be forced to share its position in the marketplace with more and more competitors. Simply put, the more people you target, the more competition you’re going to face. Or, in other words, you end up competing on the lowest common denominator: price, fees and rate.

Key Question: What is the largest audience segment that provides the most growth opportunity for your brand in the next 10-20 years?

“Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous. You get knocked down by traffic from both sides.”
— Margaret Thatcher

It’s hard — very hard — to get everyone in your organization to agree on a single, focused, well-defined target audience. But until you do, your brand will suffer. Your team must work together and have hard discussions to strip out all the subjective opinions of what the correct, most-profitable segment is. (Hint: Research will probably be needed.)

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