As a marketer, defining your target market is one your most important tasks. Why? Helping you find your consumer tribe ensures you waste as little money and time as possible when trying to reach them and increases your odds of actually converting as many of them as possible into buyers. Know your target consumer deeply and you will find, build and nurture your tribe while ensuring all of your marketing is more effective and efficient.

First, let’s dive into why it’s important to have a clearly defined, niche target market and why it’s not helpful to try to talk to or appeal to everyone. Now, it’s common for craft makers to want to get the word out about their brand and products as widely as possible. Seems like a good idea, right? The important thing to understand is that when you try to reach and appeal to everyone, you’re talking to a lot of consumers who don’t care or for any number of reasons aren’t very likely to ever convert into paying customers. Furthermore, in order to appeal to everyone, you have to water down your message to make it generally appealing. So essentially, by trying to talk to everyone, you’re talking to no one at all, at least not in a very compelling way.

If you do understand your target market, however, there’s a continual upside. As you steadily deepen your understanding of your target market over time, the effectiveness of your marketing increases. Meaning you’ll start to see higher conversion rates and better return on your marketing investments. And I don’t know about you, but as a small business owner myself, getting better results for less money is an objective that is always worth spending my time on.

Okay, so repeat after me: “Your target audience is not everyone.” In fact, your target audience isn’t even people who like to drink the spirit(s) that you’re making. That is just too broad. You don’t want your core, target consumers to be any ol’ whiskey drinker that would be happy with any ol’ whiskey from any ol’ distillery. Because, sure, maybe they’ll buy your whiskey once. Or stop in for a visit once. But your target consumer? That’s the consumer who tells all of their friends about you, comes to your events, gets to know your team and is there buying your spirits whenever you have a new release. This is the base you need to build to create a successful brand. The value of that consumer versus someone who just passively enjoys any ol’ whiskey is tenfold over time. And if you’re going to spend your money on reaching consumers, you bet your bourbon that you want to spend it on those people who are worth real, sustainable value for your business.

Your brand is unique. Your spirits are differentiated. You want to find the people who care about that specifically. Forty-two percent of start-ups fail, according to a study by CB Insights, because there is no market need. Meaning brands are building and communicating something when there isn’t a clearly defined target market who wants it. Is there a huge market need for more spirits when there are already thousands out there? Not really. Is there a market need for your unique approach to spirits? That’s more likely — If you have a clearly defined brand story (https://distilling.com/distillermagazine/make-your-marketing-work-harder/), can communicate it and have identified your target market who cares about it. When you throw good money after bad, untargeted marketing tactics, you don’t get results for the money you’re spending and you run out of it faster. Every dollar you spend has to be spent effectively, and if you’re not marketing with a clear, target consumer in mind, you are not being effective.

But what about all of those other consumers out there I’m missing by focusing this narrowly? Surely, I can’t build a business on the super-relevant, raving fans alone.

This is a common concern. And there is truth to it. The beauty of target marketing is that by focusing, you’ll also capture people who are tangentially related to that core target market. We call this the “halo” of target marketing. Consumers who may not be your exact target consumer but might be part of the halo that overlaps with your target market will still find you, and your message will appeal to them as well. These halo groups will simply be less “perfect” examples of your target consumer… meaning maybe they only check 4 of the 10 boxes that identify your target. These might be people who are friends, colleagues, teammates or partners. Or they might be completely unrelated and simply have similarities that still make them a pretty good fit for your brand. So even if you have a great, tight target market, you’ll naturally be reaching lots of people who aren’t in the bullseye. But those extra people you reach will be more relevant because you’re talking in such a targeted way to the people they do have similarities to. And when you hit on that similarity or motivation or language, they’ll be more likely to take notice. And then you have multiple big groups of halo consumers paying attention to you when it makes sense and is relevant to them. Given their halo with your target, they are much easier to convert than people who don’t have any similarities with your target market at all. So now your targeted marketing is working even harder for you and helping you reach and convert even more people while still being targeted, relevant and meaningful.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to identify and understand your particular niche target market so you can dominate it. It’s important to keep in mind that identifying and understanding your target consumer is one of your MOST important jobs as a marketer, so this process should be continual over time. It’s a journey, not a destination.

To get started on that journey, first you want to tap into what you already know and feel in your gut about your target consumer and fully flesh that out. This is a particularly important step for distilleries that already have consumers. Sit down and give yourself an hour to flesh out what you believe to be true about those “best” consumers that you wish you could clone. Write out their demographics, their interests, their hobbies, their world views, what types of publications you think they follow, where you think they’re most likely to be on social media… anything you can possibly formulate an educated guess on. Push yourself to go beyond surface level and really get into their psychographics, needs and motivations. What makes them so interested in your brand and products? What problem can you help them solve? What opportunity can you provide that would resonate with them? If you have data on your current consumer base from your sales system, social media platform insights, mailing list open/click rates, website analytics or from anywhere else, use that to help inform your thinking here as well.

Next, you need to validate your thinking. This is where you have to dig in and do some real market research. It can be expensive and elaborate or it can be scrappy… but validating your thinking on who your ideal consumer is will ensure you’re informed and not inadvertently identifying your target consumer as yourself. You are not your target consumer — there might be some similarities, but building a brand that appeals to you alone is not a target marketing strategy.

To validate your thinking, or if you’re a new brand who doesn’t have existing consumers yet, you’ll need to start talking to potential and existing consumers. You can do this by using surveys, setting up one-on-one in-person interviews, chatting with them intentionally while they’re in your tasting room, recruiting some consumers to participate in focus groups or using observation techniques to follow and observe them in their real and digital life. You can also leverage online resources yourself to get tips and tricks for how to execute scrappy market research techniques without creating bias. We teach all of the techniques needed to do this yourself in our Consumer Centric Marketing (https://courses.thecraftycask.com/p/consumer-centric-marketing) course in our Craft Alcohol Marketing Bootcamp (https://courses.thecraftycask.com/courses). Whenever talking to consumers directly for this work, keep in mind that you don’t want to bias them with your ideas or opinions at all. So, keep your questions open-ended, ensure you’re not leading them to a specific topic or answer with the way your question is worded and continue to probe deeper based on their answers to get to the real, rich insight you need.

Are you ready to dig deep and better understand your target consumer? If you’ve been feeling resistant to the idea of narrowing down to one target market because you fear that you’ll be missing out on too many other people, don’t. Remember, there are big halos of people that surround your target consumer in many ways. The more focused you are on getting that target market to understand, love and buy your brand, the more halo consumers will follow along as well. And by ensuring you know your target consumers deeply and designing all of your marketing with them in mind, you’ll waste less time and money on marketing, find your tribe and accelerate your brand’s growth. 



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Suzanne Henricksen
Suzanne Henricksen is the founder of The Crafty Cask (www.thecraftycask.com), a media & marketing consulting company that works solely with craft alcohol producers. Her Craft Alcohol Marketing Bootcamp (courses.craftycask.com) supports craft makers in growing their brand, consumer interest and categories through effective marketing. She has over 15 years experience in consumer marketing and a deep passion for storytelling, craft alcohol, and consumer education.