Let’s not kid ourselves: creating a brand can be complicated. (If you’re reading this, you likely know firsthand how complicated.) Not only do you need to decide what your brand stands for, what you want to provide consumers and how to convey your brand promise, you must identify who you want to use your product.

This is one of the most important decisions you can make. After all, brands are relationships, and like romantic relationships you need to make sure there are two mutually interested parties. You don't want to get into an unrequited love situation where no one is interested in what you are offering. This can be a very cold, lonely, and ultimately very unprofitable situation to be in. Healthy relationships involve two interested and equally committed parties. Unhealthy ones don’t – and rarely last long.

Every business has four basic questions they need to answer before effectively building their brand, not dissimilar to the questions that every journalist has to use:

  • WHO are the most important targets for your brand? 
  • WHAT is going to compel them to choose yours and stay loyal? 
  • WHY should these high-priority targets believe in the ability of your brand to deliver?  
  • HOW is the brand felt in every touch point/transaction? 

So the most important step of true brand-building, is attackig the important question of choosing the right target audience. WHO is your priority WHO?  A brand really only exists if there is someone out there who wants it. Someone who buys into the promise. And is willing to return their love - with their pocket books, energy and word of mouth.

Many brands find it empowering to realize that they do have the ability to directly affect who uses – and even more importantly, who doesn’t choose – their products. Don't be afraid of alientating some consumers, if it means you can connect more strongly with others.

How important is an audience, really?

Raise your hand if you own at least one Apple product. I’m sure at least half of you are reading this post on an iPad, MacBook Pro or even your iPhone. If you look at Apple ads, you’ll see a 20-something hipster (think the "I am a Mac" actor Justin Long)  using the newest version of a product. That’s what we call a bull’s-eye target. Because, perhaps no matter how old we are, or what our income level is, or whether we’re tech-savvy or, well, not, we aspire to be Apple users.

By choosing an ideal user (not to mention delivering an amazingly user-friendly product), Apple targets a fairly narrow type, but ends up appealing to everyone.  Apple’s target audience strategy is actually extremely effective. Case in point: my ten-year-old is getting an iPad mini for Hannukah, and I’m still learning how to use my MacBook Pro. Neither of us fall strictly into the ideal Apple target.

Some brands are able to target multiple groups effectively. Coca-Cola’s ads appeal to a wide spectrum of audiences: kids, women, sports fans, teens, to name a few. Fortunately for them, those companies have billions of dollars in their budget to be able to create separate, targeted promotions. It’s likely your brand doesn’t have that kind of marketing spend, so stick with three target audiences at the absolute maximum, and don’t stray from that number.

You don’t want to risk confusing your audience. If you’re a health care brand, like Viagra for example, this might mean your audience could be doctors, pateints and thier spouses. Your overall brand promise should be the same, but your specific messages might be nuanced for each of these targets.

Creating a persona that comes to life

When building your audience, it’s crucial to really understand motivations of your target. What do they value? What keeps them up at night? And ultimately what is going to push them to choose your brand out of all the other options out there?  Creating a targeted persona can help you to deliver on your brand promise which ultimately boosts your business and brand clout.

To illustrate, let’s pretend you’re opening a new hotel chain and you want to target business travelers. According to the U.S. Travel Association, one in five US adults are expected to take work-related trips in the next six months. That’s a pretty big number, but there’s no way you can expect to target every single one of those travelers.

Maybe there is a type of traveler who’s currently dissatisfied with his current hotel choices. In order to create a bull’s eye target start, by creating a persona. Think about his favorite brands, activities in other categories, his pet peeves, what he loves and hates about travel. By creating a fictional persona and understanding what motivates that type of person, you can and you will create a better, more tailored experience for your brand. Real innovation comes from knowing and connecting with your consumer, and from meeting their needs.

Target everyone and connect with no one

The biggest faux-pas many brands make is trying to target everyone. If Apple’s ads were saturated with teenagers, kids under age 10, and senior citizens, they wouldn’t be nearly as effective. 

Try to connect with everyone, and you’ll end up with no one in the audience. At the end of the day, there is one person you want to be loyal to your brand above everyone else. Get him first – the rest will likely follow suit.

How are you using personas to define your target audience and build your brand promise? Tell me in the comments below, or talk to me on Twitter at @Jcottin.

Julie Cottineau

Published 13 December, 2012 by Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, founder of the brand consultancy BrandTwist and the new Brand School, has been an executive at Interbrand and VP of Brand for Virgin. You reach her at Julie@BrandTwist.com or follow her on twitter @jcottin.

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Comments (4)


Phil Reed

Interesting approach, but I believe identifying and influencing an audience involves more than "thinking about" what they like and don't like, and creating a fictional persona. If you're going to connect with a consumer, it has to start with real insight. Apple, Coca-Cola - in fact, any major brand you can think of - spends millions each year on acquiring that insight through a variety of means. And different messages are tailored to different audiences.

over 5 years ago

Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, Founder at BrandTwist

Hi Phil. I agree it's great to spend money on research if 1) it's going to get you real insight and 2) you can afford it. Many large companies do a lot of consumer testing, but they don't always get insight. I am a fan of methods where you are really observing consumer behavior and not just asking them questions about it. Like in home interviews.

Also many of my clients are small businesses that can't afford research. So a target persona is a great step. It can also be a great step for larger businesses who then have the budgets to go out and confirm these assumptions.

Would love to hear about some of your favorite methods to get insight.

Thanks for commenting.


over 5 years ago


Love Social Media

The question of "WHERE" should also be included in the above. As in, "where will you find your target marketing?" and "where will you set-up your advertising or company presence?" A large part of what has driven Apple's audience to purchase has been it's mass appeal online, through social media and engaging with their audience, not just their television ads.

over 5 years ago

Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, Founder at BrandTwist

WHERE is definitely key. I think WHEN is also really important. You need to reach your target in an aperture moment, when they are open to what you are offering. However, I've tend to focus on the first 4 because these are fundamental to building the brand - but once it's built it needs to be bought and WHEN and WHERE are great additions to consider.

Thanks for commenting.


over 5 years ago

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