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.