Many online retailers think they understand their target audience, but do they really get them?

Often online retail is busy. Too much to do, too little time to do it in, and almost always just one more team member needed in order to get everything done. It’s an exciting business, but the speed of change and the plethora of compelling marketing opportunities that present themselves on a daily basis often prove to be time consuming and result in lots of ‘doing’ but not necessarily enough ‘thinking’.

That’s where the most successful online retailers set themselves apart from their counterparts. They manage to set time aside for taking a step back and looking at their business from a holistic perspective. As an agency consulting with online retailers on their growth strategies, this perspective is an easy one for us to take as ‘outsiders’ to the business, and is very often where we are able to add the most value.

By looking at their business strategically, including their target audience, some online retailers are able to get right to the heart of what makes their business successful. All too often assumptions are made, or old data is used when referencing target audience. However, your audience is very much alive (we hope!) and because of this, they are changing as rapidly as the technology that we use to communicate with them.

Target audience profiling is no longer just about demographic data, it’s about understanding your audience as real people and actually getting to know them, what they like and where and when they hang out online. Armed with this information, you are far more likely to speak to them in the right tone of voice, using the appropriate channels and engaging with them at a time of day when they are most receptive to your brand.

Producing personas for each area of your target audience helps you to identify your audience’s digital footprint, key areas of interest (which in turn can become triggers for conversation) and helps you to make best use of your marketing spend.

Think about it; if you know your audience is predominantly busy mums with children aged 0-7, it’s highly unlikely that 5-7pm is going to be a good time to engage with them. You’re more likely to catch them when they collapse on the sofa with a glass of wine and their iPad at 8pm!

On the other hand, a busy commuter is likely to be killing time mobile browsing on their journey home, so 5-7pm may be perfect if that’s who you want to reach out to. Both are more likely to engage at different times and will require a different user experience based on device, frame of mind and much more. By really understanding their habits, behaviours and motivations, you can tailor the experience, channels and messaging to maximise appeal.

The age-old saying of “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” attributed to retail revolutionary John Wanamaker over 100 years ago, thankfully no longer applies to retail today. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to tools for measurement and analysis of our online activities and by measuring, analysing and making small improvements, we can continually increase efficiencies and return on our marketing investment.

When it comes to understanding your target audience remember these three key points at all times:

  • Understand (Listen) – get working on those personas
  • Engage – it’s a two-way conversation
  • Measure – keep track of what works and keep making it better

Understanding your target audience is an on-going task and if you ensure you stay in touch with who they are, you are far more likely to be successful, achieve a better return on marketing investment and survive the rapidly changing trends in consumer behaviour that we are currently seeing. It is vital to remember that your target audience just six months ago is likely to have already changed – keep up with them and you may be lucky enough to have them stick with you!

Jocelyn Kirby

Jocelyn Kirby


Jocelyn Kirby is Head of Marketing at Metakinetic.