Brand positioning is a critical component of brand strategy, but unfortunately, too many marketers believe that an important aspect of brand positioning — target audience — is only about the customer. Furthermore, they believe there can be only one target audience for any given brand.
This is outdated thinking. Brand marketers who hold these beliefs risk cutting off other key players and parties, such as customers and other stakeholders, who are critically important to the success of their brands. In order to avoid this myopia, marketers need to re-evaluate their assumptions and broaden their thinking relative to targeting.
The Target Audience Issue
There are two separate but related aspects of target audience that need to be reconsidered relative to brand positioning. The first is that there can be no more than one target for any given brand. Let's assume for the moment that customers are a logical stakeholder group for a brand to target, and a customer segmentation has been fielded that reveals six distinct behavioral or attitudinal segments. The notion that a brand can thrive in today's competitive environment by being relevant to only one of those segments is inherently flawed.
Consider McDonald’s, for example. It's a brand that effectively caters to a multitude of audiences, ranging from cash-strapped college students studying late at night, to busy moms with their young children, to traveling businessmen. These consumer "segments" all seek McDonald’s for different reasons; in fact, any given individual may seek different benefits from McDonald's based on the specific occasion in question.
For example, a businessman might have one need when racing through an airport trying to catch a flight and then have an entirely different need when taking his young children there for a weekend lunch. A time-strapped mom may appreciate the convenience of a drive-thru after swim practice, but she may want a healthier option for her and her children at other times. It would be nearly impossible for McDonald's to declare one segment — much less one specific consumer occasion — as the brand's target. It's simply not practical.
The second problem with conventional wisdom around target audience as it relates to brand positioning is the assumption that the only relevant audiences for brands are customers. Suppliers, regulators, governments, opinion leaders, investors, analysts and other stakeholders all matter to varying degrees, depending on the brand and the nature of the business. In extreme cases, some of these "other" stakeholder groups can be even more important than customers.
For instance, oil companies like BP and Shell market gasoline to customers, but they are also highly dependent on the foreign governments and policymakers that grant them access to new areas for exploration and production (i.e., upstream). Professional services firms, such as McKinsey, KPMG, Deloitte and Bain & Company, rely on the strength of their brands to attract top industry talent. Without access to the best auditors, analysts, accountants, strategists and consultants, these companies would quickly lose the ability to compete effectively in the marketplace.
Bottom line: Customers are certainly important, but they are not the only audience that matters. And the fate of brands is often determined — at least in part — in their ability to be relevant to these other audiences and stakeholder groups.
Positioning Your Brand to a Wider Audience
Brand marketers can create a stronger brand positioning that considers more than a single target audience — and stakeholders other than customers — by following these tips:
1. Look for adjacencies within customer segments.
By definition, customer segments are intended to be distinct. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they are completely at odds with one another and that they don’t share some commonalities. A logical first step in the target selection process is to pick the segment that is the most appealing across multiple dimensions, including incidence in the market, spending patterns, and perceptions of your brand. This is your primary target segment.
However, from there, it may be beneficial to see whether there is another segment that can represent a secondary target for the brand. Look for commonality between the primary target segment and other segments of interest. While the needs and attitudes of these segments are likely different, it may be possible to find a “bridge” that can connect them from a value proposition perspective without overly diluting or fragmenting the value proposition in the process.
2. Identify relevant upstream and lateral stakeholders.
Buyers aren’t the only people who matter. Consider the company’s position in the industry, then look at which non-customer groups have the greatest impact on the organization’s performance. For example, suppliers provide important services, especially when they control resources in short supply. Limited human talent in sophisticated industries, such as science, technology, and professional services, can also limit a brand’s capabilities. In heavily regulated industries, brands must consider government agencies and regulators as important stakeholders.
3. Keep the brand promise consistent.
Identifying multiple targets does not mean companies should position their brands differently to each audience; to do so would fracture the brand. Nor does it mean marketers should target multiple segments with a value proposition that is so broad that it is virtually meaningless. Rather, companies must create a single-minded positioning that is broad enough to be relevant across multiple groups, then translate it in a way that appeals to each segment. The communications might differ, but the positioning should never vary from one audience to another.
Brand positioning has focused on the customer as its target audience since its introduction in the 1960s — and for good reason. However, the time for this singular focus — to the exclusion of all other stakeholder groups — has passed. Changes to commercial and consumer environments require us to rethink how we position our brands and how we target different audiences. By following these three steps to reconsider stakeholder groups and create a better brand positioning, marketers can begin to speak to multiple audiences without losing sight of the single-minded promise that makes their brands unique.
Mitch Duckler is a managing partner at FullSurge, a consulting firm specializing in marketing and brand strategy for Fortune 1000 companies. Mitch has more than 25 years of experience in both brand management and consulting and has worked with companies such as Deloitte, ExxonMobil, Boeing, and more. Subscribe to receive notifications on Mitch’s upcoming book, “The Indispensable Brand."