You Can't Be Everything to Everyone: Finding the Right Audience for Your Business

  •    Freelance writer focused on web development, email marketing and baseball. He lives in Los Angeles, but wishes he lived in Tokyo.

You can't be everything to everyone. This is something most of us understand very well in our own personal lives, but it can be easy to lose sight of this maxim when building a business. You want to make as much money as possible, which means appealing to as many people as possible. The problem is that not everyone likes, wants or needs the same things, so if you attempt to broadly appeal to everyone, there's a chance you won't appeal to anyone.

No person, no company, no anything is universally beloved. The most popular restaurants on Yelp still get one star reviews. The most critically acclaimed films still almost never reach 100% on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. Even the richest, most popular company in the world, Apple, has plenty of detractors. You may even have had a visceral reaction to their name. Some people love Apple and would continue using their products even if the company tumbled back to near collapse as it did before the return of Steve Jobs in the late 90s. Some people hate them and would never use them even now that their products are nearly ubiquitous.

To appeal to someone, you must also have the guts to be unappealing, and even annoying, to someone else.

​Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

Unless you are a billionaire who cunningly and calculatingly started your business while sitting in your mountain fortress overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it's very likely your business is starting out small. You may even be the only person working on it for a long time.

You have friends. Family who enjoy your company. Acquaintances. Former co-workers who you didn't hate and who didn't hate you. This means you are personally appealing to certain people; leveraging your own personality is the right place to start when establishing the beginnings of your brand identity.

What is your story? Your background? What drove you to start your business? Talk about it on your website, in your marketing, when discussing your business with other people.

Authenticity can give you a leg up over a lot of your competitors, not only because people are much more inclined to trust individuals over large faceless organizations, but because, as we're already well aware, some people are drawn to certain personalities while others are drawn to other personalities. Authentically showing who you are will bring in the kind of people who are drawn to you.

Who Is My Target Customer

As previously discussed, this cannot be everyone. Everyone is not a customer.

This extends beyond the generic concept of everyone on earth. Your target audience also can't simply be everyone who might use your product, at least not if you want to have an appealing brand identity.

If you have a coffee shop, then your potential audience is everyone who enjoys coffee or needs to use the bathroom while out shopping. This cannot be your target audience. Will your coffee shop be high end or low end? Appealing to hip youngsters with tattoos or older folks who just want a place to relax while drinking their liquid energy? Are you making your own coffee blend or selling someone else's? Will you have food? If so, is it actually good food?

These two websites both advertise cafes that have a very similar target audience (families), yet give off a completely different feeling:

Anthony's Italian Coffee House

History filled coffee shop with Italian treats and a fun vibe.

White's Bakery and Cafe

White's is still food and family focused, but doesn't give off them same feel of Anthony's. It seems like more of a place where you can quietly have a bite and relax, while Anthony's feels like more of a special event or tourist focused cafe.

Neither of these places fit the more modern, post-steampunk vibe that is so popular among the young and the restless. Yet they're still successful!

To figure out your own target customers, you should write up some very basic profiles to nail down who you're targeting. If you were running Anthony's you might write up a simple profile like this:

Target Customer Number 1

  1. Is a parent
  2. Is around 40 years old
  3. Has one or more children
  4. Is a tourist
  5. Is looking for an event experience
  6. Is on a budget

Then you'd also write up several more profiles that fit the people you want to target with your business. That way you can keep your messaging, marketing and services on track to meet what those customers need. Combining your own personality with your target audience can help you determine your overall brand persona.

Research

As you create this brand persona, it's also important to look at your competitors. Are there other businesses doing something very similar to what you're doing in the same area? If so, you'll want to keep that in mind, since it's key that you differentiate yourself. Why would someone come to your business instead of one that's been around for a while?

What's most important is that your business have personality. That personality might be calm and relaxed. It might be warm and friendly. It might be all business all the time. It might feel like a carnival or an art museum. If you try to build a business that is everything to everyone, it may just end up being nothing to no one.