Primary vs. Secondary Target Market

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As one witty business blogger quipped, “Everyone is not a demographic.” In a dream world far, far away, one could point to a demographic and announce, “That is my market!” However, this world is one where market segmentation helps businesses identify their ideal customers. Understanding the types of target markets facing your company means having a better understanding of the target marketing strategies to yield the best revenue opportunities ahead.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The primary target market is the group of consumers a business covets the most or feels is most likely to be the purchaser of its product or service. The secondary target market is the next market that most appeals to the company.

Target Markets vs. Demographics

These two concepts often get readily interchanged, but they’re not the same thing. Target markets are “demographics plus”. Demographics are the statistical understanding of people and populations. It’s about understanding how age, gender, geography, education, race, marital status, employment type and more plays out among people in places or regions.

The target audience is basically demographics plus income plus geography plus buying power. Most importantly, the target audience is those whom the company would like to have as customers — they’re in the right area, they have the right needs, they’re the right type of person and they’re in the market for that product. To get these customers, the company targets its advertising and marketing efforts toward them.

Keep in mind that a target market will include certain demographics — say, women between 26 and 34 — but not all women between 26 and 34 are part of the target audience. Why? Well, consider an apartment complex in a city where it’s safe, upwardly mobile and close to the downtown core, and the developers are trying to attract young, urban, female professionals. Of those 26- to 34-year-old women in the region, there will be those who hate downtown or others who are already married, so none of these women will be of interest to the developers — they’re not the target. That's OK because not everyone will be a consumer positioned to buy what a company is selling.

Primary Target Market

The primary target audience is the group of customers that a business thinks it has the greatest opportunity to convert. They’re the consumers on whom the company is banking to be early adopters, brand evangelists, repeat customers or simply a good bet. For instance, the developer may decide that the best way to attract the young, urban woman might be to have marketing posters inside transit stations near the development, slickly teasing these passersby that, “If you lived in brand X development, you’d be home already.”

The primary target audience won’t be the largest group, and they may not even be the most obvious group. They’ll be a select audience that the company should identify through a process of discussion and analysis. They’re a group that meets all the data sets as being most likely to buy into that product or service. Marketing should be designed in a way that will ring bells with that group.

That doesn’t mean they’re the only consumers being pursued; they’re just the first point of attack.

Secondary Target Market

The secondary target market is the next market that most appeals to the company for its promise and potential. Consider as an example a budget-friendly laptop that’s perfect for students and teens. Young people may be the expected end user, but the primary audience is actually the moms who will be making the choice for which laptop to send with their kids to school. The kids, then, are the secondary target audience.

As another example, consider one of those “grab-it” tools used to reach things high up on shelves. The primary target audience is likely the elderly — they can’t climb up on chairs and stools anymore. The secondary market would be wheelchair users who are confined to their seats. Of course, they need the reaching tool as well and are quite likely to be converted to customers, but they’re a smaller segment and will be more likely to hear about the product than perhaps the first group who need to be introduced to it via an informative campaign.

It’s easy, though, to make a quick reference or inclusion of the secondary audience in the primary campaign, and this is a wise plan of attack.

Segmenting the Markets

To get the target audience — primary or secondary — means segmenting the market first. This is when you group potential customers via their traits and demographics. Women over 50 who are still in the workforce with plenty of disposable income and who travel at least once a year — that’s one market segment. Income, education, political perspectives, geography, work history, race, gender, age and so many other factors can all be attributes upon which one segments the markets.

In selecting traits to form segments, it’s completely up to the companies to choose what they think makes the most promising consumer. For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts won’t market its coffee toward the affluent and well-heeled customer since they’re more likely to drink Starbucks or other elevated brands. Appreciating coffee is only one small part of the consumer it's after, and if it's really in sync with its product, it will understand its customers.

Identifying Target Audiences

Understanding a customer isn’t necessarily obvious in the early days. Sometimes, a young company knows what it's offering, and it simply sells the product until it has a better idea of its consumers. This is expensive audience research, but sometimes that’s how organic business rolls. As time goes on, it's easier to understand who is gravitating toward a product or service.

To learn more, a company can run target market analysis. To get started, it’s almost like writing an elementary-school paper: Explore the "Five W's" and the “H.”

  • Who is the audience? This is the demographic aspect of market research. How old are your potential customers? What is their makeup via race, gender, income, employment and all those other details?

  • What do they like and do? What sorts of hobbies do they have? What are their values? What are their needs? How do these things translate to your company’s offerings?

  • Where are your customers? Where do they live, work and play? Climate can influence choices because tropical Gulf of Mexico summers mean a different experience than the summer choices in Seattle, with everything from how they eat and drink to what they wear and do.

  • When will they buy? The “when” means understanding if a product or service will have slow periods, how to navigate those seasons and how to ramp up for the busy times. Is the product seasonal, year round or something that needs replenishing daily, weekly or monthly? Does the target audience have the income for buying said product or service at these intervals, and if not, what can be done to help that? These factors can all influence the ideal product messaging.

  • Why? Why will they buy from you? Why is your product one they’d prefer? More importantly, why do your competitors’ customers buy their product instead?

  • How? What is it you can say or do to get noticed by your target audiences? How can they be attracted, wooed, converted and retained? What will it take to create repeat business?

Understanding the answers to all these questions is only the beginning of hammering down the types of target markets from which a company has to choose and knowing how to connect with them.

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About the Author

Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.