Target market and target audience are commonly-used terms which both refer to population segmentation as a tool for focusing advertising and marketing activities.

Whilst they are often seen as interchangeable, there is a subtle difference between the two terms that is more noticeable in practice than in theory. It’s important to know the difference between them when formulating your strategy.

Definition of terms

Target market

A target market is a segment of the population that a business has delineated as the primary focus of their marketing strategies. By channeling brand messages towards a particular group, you can ensure better return on investment. Digital marketing makes this more feasible than ever before, if approached with care.

Target markets are typically based on a combination of key demographics; age and gender being the most obvious. Here’s a quick example: the target market for a range of hipster beard conditioners will be urban-dwelling men aged 19 to 40. This is a broad market. How does that differ from a target audience? Let’s take a look…

Target audience

There is some debate about the exact definition of a target audience. My advice would be to make use of whichever definition best works for the needs of your business. A target audience is usually defined in one of the following two ways:

  1. The ideal audience for an advertisement campaign
  2. The people most likely to purchase your product

Whilst these two definitions are closely linked, you may prefer one philosophical framework over another. Whichever definition best helps you pinpoint (and reach) your ideal customer should be the one to choose.

To figure out your target audience, ask yourself this question: to ensure a sale, who would you most like to come into contact with your product? This will point to your target audience, which can be explored in great detail to uncover emotions, need states, pain points, and more.

Time to revert back to our range of beard conditioners. The target audience for your line of fuzz-free fun might be one or more of the following:

  • men aged 19 – 40 who live in gentrifying neighbourhoods of major urban areas
  • the girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands of said men
  • the owners of hipster barbershops looking for products to sell in their stores

These are the people who are most likely to buy your product. It follows that these are the people who you should aim your communications at, and these are the people who should be considered when designing an advertising campaign.

That said, all approaches must be methodologically tested to maximise ROI. Furthermore, the target market and audience must be considered in the context of the customer journey map.

The difference between the two

It’s a broad definition, but here’s a quick-fire way to remember the difference between the two terms – group the Ms and the As together:

TARGET MARKET = MARKETING CONCERN

TARGET AUDIENCE = ADVERTISING CONCERN

Your target market should be the north star consideration for every marketing decision. From the package design of a product, to where you focus sales efforts, no component is engaged without reverting back to the broader target market.

Target audiences might change, within the boundaries of the bigger target market. These audiences should be considered carefully for each ad campaign and/or piece of content, and seen in the context of the buyer stage and customer journey.

An interesting example is as follows. Let’s say you launch a range of cuddly toys for children, based on a series of popular cartoons. Kids aged 3-7 won’t be buying your stuff directly, but the parents will. In this sense, the target market is kids, but the target audience is their parents.

In conclusion…

Here it is one more time, for the people at the back:

  • Know who you want to use your product (target market)
  • Know who you want to purchase your product (target audience)
  • Create a comprehensive strategy that understands the differences between these two, whilst at the same time taking greatest advantage of both