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How to define your target audience: Musings from the DMV

Who knew the DMV could be such a great source of marketing inspiration? If you’re figuring out how to define your target audience, look no further than your local government agency. Here are three takeaways from my recent visit to the DMV.

#1: “Everyone” does not count as a target audience.

Several months ago, a colleague of mine and I were facilitating a marketing workshop. We asked our participants to define a target audience for their business and share it with the group.

One of the participants proudly raised his hand, dramatically looked around the room, and announced that his target audience was…

“All humanity.”

Now, I’m all for believing in your product or service.

But having recently spent an inordinate amount of time in line at the DMV, I can personally assure this participant that “all humanity” is not the right answer.

I’ve witnessed all humanity first hand. It’s a big group.

Here’s the problem with trying to be all things to all people.

You end up being nothing to anyone.

You can’t tap into people’s emotional triggers because you have to speak so generically.

It’s difficult to identify the best advertising channels because you’re trying to reach everyone.

You spread yourself too thin, going a mile wide when you should be going a mile deep.

Not to mention, you aren’t giving people a frame of reference to send you referrals. It’s counter-intuitive, but the more general you are in how you describe your target audience, the less people are likely to think of anyone who fits your qualifications.

You lose the “target” in target marketing.

Consider an example.

Let’s say you know a realtor who tells you his ideal client is anyone who wants to own a home. A little broad, no?

Having a pulse is not a qualifier. You need more definition.

#2: There are number of ways to target your audience.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered that the DMV waiting room provides an excellent mix of people to help you define your target audience. Here are a few examples…


Demographics are the statistical characteristics of a human population.

For marketing purposes, I often ask my clients to think about their audience in terms of age, gender, income level, and job title.

But there are many more ways that demographics may apply in your world: Disability status. Family status. Home ownership. Religion. Race. Language abilities. Education level… The list goes on.

The beauty of sitting in the DMV for minutes (hours?) on end is that you get to observe a diverse mix of people. Young. Old. White collar. Blue collar. Ivy leaguers. High school dropouts.

Your mind can’t help but race with all the different ways you could define a target audience.

And when it comes to messaging, the beauty of defining your customers’ demographics is that you know which voice and level of writing to use. You can identify what’s important to your audience and work those messages into your copy.


In my opinion, psychographics are where the fun really begins.

Pscyhographics have to do with people’s interests and opinions. Examples of psychographics include people’s attitudes, values, hobbies, interests, and lifestyle choices.

With psychographics, you’re getting into how your audience sees the world and makes decisions. What’s important to them? What do they care about? Which brands mean something to them?

Last year, I worked with a wedding photographer on her website content. She had a very clear definition of her target audience. From a demographic perspective, she wanted to work with brides in their mid- to late-20s.

It’s in the psychographics, though, where things got interesting.

Her target audience consisted of independent thinkers… Creative, art-inspired women who wanted something different for their weddings… Fun, outgoing brides who wanted to be trendsetters.

With her audience in mind, we were able to write copy that really spoke to those women. (And, in combination with other marketing techniques, her website messaging has helped her business flourish!)


Ask yourself, are your best customers located in a specific location?

Your target geography could be a neighborhood, a school district, a zip code, a set of suburbs, a city, a county, an area or region, a country, or even broader.

Here’s another way to think about it. Do you want to specialize in a location that may attract a specific audience?

I walk through a neighborhood each evening in which 75% of the homes for sale are listed through the same realtor. Forget chasing customers for business all over Denver. This realtor has become the go-to guy for people who want to live near a particular elementary school. His marketing is targeted and on point. He knows his customer, and by the number of “for sale” signs he has up in people’s yards, they know him too!

#3: Don’t forget to identify your ideal customers — those you enjoy serving.

While sitting in the DMV, I had an opportunity to observe a lot of interesting behaviors and personality types.

For example, I discovered that people react differently when they find out that the DMV is serving person number 18… And they have ticket number 42.

I watched one businessman walk up to the counter in a huff. He’d decided that he wasn’t interested in the numbering system any more. He wanted to be served right then and there.

(It didn’t work out so well for him.)

Nonetheless, as I watched him, I found myself wondering about the different ways you could interpret his personality. Some may say that he was impatient and pushy. They wouldn’t want anything to do with him. Others may say that he demonstrated initiative and moxy — he was a “go getter.”

As you consider ways to define your target audience, don’t forget to identify the personality traits of your ideal customer.

What characteristics are a good fit for your business? Would you welcome a businessman with moxy… or disqualify him for being too pushy?

For my business, my “ideal client” includes business owners and executives who are visionary, collaborative, decisive and ROI-focused.

Ask yourself, what customer traits are best for your business?

Parting thoughts

The better you define your ideal customer, the better we can tailor your marketing messages to their needs and motivations. Your brand messaging becomes much more effective and persuasive. Ultimately, you’re more likely to attract an audience that’s the right fit for your business.

Of course, if you’re looking for your own source of audience inspiration, there’s always the DMV…

Until next time!