Understanding your target audience and defining your value proposition

Now that you’re ready to turn your idea into a reality and begin defining your business model, it’s time to think about how you will market your products or services. Marketing is a much broader topic than many people imagine. Most people would probably define marketing as advertising, PR and sales; but the true concept of marketing is much broader and a key part of any organisation.


What is marketing and why is it important?

At the most simplistic level, marketing is the activity, which connects your organisations ‘offering’ with the target audience(s). Marketing is therefore the key ‘enabler’ to growing your business and achieving success. The principles of marketing are commonly understood around the following core ‘components of marketing’:

  • The offering: the products (e.g. ethically sourced clothing) or services (e.g. counselling) your organisation will offer.
  • The value proposition: articulating your offering to the target audience- ‘the solution to their needs’.
  • The marketing strategy: your strategy for connecting with the target audience (e.g. deciding to target a specific geographical audience).
  • The marketing plan: the objectives, budgets and tools that will be used to deliver the marketing strategy.
  • The target audience: the stakeholders who will be ‘sold’ your value proposition.

Underpinning all of these marketing pillars must be comprehensive understanding of the target audience (e.g. who they are, where they are, what are their needs and their typical characteristics). The relationship between these different components is illustrated in the diagram below:

Understanding your target audience diagram

In this guide, we will discuss the value proposition and understanding your target audience. Marketing strategy and marketing plans are discussed in our other guides; note that it’s also worth reading the corresponding start up business planning guide – in particular, the importance of defining your offer and the introduction to stakeholders.


Defining your target audience

The relationship between your organisation’s value proposition and the target audience can be slightly more complicated for social ventures due to the range of external stakeholders often involved. External stakeholders are typically defined as the people or organisations either affect or are affected by your organisation.

Identifying your external stakeholders will allow you to define your target audience(s), thereby allowing you to define your value propositions to these audiences. When identifying external stakeholders, it may be helpful to use the following categories, which will often cover the typical stakeholders for a social venture. Your particular project will have emphases on different groups, depending on what it is you will be doing and how you will be doing it:

External stakeholder categories diagram

Let’s look at an example of how this works in practice; Social venture ‘D’ is providing advice, information and support to refugees and migrants in city ‘Y’. Due to the nature of its offering, the target audience consists of stakeholders identified from all the categories introduced above. The diagram on the following page provides an example of an ‘external stakeholder map’ for this organisation:

External stakeholder mapping diagram

Taking this into consideration, although your offer may be constant, you may need to develop different value propositions to each respective stakeholder within the target audience. For example, the target groups for social venture ‘D’s offering (refugees and migrants) will be interested in how the services will benefit them personally; whereas the target suppliers (grant makers and local authority commissioners) may need to know how the activities and services will addresses their priority criteria and targeted outcomes for their funding/ contracting requirements.


Understanding your target audience

As introduced earlier, understanding your target audience is a vital step in enabling your organisation to define its value proposition(s). Once you have defined your external stakeholders within your target audience, the next step is to examine the key features of each stakeholder group or audience.

Understanding target groups (e.g. beneficiaries or paying customers) will probably require the most in depth analysis. For this target audience you will need to understand:

  • The size of the target audience
  • The structure of the target audience (this will often involve trying to segment the audience into a number of core groups)
  • The trends associated with the target audience (e.g. growth)
  • The needs and characteristics of the target audience (this is vital to allow you to develop a strong value position that addresses the needs and demands of the target audience)

For the target suppliers (e.g. grant makers, local authority commissioners etc) and operating environment (regulators, statutory services, local community etc) categories, you will need to focus on understanding the core needs, characteristics and trends of these stakeholders.

Using the example of social venture ‘D’ discussed previously, let’s explore some of the questions you might set out to answer when trying to understand the target audience for this organisation:

Example of social enterprise diagram

The term ‘market research’ is often used as a collective term for working through the analysis and questions outlined above. Market research consists of two core methodologies; primary research and secondary research. Primary research involves the collection of data or information that does not already exist. Secondary research involves the summary, collation and/or synthesis of existing research; government reports, local statistics or trade journals, for example.

Secondary research would usually be used to understand the size, structure and possibly the trends within the different target audiences; whereas primary research would be used to understand the more qualitative elements such as the needs and characteristics of the target audience. In reality, it is primary research, through the development of your networks and relationships, which will usually give you the best insight into how your stakeholders think their needs and their expectations. As you learn more about them, try to maintain a ‘map’ of what this is telling you about how best to communicate what you do to them.

The process of understanding of your target audience(s) will enable you to define a strong value proposition (or positions), whilst also helping you to identify the opportunity for your offering in the market landscape.


Defining your value proposition

The next step is to define your value proposition(s). As discussed previously, your value proposition is the way in which you articulate your offering to the target audience(s) – ‘the solution to their needs’. In addition to addressing the target audience needs, your value proposition should be grounded in the strategy and objectives outlined in both the business model and the social model for your organisation.

There are typically three types of value proposition:

An efficiency value proposition will usually be reliant on high volume, low value (cost) services or products. In contrast, a leadership/ innovation and audience intimacy value proposition will usually focus on delivering high value products or services, but at a lower volume.

Due to the number of stakeholder / target audiences that you may need to be ‘selling’ your ideas to, the value proposition may need to be adapted from audience to audience. For example, the value proposition to the target beneficiaries of social venture ‘D’ (discussed previously) will probably be one of audience intimacy- building strong relationships and trust with the beneficiaries through a comprehensive and targeted service offering focused on their identified needs. Whereas the value proposition to a local authority commissioner is more likely to be focused on efficiency and / or leadership/ innovation.

Your value proposition should aim to differentiate your offering from other organisations in the market landscape (often described as your USP: unique selling point); therefore it will be important to consider the value propositions of the key competitors/ potential partners defined in your analysis of the target audience. Think about what type of value proposition each of your competitors are offering, and how you are different – this will help identify the things you need to highlight through your value proposition and your marketing more generally.

Once you have defined your value proposition(s), you will use this as the foundation for your entire Marketing strategy and marketing plans.

  • Efficiency: delivering your product/ service at a better price than the competition
  • Leadership/Innovation: delivering a unique or leading product/ service to the target audience
  • Audience intimacy: creating an intimate relationship with your target audience, beyond that of the competition

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