How might I begin researching target audience + competitors for a brief?

Hi all

Personal project [I chose the brief] for an assessment.
Brief: children’s book cover design for a large publishing house.

I study online so figuring these things out is quite independent to an extent. While the study materials give information, we have to figure the rest out ourselves through research and practice. So here I am!

I’m finding it a bit difficult to figure out where to begin with the target audience - especially because it is a children’s audience. What sort of things would you begin with when researching a young target audience? Or any target audience!
When you start your target audience research, what are some things you can begin typing into the search bar? Side note: I love checklists :wink:

I also need to run a competitor analysis, and am getting stuck on this too because the big publishing companies are all quite similar. The brief (not a real brief) is for a large publishing company, and it’s quite hard to figure out their competition when the other publishing companies are so similar! What are some steps to take when doing a competitor analysis? What should I be comparing and solving? Its quite hard to figure out the weaknesses of a large, successful publishing house for example. So where might I begin on running a competitor analysis?

It also is so challenging to figure out what makes a great cover design, when books are usually bestsellers because of their stories or authors. So looking at bestseller lists has felt a bit unproductive (only to an extent) for this brief.

Any advice greatly appreciated.

Do you at least have a book synopsis? It’s really hard to research and design an appropriate cover without knowing the contents of the story and the specific child age group it is geared toward.
A “child” is anything from birth to 17.

What is the book about? The target audience is comprised of those people who might buy the book. Will children buy the book? What ages? Toddlers don’t buy books. Eighteen-year-olds do. What is the book about? Knowing that would help you narrow down the target audience. If the book is about doll clothing, that likely rules out 17-year-old males, for example, and might focus in on 7-year-old girls.

I’m concerned you might be going about this backwards. Again, the target audience are those most likely to buy the book whether it is parents, grandparents, the children themselves, gift givers, specific age groups, boys, girls, etc. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Lots of it is common sense.

Again, I’m wondering if your assumptions might be off a bit. The competitors are similar kinds of books that share the same target audience that you identify as being yours. If your target audience is 8- to 11-year-old boys who like learning about dinosaurs, other books in that niche selling in the same places yours will be selling are the main competitors. Taking that a step further, the competitors are also most everything else a boy of that age (or his parents) might choose instead of choosing your book.

If, as you say, your research has told you that books from the big publishers “are all quite similar,” you’ve already done research and found this to be the case. This is great. Why are you seeing this discovery as a problem? Instead, that observation is insight you’ve obtained through your research and that you can consider when designing your book cover.

You don’t have access to sales figures and other publishers’ research, so you sort of have to wing it. Again, though, lots depends on thinking it through and paying attention to common sense. If, for example, all the competitors’ books aimed at the target audience you’ve identified as yours look a certain way, you need to make an intelligent guess as to why that’s the case. It takes some thinking, intuition and, once again, common sense. In the end, you make an educated guess and take a risk. Maybe you decide that to compete with all the other similar books, yours needs to stand out as different. Or maybe you don’t. In the end, it means looking around, paying attention, thinking things through and taking a chance on what you think will sell the best based on what your research has told you.

People have their favorite authors, that’s true. People also have a tendency to buy books based on the appeal of the covers. When a famous author writes a book, that author’s big name on the cover helps to sell the book. A new author that no one has ever heard of needs to depend on things like reviews, promotions, distribution channels, being published by the right publisher and, yes, the design of the cover that appeals to the intended audience of buyers.

And of course there are the dynamics of online book covers as opposed to the printed covers found in a bookstore. It’s complicated, but should not be intimidating. It takes lots of observations and the judgment that comes from those observations — plus intuition and gut instincts.


Big ups for Just-B spending the time. No reason to add more.

James A. Michener comes to mind. He did the series about different States in the Union, Hawaii and Alaska are my favs. But the cover text was always just.



Penguin (Publishing or whoever)

Just one more comment.

Lots of times when researching target audiences, demographic research is warranted that might involve hiring survey/research companies to find just how many people respond to this or that or or have preferences for or concerns about A or B. It’s surprising and enlightening, for example, to watch focus groups from behind two-way mirrors talk about proposed campaigns, designs and products.

In previous places where I’ve worked, we did this kind of thing quite often to help ensure that we crafted campaigns with just the right messages that resonated with just the right audiences. You, however, aren’t going to be doing this for a self-directed learning project for a book cover, so you’ll need to depend on your own research, thinking, reasoning and observations.

This really does involve a lot of common sense, and if you think it through, you’ll be most of the way there. It has never ceased to amaze me how many clients fail to use common sense when thinking through these kinds of marketing and design problems. It’s not that they’re stupid; it’s just that they’ve never had it explained to them.

Always insightful.

This is so important. One way to accomplish this goal is to create a series of simple rules to follow. For instance if you were to build The Parthenon: One rule is hard horizontals and verticals. Another is “white”. Another is “ruins”. Another is “punctuated by classic sculpture”.

From that basic thought process, you now have:

  1. Straight lines - geometric forms are dominant over curved lines or shapes.
  2. Your color palette is WHITE +
  3. The design should be broken in places to mimic the building.
  4. There should be some “classical design elements” (I’d start with using a nice classic serif font).

So now you aren’t over thinking to the point where you come to a standstill. You’ve brought your concept to the lowest common denominators. Now all you have to do is what you’re good at, making it look good.

Even though it is a childs book, there can be a lot of range in this demographic. Can the targeted child read yet? Should the book be focused heavier on images and illustrations or the overall story? What is the book used for? Is it teaching children how to read or to have an overall cultural lesson? Is the book targeted to boys, girls, or both? Why would a parent want to buy this book for their child? Try to keep asking yourself all these questions until you begin to get a stronger idea of the direction you are going for.

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