Primary, secondary, tertiary audience

When undertaking a branding project, do you target more than one audience, and how do you decide when to target more?

Obviously having one primary target audience makes everything a lot more simple and the risk is, the more audience types you attempt to target, the more you need dilute your message to appeal to multiple demographics.

Is it something that’s project specific - for example:

:safety_pin: If you were doing a project for baby diapers, the target audience is probably overwhelmingly going to almost exclusively catered towards the parents of newborn babies.
:circus_tent: A theme park where you might have a primary audience of young teenagers, a secondary audience of their parents and tertiary audience of the grandparents.

How do decide how many different audiences you should tailor your brand to?

That’s entirely driven by conversations with the client. They will guide who they want to target. I is not our job to determine who their audience is (though I have guided in the past, when they are so wildly off the mark). We just have to talk to that audience, whoever they deem it is. So, for me your question becomes academic, as the scope of the project will determine it.


The more targeted the audience, the easier design becomes; but it’s not unusual for a client to want to reach more than one audience.

When you ask “How do decide how many different audiences you should tailor your brand to?” are you talking about the audience for you as a graphic designer or for a client? If the latter, I agree with @sprout’s thoughts and that that is a conversation to have with the client. If you are talking about the former, that’s something you need to decide.

Target audiences can become pretty specific. With the diapers example, is it a premium brand catering to upper income demo or is it a budget brand?

With the theme park example, the design could be dictated by the medium. For example, if you are working on a display ad, where will the ad run? Is it a publication or a website aimed at teens? If so, the imagery you use could be different than if the publication is aimed at middle-aged parents looking for a place to take their family on vacation. If the medium is aimed at multiple segments, maybe you don’t show any people at all or maybe there is a slide show that includes multiple demographics.

Under any of these circumstances, a well-defined customer avatar is helpful.

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Advertising and public relations firms face these types of complex problems more than individual designers. Sometimes companies hire ad agencies to identify new audiences or fine-tune advertising to more effectively reach existing audiences. This is especially true when the market shifts and the company needs to shift its products and brand to match.

Individual designers hired for one-off projects would not typically attempt to solve the problem you outlined and would follow the client’s lead on who their target audience might be. This doesn’t mean clients always have ready answers. Designers always need to ask questions, do research, and offer suggestions. But solving a complex branding conundrum for a theme park isn’t something a lone designer should handle since it involves a great deal of market research and analysis outside the scope of what designers do.

However, small businesses and start-ups often do hire designers for basic visual branding. These smaller branding problems are typically not as complex as the one you mentioned. I don’t think there’s a comprehensive answer to these questions since every situation is different. However, it’s important to remember that visual branding is only part of a complete corporate branding strategy. Small businesses often rely on solo designers for visual branding. Still, they’d be making a strategic mistake to rely on a graphic designer as the expert regarding a more comprehensive branding strategy.

As for the situation you mentioned, you might want to look into how Black+Decker dealt with the problem when they expanded their brand beyond their core do-it-yourself audience to include professionals in the construction business. Another example is how the compact car manufacturer, Honda, handled the problem when it decided to begin making luxury automobiles. Nissan did something similar. In each of these cases, the research indicated that it was not possible to incorporate their new products into their existing brands, so they chose a different direction and created entirely separate brands.


Firstly thanks so much for your responses @sprout @Just-B and @Steve_O, I think you answered my question clearly, in that the audience is something typically the client specifies and that you might help clarify a bit with your branding.

Do you have a target audience for your own design practices and if so, how did you arrive at selecting your target audience?

I notice a lot of local designers sell strategy, what do you think qualifies someone to call themselves a brand strategist?

At a smaller, local level, when brand strategy is a fairly straight-forward thing, ie, locally-based startup needing to talk to its audience, experience teaches you a lot. However, for anything larger and more involved, you’d need marketing expertise. In my experience studios would either have marketing and brand strategists on board – or farm out the work to specialists.

I always hated marketing meetings, as rarely did designers and marketing people agree. Designers often pushing for cleverer, more subtle approaches and marketeers wanting the more obvious, in your face solutions. Always a fun combo!!

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Picking up on @sprout’s comments, which I agree with…

Every design project has an underlying purpose the project is meant to address. Designers must think of how best to accomplish the goal of the project. In other words, a good designer develops strategies for how the design will do its job.

A brand strategy is typically more complicated since it must provide paths to solutions for problems that might occur down the road within the context of the brand. A brand strategy is more comprehensive than designing a logo or a style book. It’s a blueprint for achieving a desired marketplace brand over time.

Designers tend to think along the lines of developing clever solutions to specific problems. These solutions nearly always entail visually-oriented end products. However, the primary end product of a brand strategy is more likely to be a 200-page book based on hundreds of hours of research and interviews.

This isn’t to say that designers developing logos for budget-conscious start-ups shouldn’t think about how their work will form a strategic component in the brand — designers should do this.

However, as the brand strategy becomes more complex with more money involved, the project rapidly spills over into areas outside most designers’ areas of expertise. Analysis of market data, for example, isn’t something designers learn in school. How to conduct statistically accurate phone surveys or structure focus group sessions to carefully pry out meaningful information aren’t typically in most designers’ toolboxes either. These are specialized fields that occupy entire departments at larger agencies. Smaller agencies often hire out this kind of market data research and acquisition to companies that specialize in it.

Perhaps it’s my ignorance, but I’m not sure I agree with you entirely there mate.

Have spent the past few months on a journey trying to absorb as much information as possible about brand strategy because it’s something I want to implement myself and I think you’re correct in strategy being about establishing the brands desired positioning.

However, regarding the user interviews, surveys and statistical analysis - I think you’re describing market research here and I’m not sure this something that’s necessarily the role of a brand strategist per se (have never heard of a brand strategist doing this), albeit something that certainly overlaps brand strategy and affects decision making.

For a strategy to have the best chance of success, market research needs to back it up. Otherwise, it’s a bunch of gut hunches regarding how to market the brand and what the target audience will inhale and incorporate into their views. This is true of well-done advertising campaigns as well as brand strategies, which are, in many ways, longer-term advertising campaigns to position the brand rather that the products or services produced by the company.

Hunches and experience, of course, play a part, but solid data is necessary to minimize the risk of a naive assumption or a bad decision costing millions of dollars. Sometimes companies don’t have the budget for it or don’t think it’s necessary, but we always advocated that a serious brand development project put the majority of it’s initial cash investment into the research phase.

Now, if you’re talking about the ongoing implementation of the strategy once it’s been developed, it’s another matter. But developing a brand strategy the right way requires solid market research.

I’m not sure what you’ve been finding that suggests otherwise, but a quick Google search should tell you market research is a primary component of brand strategy development. I can’t vouch for any of these links on this search (didn’t read them). I’m just pointing out the quantity.

— market research in brand development

You’re totally right in that market research can provide valuable insights for branding based on data. I guess what I’m saying is though is, I don’t think that market research on such a scale is something that’s necessarily executed by the brand strategist, that these are two seperate fields that overlap.

When we’re talking about businesses, I guess we need to remember they exist on a spectrum: On one end, there’s small one-man businesses that don’t even think they need a brand and at the opposite end, there are multinatonal corporations, with multiple brands and different divisions and entire departments probably devoted to this stuff.

I think the amount of research required is relative to the size of the business.

I pretty much agree with your last post. A corner bakery likely knows its customers and neighbors quite well. A large company expanding into a foreign market is a different problem by several orders of magnitude.

However, I will say that many graphic designers who bill themselves as brand specialists don’t fully appreciate that designing a visual brand doesn’t equate to brand development. Visual branding is only a small part of the brand — even for a corner bakery.

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