Tools for Identifying and Understanding Your Target Clientele

by Corporate Relations and Business Strategy Staff

Whether you are exploring a new practice opportunity, monitoring current trends to make sure your services are meeting emerging needs, or creating promotional materials for your practice, understanding your target market is an important part of reaching the clients who could benefit most from your services.

This article provides a basic framework for identifying the characteristics of your target clientele and includes a downloadable worksheet that can help you more effectively focus your marketing efforts.

Market Segmentation

To generate a steady flow of clients and build a thriving practice, you need sufficient information about your target market. Understanding who your potential clients are, where they come from, and what characteristics they share will help you both develop services that will meet their needs and communicate with them effectively.

Although each potential client is unique, it would be impractical to custom-tailor your promotional materials and marketing communications to each individual. However, this individual variability frequently renders the mass marketing approach, whereby a practitioner tries to use a single marketing strategy for all potential clients, ineffective.

Somewhere in the middle ground lies a more effective approach: market segmentation. Dividing the market into distinct groups of potential clients with common characteristics allows you to focus your marketing efforts on the segments that are most likely to respond to your marketing communications, seek your services and benefit most from them.

Using market segmentation and focusing your communication efforts on key groups does not require you to restrict your clients to these groups. Rather, this approach simply serves as a generalization to help you focus your marketing efforts and communication to make effective use of your resources and reach the people who could benefit the most from your services.

General Categories of Data

Demographic characteristics. Since issues, preferences and usage patterns vary along a variety of personal characteristics, identifying factors such as age, gender and ethnicity can help you more specifically address the needs of your target market. A potential client's family characteristics, such as marital status, family size and structure and the stage in the family life-cycle (e.g., single, married with young children, college-age children leaving home, retired with chronically ill partner) are also important to understand, since they can affect needs, issues, priorities, preferences and usage patterns.

Socioeconomic characteristics. Household income and related variables, such as level of education, social status and occupation, can also influence potential clients in terms of the way they make decisions about seeking and utilizing services, what type of information they want, and how they evaluate their options. Socioeconomic factors can also shape whether people select a provider based on cost, value or quality and whether or not they can afford your services.

Geographic characteristics. Knowing where your potential clients live, work, shop, attend school and engage in recreational activities can help you identify effective ways to reach them. Defining the geographic area (e.g., county, city, neighborhood, zip code) allows you to identify the marketing opportunities and communication channels available and focus your promotional efforts in those areas. For example, if most of your clients live in a few specific neighborhoods, it may be more effective to advertise in the local community newspaper or directory listing, rather than in the larger city newspaper that serves the metropolitan area. Knowing whether people are relatively settled or relocate and change jobs frequently can also shape your marketing approach.

Psychographic characteristics. How potential clients see you, the services you offer and the people who seek those services has an important bearing on how you market your practice. What your target clientele values (e.g., positive relationships, achievement, independence, personal growth and development, status) will influence the type of communications they attend to and the way they respond to your marketing efforts. Understanding the subgroups that your potential clients identify with and their general lifestyle (i.e., the way they allocate time and money and the types of activities they value) will also help you communicate effectively with them and provide services that meet their needs.

Service-related characteristics. Understanding when and under what circumstances prospective clients access services, how ready they are to make changes in their lives, and their most likely usage patterns will inform your marketing efforts. Similarly, factors such as how your target clientele finds out about available services, how well informed they are, who influences their decisions and choices, and who the typical referral sources are also have important implications for how you communicate with them. Note: In the health care system, where a third-party payer is often involved and the client does not directly pay for the service, it is also be important to identify the relevant characteristics of the payer.

Tools You Can Use

Download the following worksheet to create a simple profile you can use as a reference tool when planning your marketing strategy, creating promotional materials, developing new services, or evaluating new practice opportunities.

Start out by reviewing each characteristic for your current clients. Identify the ways the clients you see cluster together in distinct groups and create a generalized profile for each segment. Enter each profile in one of the worksheet columns and note the percentage of your total client base that each segment represents.

If you are just building a client base or are evaluating a new opportunity, contact local government agencies and business associations about the availability of demographic data for the geographic area you will serve.

For a segmentation strategy that will best fit your particular practice, be sure to customize the worksheet by adding other relevant characteristics specific to your geographic area, client population, or services offered and update this profile annually.