24th of November 2022

By Professor Byron Sharp Director Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

What do people mean when they say targeting?

When marketers (and textbooks) talk about target marketing they can mean different things.


Target marketing can refer to healthy evidence-based practice as well as unhealthy practices that can lead to brand decline. When people say they are targeting they can mean….

  1. Having a target market that is narrower than all category buyers (let alone future category buyers). This is a strategy to deliberately substantially restrict marketing efforts to particular buyers and (largely) ignore others. Because management believe that their brand can not, or should not, appeal to most buyers e.g. it can be part of their positioning strategy. There is good evidence that this belief is often mistaken.This restrictive targeting should not be confused with a brand that targets wealthy people because the brand is extremely expensive, or targets people who live in London because the brand is only (currently) available in London. Such brands are still trying to reach all of their market.
  2. Similarly marketers may skew their marketing efforts to a particularly desirable type of buyer, for example, people who are easy to recruit or particularly heavy buyers. In this case the marketer is chasing efficiency over scale. We discuss why this is dangerous in Institute Report 110 (How to sacrifice your brand’s future chasing easy sales) and as The Heavy Buyer Myth.
  3. Finally, and very differently, a brand may be tailoring its marketing mixes to a few different groups in order to reach all category buyers. In this case targeting is used to expand the brand’s reach, eg advertising to new young category buyers, or advertising in different languages to expand the brand’s reach. This is sophisticated mass marketing, or smart targeting. Done carefully and well, this can build and maintain sustainably profitable brands.

This is explained in our Smart Targeting seminar for sponsors. Also see chapter six of our university textbook.


Kennedy, Rachel, Sharp, Byron, & Danenberg, Nick (2018) “Customer segmentation and targeting” in Marketing: Theory, evidence, practice (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press.

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