Online Presence, A Necessary Pain: Part One, How to Research Customer Demographics

The world of Onlineville is still a new frontier. It's fluid and changes as often as some people's emotions. While there are industry standard approaches to many tasks, there are original, outside-the-lines methods as well. While my take on the subject compares generally, there are some deviations that I have found work great for me. Therefore, this article is about my approach to building online presence and marketing. You can make it canon or pick it apart—ultimately the choice is yours as to what's best for your business. Do your research, formulate an ideology and create your own strategy. You were smart enough to research your industry, create a dynamic business plan that impressed investors, and do all your physical marketing; you are smart enough to apply that logic to all things considered.

Like in any hot trend, there are charlatans or frauds who create get-results-fast gimmicks and say they know how to obtain a certain number of followers in a matter of days. The truth is it can go any direction possible based on several factors that usually vary business to business.

In short; Learn from as many as you can, do your homework, and create your own solid strategy. No matter, I am sure you already do and planned on such. Good luck, and if you walk away after reading this article and learned at least one new concept or piece of data, then I would say it was time well spent.

Adam Stier

Why Online Presence?

Whether you are starting a business or becoming a freelancer, starting out is a lot of hard work. There are so many details to work out and such endless matters to attend to that without some kind of time management system you can get easily lost, or worse, lose track of clients or customers.

It's likely that the subject of online presence merits an audible sigh, one more item on the list. It's the most overlooked and cast-aside task for many new to the market. But,depending on one's business, it can play a large role in success or failure. Why? What is so important about having a FaceBook page, Twitter, or website? Simple, people will research you before they use your service. Most people, anyway. You may have plenty of walk-in or word of mouth traffic, maybe even an extensive client list, but all the same, you want more clients, right? Or, do you want to not get your share of this demographic?

As children of the latest generations become adults, more are attached to their mobile devices and do just about everything online; banking, shopping, and even attending school. Also, product and service research. Indeed, there are some people, for instance, that will not eat at a restaurant if it has no Yelp! reviews or poor ones. Others will not buy particular products without visiting several comparison websites seeking the best price. As far as services go, online reviews are checked for quality and satisfaction of work provided. If you're not online, you're leaving money on the table.

Wasn't the reason you started a business to achieve optimum success? To not only make more money but a name for yourself, reputation, legacy?

Perhaps you see my point. So, what now? Where do I begin? What should I do? How do I manage it all? How long will it take to see results? These questions will be addressed along with others. We will cover building online presence, websites, analytics, portfolios, and management of the course of this series, it's too much information for one article.

Don't put it off any longer. Building online cred doesn't happen over night, so waste no time getting your digital business card set up and planting the seeds of customer base increase and retention.

Consumer Facts

81% of consumers research product/services/people online before contacting them.

Getting Started

So, you have thought about it and realized your presence on the internet may very well be merited. Now what? Before you go stampeding off to the usual outlets and just creating profiles, there's some research that needs to be done first. You will find, as with most things but especially online, analytics play a large part in achieving success. Subjects like demographics and probability play a role among others. The key is to not only build the online presence, but also to target it for the right consumer group. Otherwise, you are shouting into a void.

One of the first things you want to do is revisit your business plan; what the goals are, have you met or are you meeting them and who was your target consumer group. Males, Females or both? Age range? Location? If you are a small local business selling locally made candles and other small home decor accessories your main demographic would most likely be Female, Ages 35 to 60, within a hundred miles if in store, limitless online. If you didn't do this for your business plan or don't have one, that's fine. Knowing your product or service should give you the idea of who your main customer base is. Keep in mind, setting a target group does not exclude those who don't fall into it, merely helps to aggressively campaign those most likely to do business with you.

One more quick thing, get organized. Sit down and figure out your goals you want to obtain from building an online presence for you or your business. How much your budget is, if anything, and a marketing plan on how your going to get the word out there and gain followers. Of course, we will cover general ideas and even some proven strategies, all the same, you and your business are unique, you not only want to commit to the idea of online notoriety but you want it to be tailored to your ideology and branding. That is the caveat, unless you were to hire a social media or SEO consultant, you are the one who knows what your business wants.

How does one research demographics? What data is important? How do I analyze it? Are you ready to start learning how to do all this?

Am I ready to explain it all??

Consumer Facts

The average person now spends more time online than watching television and other media combined.

Building Your Key Demographics

Let's say we just opened an new shop in a trendy neighborhood. The location is good and should promise a goodly amount of walk-in or random traffic. We are going to be selling tangible products: an array of fashion forward clothing and accessories, made locally and falling in with modern trends. Both genders are represented, but we have more women's than men's items available.

In a last-minute decision we have decided to offer footwear as well, but, only stylish hard-to-find or unique designs. Being artisan or unique, they are limited to stock on hand, and orders to replenish stock vary based on what is available. Generally it's 65% women's shoes and the rest men's. We have a website; however, it's merely a landing page, an online business card, with no social media accounts, and no plan for online promotions or advertisements.

Keep this example in mind throughout since it will be our standard model for this hub.

Based on the information above, how important is it for us to have online presence? Very important! While the location, a trendy neighborhood, ensures walk-in traffic, the traffic is sporadic and not tailored to the particular client our store is designed for. This type of neighborhood inspires people to walk around after meeting for coffee or lunch maybe, and while walking around they may stop in to the different shops. It's fair to say, in this type of setting, a lot of window or "I'm Just Looking" shopping will take place. It's hit or miss sales and while it may serve you well for now, it will drop in time without a way to track, offer, and retain customers.

Not only would an e-commerce storefront be a good idea, but online presence would likely improve business returns faster than depending on street traffic. So, what we need to do first and foremost, figure out our target or key demographic. Let's look at our store details one more time:

  • Trendy neighborhood storefront
  • Fashionable unique design apparel & accessories
  • Unique footwear that varies in availability
  • Dominantly women's items vs. male

Based on this, what do you think the demographic would be? Off the top of your head you may safely assume that the target group would be; female, ages 25 to 45, within twenty miles of physical location, average annual income of 35K and up, no children and most likely single.

How did I come to this conclusion? Is it best guess? Yes and no. While stereotyping is stigmatized, you'll find that with certain situations it has its place and the stereotypes are true. When we think about shopping, specifically apparel, most men shudder at the idea, whereas women embrace it wholeheartedly; indeed some use it has stress relief. It's a safe bet that our target gender group would be female. Remember we are not excluding anyone, just targeting.

Age group can be determined due to the style and price point of the apparel. Trendy, stylish clothing is something the young professional subscribes to, looking good and fitting the image. While there will always be variables, the exception to the rule, the status quo will remain. Unique and/or artisan, local, and small production items will also have a higher price tag. Twenty-five years old is a great age starting point: it's after college, career is at least underway, and it's generally the age where a good line of credit as been established. That means the consumer has access to credit cards with higher limits and lower rates, which can justify larger purchases.

Forty-five years old is our endpoint, from basic observation and product knowledge, we may surmise that by this age materialistic importance starts to decline into a more comfortable approach and with retirement looming on the horizon, another ten to fifteen years (if you're lucky) one may become more conscientious of money saving. Might we be off base? Sure, however, this is our outline and research comes later. We need a starting point.

Being single and not having children suggests a larger disposable income. A person with children tends to be more focused on the overall family needs and the individual child or children. Where once they may have haphazardly shopped for personal items and updated apparel, after having kids, these things are no longer in the front of their mind when it comes to financial planning. To come to this conclusion one needs only talk to a parent, especially a single parent.

Then there's the geographical range of twenty miles; how do you figure that? Unless you have an online storefront, people will generally only drive so far unless it's for savings that merit the journey. In our case, apparel is not something one would drive a long distance to obtain. Twenty miles might actually be on the low side, but, we can safely say fifty miles would be the absolute maximum.

Do you agree? If not, that's OK; however, I think most of you will. So, our demographic outline stands:

  • Female
  • Ages 25 to 45
  • Average Annual Income of $35K and Up
  • No children
  • Single (Not Married)
  • Within Twenty Miles of Location

That's a good outline for our market, but, how can we be sure? We are almost certainly correct; however, we want to be sure we are. This is very important, it will be the basis for marketing and promotional campaigns.

Consumer Facts

67% of consumers say that online social media, advertisements, posts, reviews and activity influences their decision to use that business.

Key Demographics; Researching The Outline

Now, our outline isn't the exact demographic format—we didn't take education or race into consideration for example. We might assume that those are a non-factor as far as apparel is concerned. We'd be wrong though. Education gives us an idea of possible income and social class. Before we backtrack, we begin by researching what other providers of like items or services demographics are formatted, how they compare, what is standard, what is unique, and which is working out the best.

We begin with the closest national provider; while their product won't be an exact match, we try and find the closest we can, like a mainstream, national company. We will use Nordstrom. They offer trendy stylish clothing as well as cosmetics, shoes, and accessories. So, everything our store sells minus cosmetics.

Researching the chain stores profiles, we can see they draw more affluent individuals. They are a sales leader in shoes and women's fashion. According to their available fiscal reports, the store is generally located in city center locations for maximum access to those who live within a hundred miles in any direction, and the age range varies from stat site to stat site, giving us an average of 20 to 40 years old.

From this information one could say that Nordstrom's demographic is as follows;

  • Female
  • Professional Level or Independently Secure Financially
  • Age 25 to 40
  • $50K to $100K avg. annual income
  • Within at least 50 miles of a location

So, we can say our outline is fairly close to the industry standard by looking at mainstream retailers of like products or services. Our income target was a little low, so we would adjust from $35,000 annually to $50,000, which, if you did the math, is a smart move. We could even expand it to match and say between the fifty and hundred thousand mark, yet all the same, it's best to come up with a set amount. Ergo, we will set our demographic income at fifty, again, since we are not excluding those above or below it, just not directly targeting them.

Looking at nationwide and bona fide companies profile that sell like products is a good starting point. However, there are variables besides the ones these larger companies do not use that a small local business must. In our case, we would want to now look at local or regional competitors and research their demographic stratagems.

Key Demographics Outline Example

Demographics are one part of the Key Demographic profile. This part consists of age, gender, income, ethnicity, income, family status, and education. Others are;

Psychographic; social class, personality, lifestyle, life stage, and values

Geographic : region, city, neighborhood

Behavoristic : buying trends, consumption, loyalty, attitude.

All of these compose the Key Demographic structure for a business. For sake of article length we are focused on the base demographic with some geographic trends as well, which for a basic idea is fine. However, the more specialized a product or service is the more information a business will need to create the perfect Key Demographic solution for them.

Stay On Target; Demographics Are Fluid

As business grows so should your online presence and activity. Followers become customers.

Narrowing The Field; Local Demographics

Now that we have looked at mainstream retailers of like products or services, found their demographics and compared and adjusted, we need to look a little closer to home. Our retail store is located in Anytown, Anystate U.S., it's a medium urban sprawl with an eclectic population of approximately 650,000 people. If we include its metro area, population rises to a million. Our average resident's annual income is a median of $70,000, 49% males and 51% female, children make up about 5%, senior citizens (65+) 10%.

At statistics sites such as and others like it, you will find this data needed for establishing a more solid foundation for your Key Demographics. All of this information is relevant and something that needs review at least annually. Be mindful when doing this sort of research of not only the validity of the stats but more importantly the date they were published. If the statistics are more than one or two years old, move on to another source or find a corroborating more recent one.

Using this data is going to greatly sharpen our Key structure, and, as we can surmise, our outline is fairly spot on. However, we still should look at what other like businesses are doing and their success rate. Albeit, sometimes this is not as easy as looking up a company like Nordstrom's stock portfolio or company profile.

Local Research

Most businesses will at least have a website, which is an OK place to start to get an idea of what we are looking for. By visiting a business's website we can get a rough idea of branding, giving us insight into their demographic. How the site is designed, how the content is worded, the overall "voice" of the site, and price point can all help us deduce what their target audience looks like.

If a site has a more monotone, general feel, it's tailored for everyone: nothing too bold or demanding, nothing inciting personal reflection, no direct lines to target groups. Meat and Potatoes approach, no flair. Here we are, here is what we do, here is where we are, and here is the price. While that works for some things, our store is offering a unique and fashion-forward designed apparel that appeals to a certain demographic, therefore our site will have to be more particular. No matter, we will discuss websites later; for now, know that a retailer's site can tell us a lot about them and their target consumer.

Finding a business's stock portfolio is another place to find their demographical information. Going to Wall Street Journal's website or the stock market's and you can search out a business and there in their profile will be the demographic, this applies to the mainstream businesses more so, most smaller stores won't have this. Then there's researching their marketing and advertising campaigns. Who are the targeting? Is it geared towards a certain gender, generation, or social level? Where are the advertising? In magazines geared towards young men or women? Specialty sites?

Answering these questions and comparing the answers will give you an average area demographic. It can be tedious at best finding the trends and demographic of small businesses. But what you can and don't worry too much about it. With the mainstream business demographic we can safely say ours is accurate for the next section, developing our branding.

Beyond that and the sites already mentioned, researching review sites, blogs and small business association and statistics sites are the route to take, even though one must sort through a lot of irrelevant data to find the nuggets. Stick to the outlines and research and apply only what's necessary to your business. While personality stats may be great for branded or exclusive product retailer, they aren't that important for a plumber. Not to imply the plumber is free of demographics, no business is, it's just the skilled laborer doesn't need to target a certain personality type. All kinds get clogged pipes.

In The Next Section ...

Branding is the next step and we will discuss how to research, create and apply your businesses branding. Also, websites how to create one, who to use, and how to explore the do it yourself option. Follow the author to receive notification of this and future articles publications.

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