How to choose the target audience for your product (Product Strategy — Part 1)
You have two options: target a specific market or die slowly.
This article is a part of the Product Strategy series. (Paid subscribers can access the template at the end of the article)
Who is your product for?
It's a typical answer I get when I ask product managers or product designers about their target audience. Defining audiences as broad as moms create problems.
To begin with, your friend's mom has a different motivation and interest from your mom. Building a product for all moms is impossible. If you’re trying to serve everyone, you’ll end up serving no one. A team that tries to serve everyone often produce a lot of feature for different users, but never solve any problem space well.
If your product is unfocused, your users won’t gain any significant value from your product. Over time, people will stop using your product. No target audience → unfocused product → lack product-market fit.
"But Facebook is for everyone."
Product managers and designers are often confused because they think, "Everyone uses Google or Facebook. So it's possible to build a product for everyone." That's a fair point. But remember, even Facebook started with a small audience, Harvard students. Google? They started with a search engine, that’s it.
Another logical way to see it is to realize that your company's resources are probably not as big as Facebook or Google. This means you have limited resources and need to prioritize. The sooner you can serve a specific market segment, the better.
If you choose a specific market, it doesn’t mean you limit yourself forever to that market. You just want to focus temporarily.
IKEA serves people who care about cost
It's pretty specific.
IKEA targets Millenials seeking cost-effective furniture. They make a clear choice. They will focus on bringing good quality furniture at an affordable price. Hypothetically, what happens if a designer in IKEA has an idea to build a beautiful piece of furniture that costs a lot? It's simple, the leadership team will deprioritize it or kill that idea.
Choosing a specific market will help you to internal decisions easier. Deciding who we serve is essential for strategy setting as a product builder.
Slack vs. Discord
They might appear the same on the surface: you can send messages both on Discord or Slack. But Discord is aimed at people who want to join and build an online community. While Slack is targeting co-workers in a company.
This fundamental difference in their target audience resulting two different features they prioritize. Users in Discord want to browse online communities easily. That’s why they build public communities and community moderation tools. While for Slack users, the ability to browse other Slack workspaces is less important.
Also, with the different target users, they use different terms to call the “room” you can join. For Slack, it’s workspaces. While Discord calls it servers.
A broad target audience leads to unfocused products, which could lead you to have lower traction.
With limited resources, it’s better to focus on a specific target audience and serve them well. Remember, Facebook started with a specific target audience: Harvard students.
With a specific target audience, it helps you prioritize which feature to double down easily. With a specific target audience, it affects your detailed design decision too such as the term used in Slack vs. Discord.
Now, all of these spark a few questions: How could we choose the target audience? How exactly is the process to do it? More importantly, in what condition it can be helpful?
Let's imagine we work in a small team at Notion. Our mission is to build an all-in-one workspace. Our team is confronted with two seemingly important initiatives.
For the first initiative, we could improve the roadmap feature. We keep hearing complaints that people want the ability to filter in the roadmap, which is very important to help them narrow down big projects.
The second initiative is about public websites. Some users love to use Notion for publishing a public website like their portfolios or job postings. We keep hearing they want more flexibility in styling the page, like customizing the background color to match their brand.
Let's assume that both initiatives have a similar potential impact and can deliver value to users. Which one should we pick? How could a target audience be helpful in this case?
Let’s assume the product leader has set the target audience this year using the bullseye framework: