Step 3.1: Select your target audience segment(s).

What To Do

Successful social marketing programs target specific actions among a few clearly defined, high priority audience segments.

In this step, you’ll use your research findings in a systematic selection process that moves you closer to setting audience segment priorities.

First, you’ll break your overall audience into subgroups whose members share certain key attributes.

Then you’ll narrow the list of all possible segments down to the largest segment(s) with addressable behavioral determinants that can be reached with the resources available to your program.

This step is where you make the decision to focus solely on your primary target audience or to reach out to secondary audiences of “influentials” as well.

There are a few more considerations to apply before you select your final target audience. These will come up in a later step.

How To Do It

Primary target audience segments

Make a list of all of the primary audience segments you could target.

Define each segment in terms of

  • demographics (e.g., age and race/ethnicity)
  • behavioral determinants that distinguished “doers” from “non-doers” of your health behavior

For example, if you were trying to promote infant car seat use, one segment might be Hispanic parents who believe that automobile deaths are unpreventable because they are divinely ordained (see the example in “Is Social Marketing for You?”).

For each of the potential segments listed, pull the following information from your research findings:

  • aspirations
  • benefits of the target behavior valued
  • competitive behaviors practiced
  • information channels used
  • level of readiness to change

Then go back down the list and highlight the segments that have:

  • perceived benefits that are easy to build into an exchange
  • competing behaviors against which you can “win”
  • the largest number of people reachable at the smallest cost
  • the greatest readiness to change

The highlighted target audience segments will soon (in step 3.2) be weighed against health burden, political realities, and your program’s resources in a final round of selection.

Influencing (secondary) audience segments

The Health Problem Analysis Worksheet you developed in Phase 1 may have identified a group with a lot of influence on your primary target audience. “Influentials” could stand between you and the achievement of your program goal.

You should have explored the characteristics and concerns of these influentials in your Phase 2 research.

It’s now time to decide whether the amount of influence they have merits devoting program resources to reaching them as a distinct audience segment.

For example, if your program goal was to increase use of family planning methods among women age 18-24 served by a local clinic, you may have assumed that the male partners/husbands of these women have great influence on the women’s contraceptive choices. If, in your audience research with the women, you confirmed this assumption, you probably interviewed some men to explore their thinking and motivation. Now you must decide whether to allocate some or all of your limited program resources to targeting the secondary male partners/husbands audience.


The WIC-Breastfeeding campaign included a primary audience, several secondary audience segments, and the general public as a tertiary but still influential audience. To see audience segmentations from other campaigns, click on the Examples button at the right.

Sometimes the data are clear, the dynamics of your planning team smooth, and the decision about target audiences fairly straightforward.

At other times, the planning team has to struggle through some very difficult decisions. You may be concerned about leaving groups out, or you may feel uncomfortable saying that one audience segment is more important than others. The data seldom point to a single right answer, and values must enter into your decisions.

This process can be a little tedious, and the temptation to jump ahead to messages and activities can be strong.

A word to the wise: Make these hard decisions. Prioritize audience segments according to the criteria specified above. It’s the only way to avoid spreading program resources too thin to change behavior later.

When you complete this step, you should have a good idea which audience segment(s) you will target.

Knowledge Check

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Complete My Plan

Go to your My Plan file and enter your primary and secondary audience segments in Step 3.1.

Update My Model

Open the My Model form and update your target audience segments based on your latest decision-making. Examples of completed My Model forms can be accessed in the My Model window.

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