Define Audience, Customers and Consumers

The terms Audience, Customers and Consumers are often used interchangeably by marketers, yet there are essential differences between the definitions that need to be understood and appreciated if you’re to optimally target your marketing and communications, and ultimately build an effective business model. The distinctions may appear subtle, yet they provide clarity on how revenue will be derived, and how to construct and run your business in order to maximise commercial opportunities.


Let’s start at the top. Your ‘Audience’ at a macro level is the total group of individuals or organisations who could in some way be exposed to your offering, either directly or through your marketing and communications (within which I include word-of-mouth).

Your ‘Target Audience’ by extension, is a subgroup of the Audience that you define as the group that you’re specifically looking to target with a view to them ultimately buying and / or consuming your product or service, the balance of which depends on the nature of your business model.


I take a slightly broad view when it comes to my definition of ‘Customers’. To me, these are the individuals or organisations who, in some way, actively engage with your business or brand. In the classic sense this would be a commercial engagement where there is an exchange of monetary value in relation to the delivery of your product or service. Yet, in today’s value economy, I see customers as a wider group who include those who exchange their attention, energy and social currency for value that your business or brand delivers beyond the core product or service. This could include content that they engage with online, upfront trial of your product before they ‘buy’, or adoption and association with your specific cause; plus many other sources and forms of value that they can derive.

In this respect, it’s important to consider how you’re going to attract customers to engage with you beyond merely purchasing your product. How do you create ownership, belonging, and evangelism through not only the product, but also the overall experience that you’re delivering for your customers. How are you creating value in all its forms: functionally, emotionally and socially – so that they can take advantage?

Customers are a subset of your Audience, but by definition they are not the same. The latter leads to the former; however, by focussing on and creating a remarkable experience, customers can also build and extend your audience through recommendation and word-of-mouth.

People use the terms Target Audience and Target Customers interchangeably; essentially both terms refer to the defined group of individuals or businesses who you’re looking to attract. Fundamentally, the difference in these terms is semantic, yet you need to be conscious of who will actually pay for your offering – either directly or indirectly.


The distinction here is that ‘Consumers’ may not actually be the ones who pay you for your product or service. There are many markets where a product is consumed by one group and then monetised indirectly through another. Advertising is the classic example where value is created for one group who consume the product – be it a television channel, newspaper or website – which in turn creates value for another, the advertisers, who are willing to pay in exchange for access to the consuming group. Other examples would be children’s products where invariably it’s the parent who pays for the value created by the child’s consumption; and gifting where the gift provider pays for the product or service in exchange for the emotional benefit of offering the item to another for their consumption. And there are many others.

Being clear on your Audience, Customers and Consumers will help you understand the scale and nature of your opportunity, and will direct the creation of your business plan. Fundamentally, it will help you to define your optimal targets so you’ll be able to focus your resources and hone your messages to ensure maximum cut-through and resonance.