Identifying your target audience enables you to: assess just how much demand is out there for your product or service; modify that product or service to better meet customers’ specific needs; and design a marketing campaign that “speaks to” the right people, using the tone and language most likely to appeal to them.

Here’s how to identify your target customers.

1. Create a customer profile. The people who are most likely to buy your products or services share certain characteristics. The first step toward identifying these prospects is putting together a customer profile. This is essentially a detailed description of your target demographic that includes:

 Age — Do your potential customers mostly fit in a Millennial age bracket? Or are they more often middle-aged or seniors? This is important, because customers in different age groups will respond differently to how your product is designed and marketed.

Gender — Remember how men are from Mars and women are from Venus? Generally speaking, their needs and goals are often strikingly different. If you promote your business in a way that fails to address these differences, you could end up attracting few people of either gender.

Income level — Knowing how much disposable income your customers possess should directly influence your marketing strategies. Low-income families may be drawn to products or services that help save them money. Customers in higher-income brackets may respond more favorably to marketing that stresses luxury and exclusivity.

Location — The United States is a big country (let’s set aside world domination for now). Broadly speaking, the buying habits of urban residents often differ from those of people living in rural areas. Where people reside and the types of communities they live in influence their purchasing preferences.

Other key characteristics include marital status, occupation or industry, families with (or without) children, ethnic groups, and hobbies and interests.

2. Conduct market research. You can learn about your target audience through primary and secondary market research. Primary research involves learning about customer buying habits through direct contact, such as:

Surveys — Distribute surveys to existing and potential customers via paper, email or a web-based service like Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey.

Interviews Talk to people you trust and whose purchasing habits dovetail with your small business. At trade shows, for example, stand in a high-traffic area and ask people to answer a few short questions.

Focus groups — Get feedback from a small group of consumers who fit your customer profile through Q&A sessions and group discussions.

As part of your primary research, do you ever ask customers to fill out any forms when they purchase your product or service? If so, they may be open to answering questions about their age, where they live and specific purchasing preferences. Invite them to share information on a voluntary basis.

From there, you can assemble an initial customer profile. There are also numerous mobile apps to help you collect important demographic data.

3. Reassess your offering and profile. With a comprehensive customer profile in place, the next step is to look at your products or services in a fresh light.

Given what you know about the target audience, ask yourself: Which features and benefits are most likely to attract new business? Which may be of less interest or even actively discourage new customers? This analysis can lead to valuable modifications to your offering and yield new business.

You’ll also want to reassess your target audience periodically. Every six months or once a year, do some additional primary research and refine your customer profile accordingly. As the marketplace shifts and evolves, your ideal clientele may change with it. Get ahead of the curve, and you’ll also be one step ahead of your competition.