The Difference between Primary and Secondary Target Markets

What is the Difference between a Primary Target Market and a Secondary Target Market?

Sometimes the terms of primary and secondary target markets are confused and misunderstood, and a secondary target market is inadvertently referred to as a “second” target market, however this is not correct.

Both primary and secondary target markets are important to us as marketers, so it is important that we understand the difference.

Quick Recap of the Market Segmentation and Target Market Selection Process

To help make sense of primary and secondary target markets, let’s quickly recap the purpose of market segmentation.

With market segmentation, we identify consumers with similar needs, characteristics, and/or behaviors that we can group into the same segments. The purpose of doing this is to identify segments that can be suitable target markets for our firm.

And by focusing on smaller groups of consumers in the marketplace – our target markets – we can construct a marketing mix that will better meet the needs of these consumers, as opposed to a general marketing mix trying to meet the needs of everybody.

While in the past, mass-marketing was an effective approach, fine-tuning the overall market by using target markets is a vastly superior marketing technique that will generally outperform mass-marketing efforts.

What is a Primary Target Market?

Our primary target market is the segment we have chosen to focus upon, from the set of market segments that we have constructed from our segmentation process.

Because it is our chosen target market, we will build our marketing mix around the needs of the consumers in the segment. This means that our overall marketing strategy, including our product design decisions, and brand positioning, and overall marketing mix will be structured according to the needs of this segment.

When we review any marketing textbook, this is the foundational approach to modern-day marketing. That is, segment the market, choose an appropriate target market, construct a suitable positioning, and design and execute a suitable marketing mix to meet the needs of the consumers in that segment in a superior manner to your competitors.

Therefore, when we use the term “primary target market”, it is the same as saying our “target market”. We would only add the word “primary” if we also had a secondary target market in mind.

What is a Secondary Target Market?

A secondary target market is NOT a second (or third) target market. Indeed, firms can have multiple target markets and most firms do. In fact, some firms will pursue 10 or more target markets. You will note that you will not hear about tertiary and subsequent target markets – it is only primary or secondary.

So what is a secondary target market?

It is a market segment that we have chosen not to pursue directly – and therefore has not been designated a target market – but has some similarities in needs and/or behavior to our prime target market.

And we hope that the marketing mix that we design for our primary target market will also appeal to the needs of our secondary target market/s to some extent.

For example, we may aim to have a market share of 25% with our prime target market, and also gain an additional 5% market share of a secondary target market – using the same marketing mix offering without alteration.

Why not make it a target market as well?

 There are multiple reasons why we would not make a secondary target market a separate target market in its own right. These include:

  • we want to focus on one target market only, as we have limited resources
  • the secondary target market is too small to be viable for us
  • the secondary target market is too competitive
  • we are concerned with potential brand confusion, with two overlapping offerings
  • we are concerned with potential sales cannibalization, with some competition between overlapping marketing mix designs

Learning Point: The key difference between a primary target market and a secondary target market, is that we have constructed a marketing mix for the needs of the primary target market only.

Is a secondary target market simply part of the primary target market?

No. While there are some overlaps with consumer needs and behaviors, the secondary target market is a distinct market segment which would warrant its own marketing mix if we would choose to target it directly.

However, due to the various reasons listed above, we have not designated it to be a key target market for us.

Examples of Secondary Target Markets

Let’s look at airlines and their business class offering. As suggested by the name, people traveling for business are the primary target market for business class flights.

This is because people traveling for business travel frequently and their company is paying for them, meaning that they are quite price insensitive, and the price point can be a lot higher than for average consumers.

They also are likely to be heavy users as they may need to travel multiple times per year or even more frequently. And in terms of their needs, they would need more comfortable surroundings, airport meeting and communication facilities, and potentially they could be working on the plane.

So while people traveling for work are the primary target market, there is also secondary target markets where their needs can be met by a similar offering.

For example, you can have people traveling for a special occasion, such as a honeymoon, or people who have saved up for their trip of a lifetime. These consumers would be only occasional purchasers of business class flights.

This means that this segment does not have the size or the profitability of the business traveler segment. And this means that we would not choose them as a target market and we would not design a product and service offering primarily focused on their needs.

Instead, we hope that our business class offering – design for business travelers – will also appeal to the secondary target market on occasion.

Another example would be universities and colleges. Here the primary target market would be people leaving school aged 18 and over and looking to build their career. They would want to study and earn a qualification that gets them into that career.

This is the primary target market for universities and colleges and would account for the vast majority of their students.

However, there would also be a secondary target market of people looking for a career change – perhaps late in life, or parents going back to work after raising a family.

Again, like the airlines example, this segment is too small for the average university to select as a target market and to build unique marketing mix around.

Instead, they are also hopeful that the same marketing mix that they offer to younger students, will have some appeal to older career change people as well.

Learning Recap:

Primary target market = the segment we have chosen to focus upon and to build our marketing strategy around.

Secondary target market = a segment that we have chosen not to pursue directly, but has some similarities in common, and our marketing mix (for our primary target market) should also appeal to the secondary target market/s to some extent.

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