Defining target groups

Origin and terminology

The term target group originates from the communication sciences and precisely describes the groups of people which are to be reached by clearly targeted messages. In health promotion and prevention this approach is used in order to reach selected population groups with specific messages and offers.A target group in this context describes a group of people with common characteristics and / or similar life situations at which the goals and measures of an intervention are aimed. These may be young, unemployed men, single mothers in socio-economically weaker neighbourhoods or older people in nursing homes. Target groups can be selected from a specific setting or not (e.g. target groups of a nationwide poster campaign).

Important aspects for reaching and activating a target group

Reaching target groups successfully depends on the following conditions:

Precise definition

A precise definition of the target groups for an intervention is an essential prerequisite for successfully reaching the group and ultimately reaching the goal of the project. The more precisely the target audience is defined, the more specific and needs-oriented way the group can be addressed. It makes little sense to address generic groups such as youth or women , because people belonging to these categories move in many different worlds and have different needs and resources. In order to limit the target audience the following questions should be asked: which groups have the greatest need and desire for an intervention? Which groups are most disadvantaged with regard to equal opportunity?

Considering the target group's background

Interventions aiming at desirable changes in behaviour have little chance for success if the target group's 'lifeworld' (e.g. social and cultural background) is not taken into account. In order to be able to reach the intended group it is crucial that their lifestyle and living conditions are understood and considered in the context of the relevant socio-economic and cultural background. The following aspects may be of importance: - Phase of life - gender distribution - social class, social status, income - education, marital status, urban or rural background (place of residence) - mother tongue - sexual orientation - ethnicity - political conviction - religious values.

Individual behaviour - social circumstances and conditions

Achieving behaviour changes is difficult and maintaining them over time even more so. In order to create better chances for long-term behavioural changes it is usually necessary to create favourable conditions for these changes to take place - "to make the healthier choice the easier choice". In each project we need to ask: what conditions, what resources are necessary to ensure that a health-conducive lifestyle is made possible at all?

Participation

Another important success factor for achieving objectives is the active participation of members of the target group in the planning, development and implementation of the project (see Participation).

How to verify the outreach effort and the activation of the target group ?

When the project is evaluated, the extent to which the target group has been reached is an important indicator of success. Important questions are: were those people reached that were initially defined as targets and did they feel addressed?

The verification of these points requires a precise definition of the target group. The evaluation of the effects in the target groups, however, is an even bigger challenge. Even here the rule applies: the more clearly the objectives of the project are defined the easier it is to assess and evaluate them.

Bibliographical references

  • Corcoran, N. (2007). Communicating Health: Strategies for Health Promotion. See particularly chapters 3 and 6. Sage Publications Ltd. London. 

Why you would disregard these aspects

  • You want to attract the largest possible number of people and lose sight of the fact that all do not live in the same life contexts and do not have the same needs.
  • You underestimate the importance of different socio-cultural contexts in designing your interventions.

What you have to gain

  • If the target groups are clearly defined, you can customize the strategies and interventions to the specific cultural needs of the target groups.
  • This increases the chance that people will feel addressed and that development is set in motion.

What you can actually do

  • Start as early as possible to contact representatives of the target groups and involve them in the planning and the development of the project.
  • Consider the framework conditions and the resources that are necessary to ease the change process.

Questions for critical reflection

  • Can you justify why certain groups in a setting have become the target groups of the project and not others?
  • Has the question of equal opportunity been considered?
  • Are the target groups hard to reach and are the obstacles known so that they can be overcome? Are these obstacles taken into consideration when defining strategies and interventions?