If you are at a shooting range, what comes first: aiming your gun or pulling the trigger? For your safety and that of everyone nearby, I hope that aiming is the first step!
While this is an obvious concept when it comes to shooting a gun or throwing darts, it’s an often overlooked step in many branding campaigns. An effective personal branding  campaign starts by asking one question: who are your target customers? Once this question has been answered, a plan can be constructed to most effectively reach these customers. Often referred to as “finding your niche”, the process of identifying your target market is an all-important first step in any marketing and branding campaign. Below are several questions to ask in order to identify your ideal target market:
1) To which customers will your products and services most appeal? Most businesses have a wide range of potential customers--and many business owners make the mistake of pursuing all of them. The problem with that approach, from a personal branding  standpoint, is that a strong brand can’t appeal to every single potential customer. Instead, it is important to identify your “bread and butter” customers, who will make up the core of your business--even if these customers don’t currently represent a majority of your total business. Once you have identified these customers, customize your brand for maximum appeal.
2) What attributes distinguish your business from the competition? In order to effectively position yourself within your marketplace, it is important to identify the traits that separate your business from everyone else. What does your business offer that no one else in your market can? Answering this question will enable you to emphasize your unique value proposition while constructing your personal brand.
3) What common frustrations or needs do your services or products address? How does your business solve a problem or find a solution for your customers? In particular, do you solve problems that nobody else can? These solutions should be an integral part of your personal brand. Along the same lines, try asking your customers what they appreciate the most about your business. Make their answers a focus of your branding and marketing campaigns.
4) How much competition are you facing? Finally, before settling on a target market and crafting a brand to reach that market, ask yourself the all-important question: how much competition will you be facing? If you can help it, avoid entering a hotly-contested market--because you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. On the other hand, if a less competitive niche isn’t available, don’t surrender. Instead, focus on differentiating yourself from the competition in your market. You can succeed in a market, no matter how competitive it is, if you can find a way to provide more value than anyone else--and if you can communicate this value proposition to your market.
If you haven’t yet identified your target market, take a few moments right now to do so. Without a clearly defined niche, your personal brand  won’t be effective.
JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to build their business through Personality Driven Marketing, Personal Brand Positioning, Guaranteed Media, and Mining Hidden Business Assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at their Web site. Jack and Nick have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, FastCompany.com, and many more media outlets.