Missing (the) Target: What Can We Learn?

Almost everyone is talking about Target’s decision to close every last one of its stores in Canada. Was this the right decision? Should those in charge have instead scaled back their operations and improved performance in a smaller number of locations? What if they had slowly begun to implement changes while keeping all stores open? These are difficult questions, and with no expertise in corporate business analysis, I have no answers. (Others do. You may wish to start here.)


However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something from what happened. We might, for instance, run with the commonly held assumption that Target didn’t do its research on what makes the Canadian retail sector tick. In that case, we can generate a list of critical questions to ask, whether our goal is to develop a new business, establish an existing business in a new market, plan an event, launch a program, and most importantly, communicate these things to our audience.

Let’s start with the classic questions we learn in grade school and see if we can come up with a stockpile of crucial, detailed things to ask ourselves when doing research.


  • Who are we targeting, and what do we know about them? What else do we need to find out?
  • Who influences their opinions? Who do they turn to for recommendations or advice?
  • Who is our competition? Who already has the loyalty of our main audience, and how is it that they accomplish this?


  • What drives our main audience? What motivates them to take action when they read or hear about something new?
  • What appeals to them, or perhaps more importantly, what turns them off? What do they pay attention to?
  • What will they go out of their way to seek out? What do they insist on?


  • Where do our primary and secondary demographics spend time and money? Do we know their habits and lifestyle?
  • Where do they get their information? Where do they go when they want to learn about new things?
  • Where do they want to be in one year, five years, ten years, and where do we fit into those plans?


  • When will our audience listen to what we have to say? During a mid-morning break spent browsing social media channels on a work computer? Reading a transit ad or roadside billboard on the afternoon commute? Catching up to email blasts and newsletters on a tablet just before going to bed?
  • When is it unlikely we’ll get their attention? When are other messages louder and more persistent?
  • When are they ready to take the action we want them to take? When do they want to donate, purchase, support, share, and participate?


  • Why do we matter to our clients and customers? Why do they care about what we do, now and in future?
  • Why should anyone else begin to take note of us? What’s in it for them?
  • Why are we adopting strategies x, y, and z? What rationale do we have behind the decisions we make?

It looks like even five very basic questions can develop into over a dozen major concerns that need our attention. And this only scratches the surface. Do you have other key questions you ask yourself when you’re planning something new?

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