How much do you really know about your customers, especially the ones who are a perfect fit for your business? Identifying and describing your ideal customer is often the first step in any successful branding or marketing initiative.
“We start with defining the audience—in our work, we find that we're more often dealing with ‘audiences,’ each with distinct ways they can benefit our clients and very different motivations for doing so,” says Garrett French, an online marketing consultant and founder of Citation Labs, a boutique SEO agency that specializes in custom link-building tools and services.
Critical Data to Collect
Before you can create focused marketing campaigns targeted specifically to your core audience, you need actionable data points about that group. When researching his clients' target customers, French looks for answers to the following questions:
- Who are the key audiences in this market's information ecosystem? This may include media, experts, non-competing market participants, current customers and your customer service team.
- What are their pains, especially as they intersect with your market offering?
- How do you intersect this client with one or more of the broadest categories of human concern? Making these connections creates relevance and essentially manufactures new audiences.
- What are the various profitable-to-you actions that your audiences could take?
- How can your content incentivize profitable actions by these various audiences?
- Are any of these audiences easier to access than others? Your customer list is readily available, but influencing journalists usually takes a different approach.
- What is the best channel for reaching these target audiences? What is the best "container" for the content itself?
There are a variety of methods for obtaining data about your audience, ranging from a general Internet search to U.S. census data and information obtained from niche databases and research firms, such as the Pew Research Center. But one of the best ways to obtain the essential information may be to get it directly from your target audience.
“When the budget allows, we like to conduct surveys of our target audience, preferably phone-based, where we can get into a messy but free-flowing conversation to pick up on any generalized pains that happen,” French says. “We also do quite a bit of ‘temperature checking’ when we begin content promotion outreach—we'll ask for feedback on future concepts while pitching what we've already completed.”
This process can help you gauge the logistics of your marketing plans against the data you’re uncovering. “We're also looking for validators that there's genuinely enough of an audience to justify the cost of a given content project,” French explains. “This is often why we fall back on connecting clients with the core areas of human concern. This guarantees a new, larger audience.”
Gaining Key Audience Insights
While the audience discovery process can help a business implement more effective marketing initiatives, the planning process doesn't need to be overwhelming or comprehensive to be effective. As French explains, “We believe in ‘failing fast.’ We don't think planning and strategy are always necessary as long as you build a feedback loop into your efforts and really listen to what your audiences tell you and what your analytics say. So be sure your content team has permission to spend time seeking direct audience feedback and enough runway to learn their way forward into productive directions.”
Devising a plan for gathering critical audience data is also often a process that evolves as you progress. “We can't know what we don't know—it's a cliché, but it's brutal and true,” French says. “The most defensible data advantages start—in our experience—with those ‘open interview’ scenarios where we're on the phone or in person with a key audience member. We guide the conversation toward the audience member opening up with stories about their efforts, pains and wins in the marketplace.”
French says that even marketers not experienced with an industry can readily adapt and pinpoint gaps in existing market offerings through this discovery process. “We brainstorm in real time, pitch concepts and get instant feedback," he says, "by phrasing our responses like this: ‘So it sounds like what you're really needing is an app that would connect you with...’ ”
Asked for his advice for small businesses that are attempting to conduct audience discovery on a limited budget, French offers, “SMBs can be nimble. So crank on content for a week or two, then check in with some of your audience members on the phone. Learn what's really on their mind and adjust course. Make lots of small bets, and see which ones demonstrate real opportunity for business impact.”
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This article was originally published on November 25, 2014.