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Getting to know your audience: how and why you should

by Gill, Head of Content Marketing
12th May 2017 - 14 min read

This how-to guide is based on a presentation to Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) members and students at University of East Anglia. It aims to arm you with the skills and knowledge to paint a useful and valuable picture of who your audience is. It will look at their values, beliefs and behaviours, what they like, where they are, what they share, how they interact with brands, what they hate, when they hate it, how they use content, how they engage with your brand.

Getting to know your audience is an ongoing investigation. You’re going to research the evidence you need to work out the above, always adding new pieces of information – new insights. This is so that you can create the right content to engage them, in the right way, in the right place.

Download the PDF of Getting to know your audience: how and why you should

Why do you need to know who your audience is?

Why is knowing who your audience is important? Your product is always the same… why not talk about that? It is after all what you’re selling – surely the product should be at the centre of your messaging. How will people know whether to buy it, if they don’t know about the product?

The new Black and Decker hammer-action cordless drill:  2 settings, tungsten-tipped bits, free carry case, lightweight carbon-fibre body.

When someone buys a drill – what they’re really buying, is holes – because that’s what the audience needs – holes. Clean holes, quick holes, any size hole you want, the best value holes. So you might try:

The new Black and Decker hammer-action cordless drill: versatile hole-creation for busy professionals.

You’re not selling a cordless drill – you’re selling holes anywhere!

When creating marketing content, you should talk about the holes, not the drill. You just need to know what the ‘holes’ are for your product, and how the audience feel about the holes. This is so your content can be about the benefits of the product, not the specification of the product.

The more you tailor your message – your content – for the audience, the more likely they are to click a Google result or click a Facebook update.

So you need to find out who that audience is:

  • What they’re interested in
  • What they care about
  • How you can engage with them
  • And where

These are just some examples of great content marketing – from brands who know what their audience want and know how to reach them:  

  • Waitrose posh recipes in-store
    • It’s what their audience care about
    • And it’s where they are
    • The product is woven into the message – it’s not the focus
  • Business consultants creating advice and guides on LinkedIn
    • It’s what their audience care about
    • And it’s where they are
    • Their service is woven into the message – it’s not the focus

The better you understand the users of your product or service, the better you can engage new and existing customers to grow your audience and business.

Content marketing: guiding principle

How we can find out who our audience is?

This Venn diagram shows the principle that should guide all content marketing. We know what we want to say about our brand/product. We just need to know what the audience is interested in, so we can see what the bit in the middle should be – what content should we create.

For example:
If you work at B&Q, you won’t talk about your tungsten-tipped screws and rawl plugs. You might offer DIY advice or interiors inspiration.

We want to build a picture of our audience so that we can make content that will get them engaged with our brand, so that they consider us if and when the time comes to think about buying the product that we make.

How do we work out what that middle bit should be?

Why can’t you just say: “Google Analytics says the most popular page on the site is ‘get a classic car insurance quote’, let’s make lots of content about classic car insurance, then they’ll buy car insurance from us.” Because that’s not the whole picture.

Any strategy should be informed by insight, but a content strategy should be informed by audience insight, not product insight – unless that’s how people use the product and how they feel about the product.

Learn how to create a successful content strategy with our step-by-step guide. 

Now, you can’t know everything about your entire potential target audience… but there are ways of getting close.

Demographics

White, middle class, male, 35-55. Does this information tell you whether someone might buy a drill? Or an energy drink? Or classic car insurance? If you only look at demographics, you’ll be missing part of your potential audience, and talking to people who will never buy from you – and your messaging may not resonate with the right audience if they do see it.

A Dyson, sucks up dust whether you’re a man or a woman. When you sell a vacuum cleaner, you’re selling clean homes. So that’s what we Dyson might choose to talk about – homes, not hoovers.

So what do you need to know? What is useful? What will help you guide the content you should create?

Needs and behaviours

Each of the questions below will help drive decisions about what content you create, how you present it, where you put it, and how you promote it.

This will you help make sure you’re creating content ONLY for people who may buy at some point – that you’re creating a VALUABLE audience, not just a BIG one.

Examples:

  • If people aren’t actively searching for what you do/sell, you might try getting in front of them on social media.
  • If people aren’t consuming lots of content about a topic on Facebook, no conversations on Twitter, look at LinkedIn – maybe social media won’t work at all.
  • If your audience want to consume content about your topic visually you might choose different formats for your content – and different platforms.
  • If the audience don’t like the product you sell or aren’t engaged with the subject area – if it’s a necessity, not a passion – your messaging might have to be different. You might have to talk around the subject. For example, Red Bull don’t ever talk about drinks – their content is all about extreme sports – because that’s what their audience is interested in. No one’s clicking ‘carbonated taurine drink’ on social media – but, ‘man jumps from space’… quite popular.

So, how do you answer these questions?

Research: insight and data

Here are some examples of tools we can use to find out the answers to those questions:

Great sources of data and insight into who your audience is can be found in customer surveys, TGI data, Mosaic data, social media, Google analytics, focus groups and various other tools. All of these offer different types of data that can help you build a picture of your audience.

Check out our 5 Data Analysis Tools For Understanding Your Digital Marketing Campaigns article.

Example: ‘Classic car insurance’.

Below are insights from the Google Analytics of a car insurance website. The insights come from a list of the most popular content pages. From this we can see what people are already consuming on the site:

  • Four of the top 10 posts are about classic cars, especially British cars, and the Ford Capri article is the most popular
  • Six of the top 10 articles are advice: lists and guides, 14 things etc.
  • The least popular articles are news (related to speeding cameras and pothole campaigning)
  • The dwell time of the most popular articles says people are spending a long time on the advice articles
    • Autos
    • Movies
    • TV
    • And less time on the interviews and news
    • But the people who read interviews are more likely to look at more pages (bounce rate)
  • Device split is 75% mobile, 25% desktop
  • Referral traffic is coming from Google and Facebook
  • 40% men, 25% women, 35% unknown

What does this tell us about our audience? What does it tell us about their needs?

  • They like to read about classic British cars.
  • They have their own cars and maintain them (advice)
  • They’re on mobile – hobby not for work
  • They are searching to find content, as well as clicking from social media 
  • Mainly men (it’s their hobby – affinity group) Also, we know empirically that most people who are really into classic cars are men.
  • Nostalgia probably plays a part in their passion (age and topic – and not news)

What are they searching for?

This is search data about driverless cars: the ways in which people are looking for content about driverless cars – and the volumes of those searches.

Our data team spend hours researching search terms and their search volumes – how many people are searching for it and any for related topics. This can tell us how people are searching for things, how often, what’s important to them, what do they want to know, what are they interested in – and therefore, what content we would produce to answer this.

From this we can work towards understanding their needs and behaviours.

  • They use the words driverless and self-driving
  • They use the models – Google, Tesla
  • They want news – and search for it knowing the news (Google, Tesla crash)
  • They want information on how they work
  • There’s a healthy search volume around the topic

What does this tell us about this audience?

  • They’re actively interested in driverless cars
  • They already have a basic knowledge of what’s going on – which again, shows that they’re already engaged with the topic. Content about this might be good for social media.
  • It suggests that they might be concerned about the moral issues surrounding it (Google Analytics says they are).

Answer the Public

Answer the Public is a website that maps the ways in which people are searching around keywords. And you get this… who, what, where, when queries.

You start with your basic term(s) – classic car insurance.

Make separate lists – cluster queries together into needs. Specific models, price points, problems, women’s car insurance, what qualifies as classic car insurance.

Broadly, what does this say about the audience?

  • They’re interested in price
  • They need info about what qualifies as a ‘classic’
  • They want to know the benefits of classic car insurance

Run the same for the term ‘classics cars’:

  • Fun facts
  • Classic car investment
  • Safety issues
  • To buy classic cars

So what does this say about who they are?

  • Interested – passionate even – about in classic cars
  • They have money
  • They will be using the car – they own one
  • They have time for hobbies

So, you might decide that your audience is:

  1. Retirees
  2. Young affluent individuals
  3. Empty-nesters

Social media

Look at the brand’s own social media channels to see what works and what doesn’t. Look at the posts with the most interactions vs the ones that didn’t get any. What are the patterns? 

On Facebook you will also be able to see WHEN people are looking at your content. In this case: it’s 7:30pm.

What does all this tell us about the audience?

  • They’re active in this area – passionate hobbyists (comments and shares).
  • They don’t go out a lot (they might be older).
  • Some things are broadly appealing, but niche things get lots of comments – very engaged/hobbyists.
  • Popularity of the post doesn’t mean it’s shareable – they like different types of content for different needs.

What are they engaging with on social media?

That’s your Facebook data – but what about outside of your channels? What content are people engaging with on other competitor channels? What’s doing well?

This is a screengrab from Buzzsumo. A site that tells you what people are sharing on social media about a certain topic.

By looking at what they talk about, what they engage with and how they respond, we can start to see what they care about – and why.

So, what’s being shared about classic cars?

  • 10 cars you probably don’t know
  • 10 cars to buy, keep and drive
  • Coolest American muscle cars
  • Classic cars for sale
  • 20 affordable classics

Format: lists, funnies, pictures

What does this say about our audience?

  • They are interested in things that they aren’t always searching for – they have an interest in the topic.
  • They like an interesting take on the thing they’re interested in.
  • They use social media.
  • They consume lots of content about what they like.
  • It also says they’re on Facebook and LinkedIn – or at least, they’re not responding to it on Twitter.

Personas

A persona is a short description of a fictional person, using information and insight about your target audience.

Marketing professionals have been moving away from simple demographic information to personas, to help understand the emotional drives at play. This helps us understand WHO these people are, not WHAT they are; how the brand might fit into their life, and how you might create content to address their needs and fit in with their behaviours.

How do you create a persona?

You take all the information you’ve gathered – from search data to anecdotal information from client feedback – and turn it into a pen portrait of a person that exemplifies this.

For example: Google Trends says people search for ‘convertible car insurance’ more in April. People share pictures of their car online. They ‘like’ pictures of other people’s cars.

“Letitia bought her MX5 for a of summer fun having moved back to Norfolk – she loves the feeling of freedom it gives and it reminds her of going to the Mazda Drivers Club meetings in Stow Bedon with her dad.”

We start to understand how people feel about their car, or the role of cars in people’s lives, and how people feel about car insurance. From this, we learn what kind of content they might respond to, and the language, messaging and format used. 

Once you’ve created this picture, we start to get a sense of what content we should create and where we should put it…

What are they looking for? What are their needs? What do they respond to?

‘Letitia’

Content:

  • 15 best coastal roads for convertibles
  • How to care for a convertible
  • Sexiest convertibles of all time
  • Car photography: a guide
  • How to insure your convertible

Other useful info:

  • Choose social media, not email
  • Keep it chatty and informal
  • Ask for feedback/comment/shares – you might get it
  • On Facebook and Instagram – not LinkedIn
  • Use photography as well as words
  • Publish frequently because Letitia has an appetite for lots of content.

And that’s just from a few bits of data, bringing it to life with ‘Letitia’.

How many personas should you produce? Three, six, eight – as many as the data suggests are there – John the student, retiree David and single-mum Janet.

Gathering data is a skill, but the real skill comes from interpreting the data: what does the data suggest about your audience, what content do your audience want, and where do they want it?

Summary

Hopefully you will now be able to:

  • Define who your audience is.
  • Find out where and how they engage with the topic.
  • Define what their needs and behaviours are.
  • Learn how they search for the thing you do/sell – what questions they are asking/what they want to know.
  • Find out how they feel about your product.
  • Define what content you should create and how it should be promoted.

Download the PDF of Getting to know your audience: how and why you should 

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