In marketing, one of your greatest assets will be identifying and understanding your target audience. Conducting market research, either in the early stages of your business’s development or as part of research for a new product, will help you segment your potential demographics and choose a niche where you have a high probability of success. But simply choosing an audience isn’t enough; you have to understand how that audience thinks, acts, and behaves if you want to be a successful marketer.
Why Audience Understanding Is Important
So why is audience understanding so important?
- There are thousands of businesses like yours, offering similar products and services, so how are people going to distinguish you? Choosing a target audience helps you limit this competition and distinguish yourself simultaneously. You may even be able to transform your brand into a new variant, which your competitors haven’t explored previously.
- Understanding your audience also means you’re able to craft messages they can relate to. That means you’ll be able to form brand-consumer relationships faster, and your key demographics will feel better understood by your company.
- Knowing your audience helps you pinpoint the best opportunities to reach your audience. For example, if your target demographic spends most of their time on Facebook, you can use Facebook advertising as your primary outreach strategy.
Strategies to Improve Your Understanding
So what’s the best way to get to know an entire segment of people?
Try using these strategies to improve your understanding of a given audience:
- Secondary research. You can start by digging up information on your target demographics that other people have already done for you. The U.S. Census Bureau is a good start, assuming your demographic lives in the United States. There, you can find information about income, marriage, education, geographic locations, and hundreds of other variables for the entire U.S. population. You can also use resources like Pew Research Center and other demographic research institutes to complement that research.
- Quantitative surveys. Next, you’ll want to conduct some research on your own. Relying on external sources is helpful because it will save you time and money, but it limits the number and type of questions you can ask. You can start by creating surveys for your target audience to complete, focusing on objective answers as much as possible. Through these, you can quantify consumer opinions, such as whether they’re able to recognize your brand and how they feel about you, or how interested they are in a given product. Numbers are key here, since they’ll help you identify broad trends.
- Qualitative interviews. Numbers can’t tell you everything, however. You’ll also want to conduct interviews with a select handful of participants, preferably in a one-on-one setting where you can record and analyze their qualitative responses. This research method is more intensive, but it can help you get to know individuals of a given demographic, rather than the accumulated average of the demographic. Both qualitative and quantitative data are important to truly understand a group.
- Internal competence. Next, you’ll want to take steps to ensure your internal team is sensitive to the needs of your target demographic, and able to recognize and understand their values. This is the hallmark of cultural competence, which is important if you want to communicate across cultures as effectively as possible. Having a diverse staff to help you relate to and understand people from different backgrounds is ideal; otherwise, alternative means of exposure can help you relate to demographics outside your own.
- Customer personas. Finally, take some time to aggregate the data you’ve collected from all these methods, and combine them together into overarching customer personas. These are semi-detailed descriptions of fictional people you’ve invented to embody the average spirit of your target demographic. You can find customer persona templates online, covering a wide range of different strategic approaches. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but you’ll quickly discover how well you truly know and understand your target market—and if you’re lacking information, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board.
Ongoing Education and Refinement
Audiences change, just as brands and individuals change. If you want your company to see continued success in marketing, you have to challenge your assumptions and conduct ongoing research to stay up-to-date on your audience’s preferences. Make it a point to revisit these strategies on a regular basis, at least annually, to check in with your audience and grow alongside them.
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