10 Ways to Learn About Your Target Audience

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It astonishes me how many businesses don’t have a clue who their target market is. Sure, if you ask the head of sales who the target audience is, he or she may have an answer, but does this sales exec know why this is the target market? What problems this market faces? What this market trusts and distrusts? What its members love and loathe, fear or anticipate?

Related: Who Is the Target Audience for Your Business Plan? Hint: More People Than You Think.

Unless you’re intimately familiar with the psychology of your target market, any demographics you claim are mere semantics. If you want your messaging to be effective and your brand to be enticing, you need to go a step further and get to know your customers better. How do you do that? Here are 10 ways to know your target audience:

1. Challenge your assumptions.

The first step is the most important, since it may even help you redefine your target audience. Don’t assume anything. Let’s say you’ve decided your target market is middle-aged women. Why? You may have gone even further, assuming certain styles or directions of messaging appeal to them.

But don’t take any of this for granted. Unless you have more than anecdotal evidence backing up your claim, ditch it.

2. Learn from what others have found.

This is entry-level market research at its finest. Read up on some case studies, examples and psychological analyses by marketers who have come before you. Sources include industry reporters, general market researchers and, in some cases, sociologists. Filter your data to ensure the research is as relevant and as recent as possible.

3. Create a customer persona.

Once you’ve collected enough objective data to start forming solid conclusions, you can start crafting a customer persona. This persona is basically a fictional character who exhibits all the traits an “average” member of your target audience is expected to have.

Include hard factors like age, sex, education level and income, as well as disposition factors like temperament, sensitivity or curiosity.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Determining Your Target Market

4. Conduct large-scale quantitative surveys.

Now it’s time to back up your assumptions and conduct some primary research (rather than the secondary research described above). Start with large-scale quantitative surveys, covering the widest cross-section of your audience possible. Your questions should be multiple-choice, giving you hard statistics that can teach you about your audience’s habits.

Ask questions relevant to your brand and product, such as, “How important is X to you?” or “What is your biggest consideration for purchasing a X?”

5. Conduct small-scale qualitative surveys.

Complement your quantitative research with qualitative research -- the data won’t be as objective, but you’ll learn more detailed insights on your audience’s psychological makeup. Target a small sample of audience members, and use open-ended questions to get long responses you can interpret.

Again, ask questions relevant to your brand and product like, “What does the following phrase mean to you?” or “What do you feel when you see this image?”

6. Look to your competitors.

Your competitors may have already done such market research and put it into action. If they target the same audience you do, observe and learn from the way they write and advertise to their potential customers.

If they don’t, look for ways that you can distinguish yourself.

7. Look to other popular products and services.

Look for products and services that your target audience is already using -- unrelated to your industry. How do these brands position themselves? What kinds of messaging do they use?

8. Listen to social conversations.

Use social listening software in combination with targeted social lists to zero in on what your customers are saying online. What trending topics are they following most closely? Whom do they usually interact with, and why?

Again, you can look for other brands that may emerge as successful messengers.

9. Examine interactions with your brand.

You can use social listening software again, and tap into Google Analytics to examine user behavior on your site. Evaluate how your target demographics are interacting with your brand: Do you get lots of blog comments and social shares? Use this data to fine-tune your approach.

10. Allow some room to grow.

You’ll never have a perfect understanding of your target audience. Even if at some point you did, your audience members would evolve and change as soon as you figured them out. Allow some breathing room in your strategy, and always strive to understand your audience a little bit better.

None of these methods can, by themselves, give you a perfect portrait of the “average” customer in your target demographics; populations are too diverse and too unpredictable for any one set of assumptions to hold true.

Instead, you need to collect your findings from multiple sources and merge them into one comprehensive, multifaceted vision. From there, you’ll be able to better shape everything you create for your audience, from blogs to headlines to calls to action. 

Related: 2 Cost-Effective Ways to Reach a Large Target Audience and Save Money