9 Ways to Meet and Understand Your Audience Have you had a close encounter with the people buying your product?

By Carolina Rogoll

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"Know your customer" is a tenet of Business 101, but I'm often surprised at how many business owners and brand managers don't follow it. The best consumer research is that which allows you to understand who your customer is as a full person -- his or her aspirations, habits and surroundings.

Related: Do Your Marketing Messages Target the Right Personas?

Ideally you would observe this consumer in his or her "real environment," versus, say, a focus group. What you would see would reveal more accurate and precise information about your consumer than what this individual might actually say.

Brand choices and purchases, after all, are often subconscious. And, given that there is "more than meets the eye" when marketers seek consumer insights, what's needed may be more of a journalistic approach to understanding one's product audience. Here are some ideas on how to achieve that understanding:

1. Incentives

If you have a store where you sell food or other products, come up with incentives like free products or random drawings in return for your customer taking the time to talk ro you. This is your chance to ask, in person, a range of questions to better understand these people. Questions can range from what they think of your product to who they are as people.

2. Panels

Build a panel of consumers who fit your target that you can talk to regularly. Get to know them well. Invite these panelists over for pizza or coffee. The group dynamic can help you discover more about them even as they talk about your products..

3. Environment

Try to get close to the environment where your target consumer lives. If you are interested in household chores or food, for example, schedule your visit during times the consumer is thinking of or preparing to use your product. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues you can get from what surrounds him or her.

Related: The Most Important Piece of a Marketing Plan Is Your Targeted Customer

4. Product use

Use your product as your consumer would, even if, say, you are a man managing a brand for women. Actually going through the experience with your product or the category just as your target would is a great way to get in touch with consumer needs and tensions.

5. Social media

If your brand is active on social media like Facebook and Twitter, and there are consumers there who you see as being your target customers -- people who already are "friends" with you -- contact them and ask for permission to interview them.

6. Budget

If you know approximately how much your target spends in a typical week, try to live on that budget for a week yourself. This exercise puts you in your consumer's reality and lets you experience why he or she is making certain brand choices.

7. Limitations and distractions

Think about the limitations or distractions of your target audience as they are shopping, and recreate them for yourself. Trying to reach an older audience? Wear sunglasses or any other eyeglasses that adjust your senses to what your target might see. If you have a target who is likely to bring kids along for the shop, emulate that experience. You may realize how little attention is available to your target to focus on and select your brand.

8. Beginning to end

If your product is a service, go through the process of signing up for the service from beginning to end. I am always surprised how many marketers in the service industry haven't gone through the process of signing up for the service they market.

9. Open those purses

Have you ever considered examining the purse/briefcase/backpack of your target consumer (with their permission, of course!)? You will be amazed at how rifling through their contents will tell you about your consumer's lifestyle choices and buying habits.

So, you've put in the effort and now have a good understanding of your target. Now, get creative bringing it to life. Create a visual representation of the consumer in his or her full expression. Begin documenting his or her key characteristics and traits. Next, make a full life-size cardboard cutout of your target to remind you every day who this person is.

Give the cardboard cutout a name. If your target audience is composed of different needs segments, create distinct personas for each group. Use them consistently. If you do this well, your organization will rally around the target consumer and use this profile as a guide in their daily work.

Now, that is targeting strategy in action.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Determining Your Target Market

Carolina Rogoll

Branding Expert, Author of Star Brands, Faculty School of Visual Arts

 Carolina Rogoll is a branding professional on the faculty of the first-ever masters in branding program at the School of Visual Arts and author of Star Brands.

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