How to Research Your Target Audience for Powerful Content Marketing strategy

“Know the customer” is the age-old saying in business.

Ultimately, your ability to understand your target audience is how you capture attention, maintain interest, and (hopefully) create revenue.

Considering that generating traffic and leads is commonly listed as one of the top marketing challenges, it’s clear that conducting target audience analysis is no simple task.

Top Marketing Challenges Company Faces
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Learning how to identify target audience trends is perhaps the most crucial step in a content marketing strategy and one that takes much more effort than many assume.

What is a Target Audience?

In a nutshell, a target audience is who you create your content for. These are the demographics, personality types, and followings that would find your message most impactful. Having a clear vision of the target audience is something that needs to happen before any type of content is created or promoted.

In general, there should be three key elements that define a target audience:

1. Geographic Information

This is the target region. It be a specific city, state, or country. In some cases, your target geographic might be the entire planet – in which case the other two elements would be more specific.

2. Demographic Information

These are the quantifiable characteristics that define your ideal customer. This would include:

  1. Age
  2. Gender
  3. Income
  4. Education
  5. Marital Status
  6. Family Size
  7. Race
  8. Religion
  9. Ethnicity
  10. First language
  11. Profession

3. Psychographic Information

Psychographic information is much more ambiguous than the previous two elements.

It refers to the personality traits and lifestyles that your ideal customers associate with. Many would argue that this is the most important aspect of a target audience.

This is where you get into the weeds of target audience research with buying habits, behavioral nuances, interests, motivations, hobbies, favorite celebrities (influencers), and so on. In other words, psychographics is all about deeply understanding your target audience on a personal level and how they interact with content.

What is Audience Targeting?

Perhaps the most detrimental mistake that you can make in formulating a target audience is assuming you can target EVERYONE. Very, very few businesses can successfully pull this off. By “very few,” I’m talking about brands like Apple, Amazon, Google, etc.

99.999% of brands need to have a specific target audience hammered out for their content strategy.

For example, a website design agency needs to know whether they are creating content for an audience of high-level executives well-versed in digital or an everyday joe.

If the web design agency is creating content for an experienced executive in the digital space, they can get more technical in talking about aspects of web design like lead funnels, UX design, CRO, etc.

On the other hand, (and I mean no disrespect) plumbers and electricians don’t work with websites everyday like digital/marketing executives.

Writing content packed with digital jargon for the general plumber won’t likely do wonders in gaining traction. If the target audience is people not versed in the digital business world, you would need to use terms that make sense to the everyday person – “spam blocker”, “email integration”, “Facebook integration”, and so on.

A great way to start a target audience analysis is by understanding the “Hierarchy of Needs.”

A target audience with little-to-no background in technical website design and development would fall in at the bottom of the pyramid. These people are looking for a website that simply functions and won’t give them problems.

At the top would be those high-level digital execs who are looking for the nitty-gritty details on UX funnels, scale demand, etc.

So, if this target audience example is high-level executives in the digital space (who need an extremely advanced website with all the bells and whistles), the content you create would need to reflect this.

Define Yourself First

Now, before you dive headfirst into the deep end of target audience research, you must first establish your brand identity and personality.

This crucial information is what needs to guide all of your creative efforts in content marketing. Whether it be the brand voice, color scheme, imagery, values, or the general feel, it all needs to be traced back to your brand identity.

If you haven’t done this yet, the best place to start is to imagine your brand as a living, breathing human.

  • What do they look and sound like?
  • Who are their friends?
  • What is MOST important to them?
  • What is something they would NEVER do?
  • What do they value outside of work?

^ These are just a few questions to get you started.

Developing a strong brand identity is not something you can do overnight. In most cases, this is a long, ongoing process chock full of trial and error. Additionally, this identity can shift in order to adapt to new target audiences.

Take Old Spice for example. In the early 2000s Old Spice had become a stagnant brand and was commonly perceived as the “smell of old people.”

In 2008, they realized they needed to “spice up” their brand identity to connect with younger demographics. Wieden + Kennedy worked to kick off a new campaign called “Old Spice Swagger.” Almost overnight, this campaign breathed new life into the brand identity and did wonders to connect with a new target audience.

Knowing who you are as a brand plays a pivotal role in how you create messaging that resonates with customers. While this may sound obvious at first, it’s a task that MANY brands across the world struggle with. As a result, their target audience analysis gets skewed.

Get a Granular Idea of the Problems You Solve (Pain Points)

Customer Pain Points 1-10: Medical Pain Scale, Smiley Face Pain Scale
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The long process of conducting meaningful audience analysis all comes down to pain points.

A pain point refers to a certain problem a target customer is experiencing, of which would ideally lead them to your business.

Now, before we go any further here I want to draw attention to a blunder we see all too often. This blunder is confusing a pain point with a solution.

For instance, let’s say you fell out of a tree and broke your leg. You now need to go to the hospital to get a splint and a cast. The splint and the cast are a solution. The pain point (no pun intended), is that the bones in your leg split and need to be held in place to heal properly.

Getting down to the granular details of customer pain points is tough; conveying that your product/service has the solution that can be even harder! In many ways, the content you create in the early stages of the buyer’s journey is more about selling the problem.

Truly speaking to your target audience’s pain points is about proving that you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

For example, if you are trying to promote a project management software for media planning, you need to show that you understand the day-to-day snags that people face – maybe this involves inaccuracy in estimating ROI for clients, the need for consistent follow-ups, assigning accountability, etc.

Now, these pain points are more or less overarching. Once you’ve pinned these down, you need to get a bit more in-depth. A good strategy to get to the granular details of a pain point is the Five Whys.

The Five Whys are a line of questioning that dives through five layers of a certain problem.

Let’s create our own example around project management software.

Overarching problem: Customer (media planning agency) is losing clients left and right!

  1. Why?

Customer: I can’t keep my workflows organized and we are failing to execute campaigns!

  1. Why?

Customer: We keep missing critical deadlines because we can’t keep everything organized like we used to!

  1. Why?

Customer: We’re in the midst of rapid growth and the current processes are no longer cutting it!

  1. Why?

Customer: We have to communicate with a multitude of different parties now and we are never on the same page!

  1. Why?

Customer: The communication portals for all stakeholders are not connected and crucial tasks keep slipping through the cracks!

So, with this last answer, you could promote your project management software as a solution that provides a unified communication portal that allows all parties involved to easily communicate, share files, and stay updated on deadlines.

Identifying pain points is arguably the most important ingredient in target audience analysis. Take your time here!

Build Buyer Personas

Building buyer personas is perhaps the most creative (and fun) part in the long process of target audience research. Studies have found that using marketing personas can make websites 2-5 times more effective and easier to use.

Ideally, this part should answer the question of who is the target audience?

A buyer persona is essentially a fictitious rendering that reflects the characteristics, nuances, and thought process of your ideal customer. This is where you get into the details of the geographical information, demographics, pain points, goals, and psychographics.

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s talk about a buyer persona from a mainstream brand as a target audience example.

Here is a look at HubSpot’s buyer persona.

Marketing Persona Erin
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In terms of the demographics, the buyer persona, Erin, works with an enterprise (200-2,000 employees) as a Marketing Director – location is not important. She is a young professional who is just beginning to settle down in her personal life. Erin works with a large marketing team and understands the value of smart lead generation.

When looking into her challenges/pain points, she (like many others these days) is struggling with data overload in working with the sales department.

Erin needs a solution that will ensure a strong pipeline and high-quality campaign execution. For this to be a possibility, she needs smart integration with all of her systems. Most importantly, Erin needs to maintain her status on the forefront of marketing.

The process of creating buyer personas can certainly be tough – depending on your product or service. The best way to get the ball rolling is to collect information around the following eight questions and form an audience profile sheet.

As a digital agency offering white label services, I will answer these questions as we identify one of our buyer personas at E2M.

1. Who Are They?

This information will revolve around the concrete information like age, occupation, location, education, etc.

Answer: 30+ agency owner, CEO, or Marketing Director (male or female) in Southern California. Buyer typically has at least some college experience, but not 100% necessary. The most important thing is they are business savvy and looking to grow.

2. What Does Their Business Look like?

This will primarily serve B2B buyer personas. You will need to gather data like company size, industry, business lifecycle, and so on.

Answer: Small-to-medium sized agency in the marketing/web design space in rapid growth.

3. What Does Their Day-to-Day Look Like?

Describe a day in their life: when they work, when they consume content, who they deal with, and the types of decisions they have to make.

Answer: Works with numerous clients every day with little free time. Oversees execution, manages client expectations, collaborates with production teams and acts as the project manager for most accounts – spends a lot of time on the phone.

4. What Are Their Biggest Challenges?

What are the pain points that hinder their success on a daily basis? This is where you need to describe the barriers they run into in their professional life.

Answer: Struggling to meet production demands as client volume increases. The buyer regularly experiences lapses in communication with freelancers and clients due to overload. It doesn’t have the man/woman power to meet deadlines.

5. What Do They Value the Most?

Explain what is most important to them in their decision to purchase.

Answer: Crystal clear methods of communication, responsiveness, tried and true workflows, reliable support systems, good standards of quality, reasonable pricing, no BS.

6. What Are Their Goals (long and short term)

This is where you need to have an understanding of how exactly your product/service will meet their long and short term aspirations.

Answer: Increase their client volume by X; bring in X more revenue; complete X number of projects; improve client retention by X – over the course of one, two, or five years.

To get more specific to marketing, this typically involves factors like boosting web traffic by X; increasing conversion rates by X; improving Domain Authority by X; getting featured on X industry blogs; etc.

7. Where Do They Typically Get Their Information?

Identify the primary sources your buyer persona uses to gather industry information and conduct research.

Answer: Social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), industry blogs (Search Engine Land, The Next Web, Entrepreneur, etc.), influencers like Neil Patel, Rand Fishkin, Dr. Pete Meyers, etc.

8. Why Would They Reject Your Product or Service?

What negative factors would drive people away from your product or service?

Answer: Poor communication, missed deadlines, subpar quality, shoddy workflows, failure to follow directions/meet client expectations, and so on.

Coming up with solid answers to these questions are a great way to spark the inspiration to come up with buyer personas. Now, keep in mind, it’s very possible that you will have multiple buyer personas. Try to get as detailed as possible with each one you build.

Persona Template Demographics
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Once you have nailed down the answers to these questions, you need to dive a bit further to understand your target audience on a more personal level. You need to get to the root of the psychographics.

There are several ways to go about this.

1. Research Industry Conversations

We are lucky to live in a time when there are public conversations going on about virtually everything. If you look through comment threads on social media and sites like Reddit, Quora, and so on, you can get a strong feel for how most people feel about a certain topic, product, brand, etc.

Say you are hoping to partner with SEO agencies. Let’s look on Reddit and see what comes up on this thread about SEO Audits:

Hiring A Digital Marketing Agency For an Seo Audit
Source: Reddit.com

By looking at this thread, you can glean all sorts of information about what your buyer persona would be looking for in an SEO agency, what they need, what they expect, how they communicate, and much, much more.

Researching industry conversations is a great way to get a front lines-look at how people interact with your industry, as well as their general sentiment towards it. When you are getting your target market research tools in order, social platforms need to be high up on your list!

2. Look at Customer Reviews

There is perhaps no better way to conduct target audience analysis than by looking at what your past customers have to say about your product/service. Customer reviews provide a firsthand look at how people interact with your brand, what they like, dislike, and in some cases, have to say in the way of advice.

Take a look at this review of Salesforce on Capterra:

Review of Salesforce on Capterra.com
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The sentiment is jam-packed full of information that sheds direct light on a target customer –  including their goals, motivations, pain points, and how a target customer phrases all of it.

Based on this review, we can practically build out a decent chunk of a buyer persona:

Name: Robert

Job Title: Client Relations Manager

Company Size: 11-50 employees

Goals: Increase leads with easy-to-manage workflows and processes that can be integrated with various software solutions.

Values: Good customer service.

If you haven’t already, you need to develop a strong system for managing customer feedback. Most importantly, there needs to be a tactic in place to effectively ask for reviews.

Most people won’t leave a review on their own unless they had an exceptionally negative experience. However, nearly 70% of customers ages 18-35 will write a review when asked – per a 2018 study by BrightLocal.

Have You Ever Been Asked to Leave a Review For a Business
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Keep in mind, your own customer reviews are not the only ones you should be looking at when doing target audience research.

Staying watchful of your competitors’ online reviews does more than just provide insight into where their weak points are; it gives you more information about your target customers and what they value!

3. Conduct Surveys

Customer surveys have been a tried-and-true form of target audience analysis since way before the internet. The internet, however, has made this process much, much easier.

Surveys can be as simplistic or as in-depth as you want. But, they need to be easy for people to fill out.

Audience surveys can serve many purposes. Perhaps this involves getting a better understanding of public opinion related to a certain topic, product, service, industry, etc. Maybe it’s to get a clearer view of how people are actually using your product/service.

The key to a good customer survey is to ask simple questions that yield in-depth answers.

To go back to the project management software example, questions in a public poll might look something like:

  • How have your team’s needs grow over the past X years?
  • What are the things you wish you had in your day-to-day workflows?
  • How often do you run into issues? Why?

The underlying goal of surveys is to find patterns that shed light on pain points, motivations, values, and hopefully, some psychographics on how your target audience navigates the buyer’s journey.

Understand Which Types of Content Appeal to Your Target Audience

Once you have developed your buyer personas, the next part is learning about which types of content they tend to gravitate towards. Ultimately, content marketing is about meeting your target audience in their own territory.

This is where a lot of brands tend to miss the mark. According to a study, 65% of marketers find that producing engaging content is among their biggest challenges.

One of the biggest mistakes you (as a brand) can make in content marketing is creating content for yourself, not for your buyer persona. Now, at first mention, this probably sounds like a no brainer. But it’s surprisingly easy to make this mistake when you get into the thick of content creation.

So how exactly do you find what your target audience wants?

Thankfully, it’s super easy to gather key insights as to which topics your audience wants to learn about, as well as which formats they want to do so with. Personally, I like to use Buzzsumo.

This media monitoring platform gives you visibility on all sorts of topics and how people are interacting with them across the web.

For example, let’s say you provide web design services.

By searching this term, you can see the most popular pieces of content trending around the topic, how many engagements they are getting, and which platforms they are performing best on over a certain timeframe.

Trend Insight on Web Design Services Keyword in Buzzsumo Tool
Source: Buzzsumo.com

These insights provide fantastic inspiration for the topics your content should cover.

Additionally, if you select the Analysis tab above the search bar, you can get very in-depth with how to create the content itself. One of the most useful parts in the Analysis dashboard is the one titled “Average Engagements by Content Type.”

Average Engagements by Content Type
Source: Buzzsumo.com

Based on this graph, the most engaging types of posts for the topic are “What Posts.”

“What” posts would have titles like:

  • What are the Best Web Design ___?
  • What Tools Are Best for Web Design”
  • What Common Mistakes Do New Web Designers Make?

Another key graph to look at is “Average Engagement by Content Length”

Average Engagement By Content-Length Longer Content did Best
Source: Buzzsumo.com

This should give you an idea of how to plan out your individual pieces and how in-depth you should go to. In this particular case, longer content looks to perform better.

The next graph to keep in mind is the “Most Engaged Domains by Network.”

Most Engaged Domains by Network
Source: Buzzsumo.com

Based on our findings, it’s clear that creating video content on YouTube is going to be a wise choice to resonate with the target audience.

Additionally, getting content published on domains like Wix.com, CSS-Tricks.com, WebDesignerDepot.com, and so on would be a great way to expand the reach and promote expertise.

Now, this only scratches the surface of what you can do on Buzzsumo.

In the long process of pinpointing how to determine the target audience and what exactly makes them tick, this tool is going to be your best friend!

Monitor Your Content’s Performance

Let me start by saying that success in content marketing revolves around the mindset that your strategies are never truly done developing.

Your target audience’s interests, motivations, desires, and thirst for new information changes every day – some might even say by the hour. In order to stay in-the-know with your target audience and their constantly-shifting mindsets, you need to keep a close eye on how your content performs over time.

In the name of target audience analysis, there are several key metric genres you should be monitoring to gain a deeper understanding of who you are creating content for.

1. User Behavior

User behavior is all about how your target audience interacts with your website and the content within it. Ideally, this should give you a clearer picture of which pieces are drawing the most interested eyes, where those interested eyes are coming from, and how you should craft future content.

In terms of the individual metrics, here are a handful of the most important ones you should be watching like a hawk on Google Analytics.

User Behavior Overview on Google Analytics

a) Pageviews

This shows you how many people have seen a particular piece of content on your website. The number will give you an idea of which pieces people are gravitating towards the most – or least.

b) Pageviews Per Session

Pageviews Per Session refers to the average number of content pages people look at when they visit your website.

c) Unique Visitors

Unique visitors are first-time users on your website. This number shows you how your content is attracting new people and how your target audience is developing in size.

d) Average Time on Page

As the name implies, this metric shows you how long people stay on a particular piece of content. Longer average time on page means people are enjoying your content and taking the time to consume it.

Lower average time on a page generally means that people are either skimming through it or exiting without finishing it. In other words, your content isn’t holding your target audience’s interest.

e) Bounce Rate

The bounce rate is the percentage of your audience that left without visiting any other pieces of content on your website.

As a general rule, an excellent bounce rate is between 26-40 percent; 41-55 is average; 56-70 is higher than average; anything over 70 is high – except for sites that function purely as blogs, news/media outlets, event pages, and so on.

f) New/Returning Visitors

Go to the Behavior tab and click on New vs Returning. This shows your content’s ability to draw in new visitors, as well as retain existing ones.

User Behavior Data In Google Analytics-Behavior Tab - Click On New vs Returning

g) Traffic Sources

On the Acquisition tab, you can see where and how your target audience is landing on your website:

Acquisition Tab in Google Analytics to See Where and How Your Target Audience is Landing

This information shows you where your strong/weak points are in how the target audience is consuming your native content.

2. Engagement

Engagement gets a bit deeper than User Behavior in the sense that it’s about how your target audience takes action upon consuming your content.

Ideally, engagement levels show you how popular a piece of content is/how well it’s achieving its intended goal. This is where you get into the weeds of determining the sentiment your target audience is exhibiting towards the content you create.

Here are several engagement metrics to watch.

a) Likes

Hopefully, you are posting your content on the social media networks you identified in your target audience research. The number of likes you get shows which types of content attract interest on your chosen channels the best/worst.

b) Shares

To go a step beyond likes, shares indicates that users enjoyed your content enough to share it with their own network.

I firmly believe in the statement “you are what you post” on social media. Getting a share is essentially your content getting a powerful endorsement from someone in your target audience.

c) Mentions

Using a tool like Brand24 or Brandwatch, you can keep an eye on what your target audience thinks about your content/brand – whether they like it, dislike it, have an opinion on it, etc. Tracking mentions is a key component in managing your online reputation.

d) Comments

Monitoring comments is how you get into the gritty details about how your target audience really feels. We live in a time when humans have a voice that can be easily heard across the world.

As you probably know, many users don’t hold back to showcase their opinions online. The comment sections tied to your content is where you will get the raw, unfiltered opinions on your target audience.

Pro Tip: Train yourself to not take online comments personally!

e) Republications

Republications can essentially be thought of as a share on steroids. A republication shows that your content is valued by more than just users; it shows that other bloggers, media outlets, influencers, and so on the value it enough to publish it on their own platforms.

f) Conversions

Of course, you need to keep a close eye on how your content is getting people to take the intended action after consuming it – clicks, sign-ups, downloads, etc.

  • How does a particular piece of the content result in you getting inquiries?
  • Is it generating leads?
  • Purchases?

3. SEO Results

SEO results show you many, many valuable things about your content. In terms of target audience analysis, some of the most important pieces of the puzzle are which keywords are drawing people to your content organically.

Using Search Console, you can get an idea of the queries people are typing into Google and discovering your content.

Google Search Console to Get an Idea of The Queries People are Typing into Google and Discovering Your Content

Using this information, you will identify your most popular keywords, which can then be used in future content to help maintain the search interest it is getting from the target audience.

Engage with Users

I know I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but it cannot be overstated that your target audience’s mindsets, frustrations, pain points, and motivations are all evolving entities.

Plain and simple, if you can’t stay on top of this, your content marketing research will almost always miss the mark.

While there are a million ways to keep tabs on your target audience and all their little nuances, the most reliable way is to go straight to the source. We are fortunate to live in a time when the task of engaging with users is easier than ever.

Per a study by Aberdeen Group (reported on SuperOffice), companies with the strongest omni-channel audience engagement strategies retain nearly 90% of their customers!

Thanks to social media, brands can easily have both public and private one-on-one conversations with their target audience.

Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of brands embrace this phenomenon and go far beyond using it for target audience analysis – Wendy’s, Oreo, and JetBlue are a few names that come to mind.

Going beyond customer service, your ability to properly engage with your target audience gives you a raw idea of what exactly they want, and how you can give it to them. As a result, this drastically improves your ability to relate on a personal level.

Take a look at this example from JetBlue:

Going Beyond Customer Service on Twitter
Source

The underlying thing that this particular customer wants is not pizza (although, who doesn’t love pizza?). What this customer really wants is empathy from a real human – not a lifeless robot.

JetBlue could easily have set up a cookie-cutter message that reads something like: “We apologize for the inconvenience, please see your flight status for more information.”

Instead, JetBlue makes it a point to respond to customers so it’s clear there is a living, breathing human on the other side.

By taking the time to actively engage with customers, JetBlue uses this information to understand their target audience on a personal level, and market to them accordingly.

Nowadays, JetBlue is widely regarded as one of the elite brands that “gets” their customers.

Taking the time to meaningfully engage with your target audience does much more than promote values rooted in customer success. Each interaction forms the basis for how you can make new, existing, and potential customers tick!

Accept that this Process Never Ends

To wrap up this marathon of a post, I want to drive home the fact that the tedious process of target audience research never, ever ends.

This isn’t something you can do once and then put on the shelf for months at a time.

Whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for decades, the most important thing is that you have reliable processes in place to actively find, analyze, and keep tabs on how your target audience evolves over time.

As always, if you have any questions or need help nailing down your target audience, do not hesitate to get in contact with our team. At E2M, we’ve been doing this for clients since 2012; we are more than happy to nudge you in the right direction!

  • Kevin Svec is a chief content strategist at E2M. He spends his days researching and helping businesses produce compelling content that resonates with audiences of all interest levels. When he’s not rock climbing or hanging out at one of San Diego’s many beaches, Kevin is writing for Impulsive Wanderlust, a travel and leisure website he founded.
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