Target audience research is the crucial skill any marketer or business owner doing their own marketing needs to master. Knowing exactly who is buying and using your product or services will help you provide a better experience for your customers, improving customer satisfaction and ensuring further sales.
To help you refine your tactics, we’ve contacted some of the best marketing industry experts to talk about target audience research. Andy Crestodina, Shayla Price, Louis Grenier, Julia McCoy, Ann Smarty, Igor Kaliuzhnyi, Scott Stern, Brittany Berger, Ahava Leibtag, Maureen Jann, Lilach Bullock, Zontee Hou, and our own Eugine Dychko shared the best tools, methods and practices.
Now, let’s dive into the tips.
Listen to conversations
Actual human conversations is the simplest way to start your target audience research journey.
“If you have a sales or customer support team that is talking to your prospects, customers or users, then you just need a way to listen in,” explains Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder/Chief Marketing Officer at Orbit Media Studios, Inc.
“If you can’t ride along on sales meetings, ask to listen in on some phone calls. If your site has a chat feature, read the chat logs,” he advises. As a substitute measure, Andy recommends asking your team what questions they are getting and what emails they are sending.
Use your website
ViralContentBee founder Ann Smarty recommends setting up surveying forms in key areas of your website, like a “Thank you for your purchase” page. You can use KwikSurveys, SurveyMonkey, and even Google Forms to do that.
“Pop up surveys on our website used to be a great tool to discover bugs or confusing elements in our interface,” shares his experience Igor Kaliuzhnyi, Chief Product Officer at Depositphotos. “These light, friendly forms were shown to each user and had a solid one in 10 response rate,” he adds.
“Now we moved to collecting feedback from our support team, as loyal clients actually enjoy providing us with pointers on how to improve our product, and we get all we need there,” he echoes the advice from Tip One Listen to conversations.
We spotted a feedback button in the bottom left corner of our Evernote cabinet and this is the pop-up we got upon clicking it:
Image from Evernote
If you are an established brand that can entice existing and/or potential customers to participate in an interview, experts say that’s the way to go.
“The single most effective way to understand your target audience is to talk to them,” says Louis Grenier, founder of marketing podcast Everyone Hates Marketers. “Identify 3 customers who fit the definition of your ideal customer and interview them,” he advises.
“Get to know who they are, what they care about, their pain points, their struggles, who influence them, where they spend their time… Nothing replaces talking directly to customers,” explains Louis. His points are being supported by fellow marketers Julia McCoy and Brittany Berger, who offered us own insights into the interview process.
“Create a social media offer or an email (depending on if you have a list or not) and offer a free service in exchange for a 30-minute interview (I’ve offered a free copy of my book or a gift card in the past),” says Julia McCoy, CEO of Express Writers. “Make sure it’s with someone who is interested in or has bought your product already. Focus on finding out their interests, setbacks, and pain points,” she emphasizes.
“I have 1-2 Skype calls every month with one of my email subscribers or social followers,” shares Brittany Berger, Content Marketing Unicorn from NYC running content marketing for startups and small businesses for 7 years. Brittany explains that she likes to go directly to the people already in her “world” and finding out what they want, learning more about them during the interviews, what’s going on in their work and life.
Set up focus groups
Another popular audience research tool is focus group work.
“Gather a small group of consumers who fit your customer profile and ask them specific questions,” suggests Shayla Price, prominent marketer whose client list includes Shopify Plus, Kissmetrics, Yotpo, HostGator, and Agorapulse.
“[The] questions [you are asking] should be specific to the brand and the purpose of the focus group,” she continues, immediately coming up with a few examples: How do you feel about X? How is X different than Y? How often do you purchase X?
Send out surveys
A larger scale method of audience research are surveys.
“Use a simple tool like Survey Monkey, Google Surveys, or aytm.com to do an inexpensive panel survey (no more than 10 questions),” says Scott Stern, Director, Innovation & Insights at American Marketing Association. You can then compile the results in a table or a chart and see what works.
“Simple online tests [help] to pinpoint [what factors] drive engagement with your brand,” he explains.
Image from SurveyMonkey
Another way to do your audience research is going to where your audience hangs out – namely, themed forums.
“We have a few different ways to research our audiences – some of our favorites include reading through comments and looking at discussions in forums,” shares Ahava Leibtag, President at Aha Media Group. “We also like trying to spend time with our audiences,” Ahava adds. “We’ve been known to talk to people in waiting rooms at healthcare organizations and at banks,” she shares.
Depending on your demo and resources, actually talking to your audience face to face where they hang out might not be an option, but joining a forum conversation is something any business can do.
Pay attention to social media
“Social media can teach you so much about your target audience,” says Lilach Bullock, Founder at Lilach Bullock Limited. “Use social listening tools to constantly monitor your target audience and learn what makes them act: what content they share, which headlines grab their attention, what makes them want to engage, which social influencers they trust,” she advises.
Maureen Jann, Marketing Director & Strategist at Super Deluxe Marketing, recommends checking out users who participate in your target groups on social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora, Reddit, etc. Information in user profile can “give you a better snapshot of who they are as people,” she says.
Here’s a tweet I would’ve missed unless I specifically searched “Crello” in the platform’s interface:
Image from Twitter
Ask your Mom
Sometimes time, budget or lack of enthusiastic participants stops us from researching our audiences. That’s when asking around your own social network – yes, your Mom, family, loved ones, friends, neighbors, colleagues, distant relatives and acquaintances can really help you out.
“As I was teaching a guest marketing course for educational platform IAMPM, one of my students shared her struggle to find people to interview for her target audience research. Her potential clients were busy business owners who did not hang out in any online groups, had zero time for calls and were definitely not interested in sampling her marketing services or participating in focus groups,” shares my colleague, Crello Product Marketer, Eugine Dychko.
“That’s when I realized that my very own uncle – a proud cafe owner – was actually her exact target audience, and sure enough, I helped the two connect,” says Eugine. “Call up your friends, ask around your yoga class – you never know who might know who. The seven handshake theory at work!” she explains.
Monitor competitor mentions
Another expert tip on your target audience research we got from Ann Smarty is to note what they are saying about your competitors.
“Monitor your competitors’ happy and, more importantly, unhappy customers to understand your audience’s needs and how to adapt,” says Ann. “Use Twitter emotion search to monitor your competitors’ mentions, especially those containing smileys,” she adds and shows me this screenshot:
Create psychological profiles
“Understanding your brand’s target audience is about more than their demographics,” says Zontee Hou, Founder & President at Media Volery. “Why are they interested in your area of business? What motivates them? What do they need to achieve?” she ponders. “You should model out a typical customer journey that indicates the various stages of behavior your audience goes through, their pain points at teach stage, and what information they might seek out to address their needs and questions,” Zontee says.
“You need to understand their psychographics, <…> look at not only their other interests (through tools like Facebook Audience Insights or Google Analytics), but also listen to their conversations online (using tools like Sysomos, Talkwalker, or Mention), and finally conduct regular surveys (whether informally through social media or formally with a research company that designs statistically surveys for statistical significance). The goal is to understand not only your brand’s place in their ecosystem, but also the surrounding considerations that they hold,” she explains.
In a nutshell, we can probably sum up all our expert advice into three brief points:
- listen to your potential and existing customers when they talk on your territory: at your office, on your support line, in their emails and messages to you;
- seek out customer conversations out there on the neutral ground – on forums and social media;
- organize all the information you collected into a system to help you find repeating patterns in user feedback, experience and needs.
And finally, we’d like to talk about the scope of your research. We asked many of our experts for their opinion regarding when target audience research can be considered complete enough to work with, but got little to no responses. An answer came unexpectedly in a footnote remark from Maureen Jann. Here’s what she offhandedly mentioned to us in a Twitter exchange:
“And remember, just like you, your customer’s interests change through life phases. Make sure that you’re re-evaluating your target market’s buying habits. Keep an eye on HOW they buy – as technology advances, the way they buy changes too. You want to make sure your marketing channels reflect that shift. A marketer’s work is never done!”
Well, there you have it.