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How do you ensure you are delivering the right message to the right people at the right time?
Identifying your target audience is the foundation of your marketing strategy. You could have the best freakin’ product on the market, but if you’re not targeting the right people, you won’t see any success with it.
This entails understanding who your ideal prospects and customers are, who are your competitors as well as the core pain points that your product or service solves.We reached out to 48 marketers to find out how they research and identify their target audiences, and so we’ve put together what we learned in this post, including:
A target audience is a group of people who are the most likely to want to buy your products or services, meaning that this is the group you should focus on getting your ad campaigns in front of.
These people (consumers) are described by behavior and specific demographic details (e.g. out of shape men between the ages of 30 – 50).
Creating a target audience is essential for knowing where to focus your sales and build a sales funnel that boosts marketing efforts. This helps you to understand who your target customer is and what they care about. This can include:
For example, if you have a SaaS product that helps IT professionals manage file-sharing across mobile devices, your target audience might look something like this:
Also, it’s important to remember that target audiences can be niche or broader, depending on what you sell. For instance, vendors who sell regular jackets will have a much broader target audience since women, men, and children wear them.
On the other hand, if the company is selling goose (warmer type) jackets, it might narrow down its target audience to people living in the coldest parts of the world and those working outdoors in extreme conditions.
Either way, outlining your target audience is important for pretty much every aspect of your marketing funnel.
When we conducted our latest survey, we found that, for our respondents, target audience research was most helpful with content marketing, social media marketing, and SEO efforts.
“You can’t sell everything to everyone” is a very common narrative among marketers nowadays, and while there are probably some exceptions to the rule, it’s mostly true.
For instance, how would you go about selling a basketball to a guy in his 50s who hasn’t shot a single three-pointer in his life?
And even if you could, why would you go through the trouble?
The best marketers know that the point isn’t to sell your product to everyone – you need to focus on the people who already have some sort of need for it. And these are the people you’ll classify as your target audience.
Outlining and understanding your target audience is crucial and it’s a premise to every marketing plan and strategy you incorporate from that point onwards.
For example, you might think it’s a good idea to air your ad during the Super Bowl since a boatload of people will see it.
But, when you take into account how costly the commercial will be and that probably only ¼ of the viewers will be interested in what you’re offering, it’s not that great of an investment, is it?
In that case, if your product is a stylish sweater (e.g.), you’ll be better off advertising it in a clothing magazine since that’s where your potential customers will be lurking and it’s how you’ll increase ROI.
Aside from getting more conversions and increasing ROI, understanding your target audience can help you build a better relationship with them and establish trust.
You’ll be able to develop creative and come up with ads that use the same language as the prospects do and speak to them directly.
This is important now more than ever, especially with 80% of customers stating that they’re more likely to buy something from a brand that offers personalized interactions.
Have you ever watched “Criminal Minds,” the show about FBI agents that catch bad guys by relying on their methods of profiling?
Profiling revolves around determining the personality and behavioral characteristics of the murderers, based on the crimes they’ve committed.
One could argue that creating a target audience or an ideal customer persona is a similar art. Just, you know, instead of murders, you’re profiling customers.
Now, to do this, we first have to understand the types of target audiences we’ll be dealing with.
Here are the most popular group categorizations that the biggest companies use in their profiling processes:
This group refers to prospects that are actively looking for a specific product and want to collect more information before they make a purchase.
Car, laptop, shoes, TV, frying pans… it can be literally anything.
Purchase intent groups are great to get in front of since they already know that they want to buy a certain product – your only job is to persuade them to buy it from you.
As the name suggests, you use this data to dig into what people are into, their hobbies, and their entertainment preferences.
Once you know what interests your target audience, you’ll have an easier time connecting with them in a relatable manner.
For instance, consumers that enjoy playing tennis are more likely to purchase tennis equipment (rackets, bags, shoes, etc.) once the weather is warmer and their local courts are open for businesses.
No matter what your potential customers are interested in, as long as you know what it is, you’ll be able to personalize your marketing campaigns and put your brand out in front of them as an option they should consider.
Subcultures are groups of people that have a similar set of beliefs, interests, and experiences.
For instance, this could be people living in urban areas that prefer instant foods or eating out because they generally don’t have time to prepare meals.
Before you start reaching a subculture, you have to figure out how they relate to what you’re doing/selling.
For instance, True Crime podcasts market to their subcultures, people who are interested in a specific type of content.
While they are fairly similar, these two terms represent different things.
Both target audience and target markets revolve around categorizing prospects into groups that will be used for developing better marketing strategies.
However, a target market refers to a specific consumer group that a company wants to get in front of with its product/service, while a target audience defines that group through demographic data, interests, purchase history, etc.
In essence, a target audience is a more specific part of a target market.
If you want to know if your website is attracting high-quality visitors that are relevant to your brand, there are several audience metrics you can track from Google Analytics 4 that will give you a pretty good start.
If you want to track these in Google Analytics 4, you might find the visualizations limiting. It’s also a bit time-consuming to combine all the metrics you need in one view.
We’ve made this easier by building a plug-and-play dashboard that takes your Google Analytics 4 data and automatically visualizes the right metrics to give you an in-depth analysis of your website’s audience.
You can easily set it up in just a few clicks – no coding required.
To set up the dashboard, follow these 3 simple steps:
Step 1: Get the template
Step 2: Connect your Google Analytics 4 account with Databox.
Step 3: Watch your dashboard populate in seconds.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s move on to the actual tactics you can use to find your target audience.
One of the best ways to figure out who wants to and is likely to buy from you is to analyze the people that are already buying something from you.
If you already have a group of customers using your products or services, that means that the way you marketed your offer worked.
Analyzing these people is a great start to determining your ideal target audience.
Firstly, you should check out existing customer demographics – where they work, where they live, what age group they belong to, etc.
This analysis will help you spot useful patterns in repeat customers and see what differentiates them from one-time customers.
The next thing you should do is set up an interview with your customers. Ask them about why they chose your specific brand and what they like about your product. This will later help with positioning since you’ll have a better idea of which benefits need to be highlighted in your creative.
Also, don’t forget to ask your customers where they typically spend their time and get advice. Do they follow social media influencers, read industry newsletters, or go through some interesting blogs? This information comes in handy later when you need to prioritize your marketing channels.
Bobby Reed of Capitol Tech Solutions shared a step-by-step approach to existing customer analysis that you might find useful.
“I would break down your customers into multiple segments if possible. Find the customers that are the top gross revenue for the least amount of work. Also, find the customers that may not be the most profitable, but that are repeat customers that keep the daily operations funded. And find out which customer segments you may actually lose money on, and justify if there is a need to market to that customer segment. Knowing who you currently work with gives you the opportunity to really build upon and reach target audience.
I would also consider if there is any new business you are going after. If so, how do your existing customers fit into that new segment, and can you convert those customers first? Then look at your competitors in that space, and see how they are marketing to those potential new customers, and determine your niche.”
Related: 7 Ways to Use Customer Data for More Efficient Marketing
Conducting market research is one of the best ways to identify what’s currently out there and whether there’s a group of people who are being left out.
You’ll get a better picture of who your competitors are, how many of them are there, and who are the strongest ones.
But more importantly, you’ll notice market gaps that could be filled with your product. This allows you to shape your USP (unique selling proposition) better and determine what will be your market position.
Are your competitors targeting digital marketers who have several years of experience in the field? Maybe you can shift your focus toward those who are at the beginning of their careers.
Don’t forget to research the potential market threats as well – this can be any sort of event that could negatively affect your offer.
If you need some help conducting proper market research, one of our respondents suggested trying out a technique called “market mapping”.
Alex McCormick of Checklate explains it as “a simple diagram that allows you to identify gaps in the market or industry your product/service/website operates in.”
McCormick shares the steps for conducting this analysis.
“Once you’ve finished plotting all your relevant competitors, look for where there are large empty spaces on the chart. This is where there is a gap in the market. Where there are lots of brands, clustered together shows that a market is oversaturated. By assessing this, you may find that there are plenty of websites catering to formal, experienced professionals, but few that serve casual professionals. Or, perhaps you’ll find that there are websites catering to professionals of all experience levels, but few who serve those with a casual interest. This makes it easy for you to find both a niche and an audience.”
Reviewing industry trends is similar to market research since it also helps you define whether there are any gaps that your product can fill.
However, industry trends also reveal another side of things – popularity fluctuations.
Knowing how industry trends affect your competitors and customers is huge and it will play a huge role in adjusting your marketing strategies properly.
There are trends that can be seasonal or recurring, while others could be short-lived and intense.
For instance, you might have a seasonal product that sells best around Halloween, which means you’ll need to plan your marketing campaigns to target customers a few weeks prior to it.
There’s a huge difference between benefits and features, and surprisingly, a lot of marketers tend to ignore emphasizing it.
They make the mistake of only listing the features of their products, not knowing that their customers won’t give it the light of day.
No one will buy your product if you don’t explain its benefits, and this is something that Apple does remarkably well.
Here’s one great example that showcases how Apple turned a feature into a benefit and made the offer more attractive.
Product features describe what it does, but benefits describe how they can help the customer and make their life easier.
Don’t have a list of your product’s features? Well, you should get a list and start brainstorming ASAP.
Once you begin listing the benefits of your product, you’ll notice that a lot of that information can be tied to your target audience as well, revealing some basic data about them.
Another great idea is to organize a social media poll to ask people why they use your products, some of the answers could be things that never even crossed your mind.
Once you know at least some of the basic information about your target audience and why they’re engaging with your business, it’s time to “spy” on your competition and see who’s interacting with them.
Researching your competition and seeing what they’re up to can help you answer some very important questions:
Analyze every last bit of information you have – from ads to messaging. Then, compare their strategy to yours and pinpoint the differences and similarities in your approaches.
Even if you can’t get a crystal clear picture of their target audience, you’ll get a general sense of what they’re doing and how it’s working.
What’s more, you can work on finding ways to improve what they’re doing.
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While you’ll spend most of your time finding out who your target audience is, don’t forget to spare some of it to determine who it isn’t.
Oftentimes, there will be people that are very close to your target demographic but won’t respond to your offer and messaging.
To make the most out of this technique, you should carefully go over all of your data (customer interviews, social media following, website traffic, etc.).
Then, pinpoint the gaps that you don’t fill and the people who are more interested in them than the things you do offer.
For instance, do you have a sports outlet store, but don’t sell any golfing equipment? Well, you can scratch golfers off the list. Are your products only available in the UK? No point in targeting any other country then.
While all of this might seem fairly obvious, it’s important not to overlook it considering that it can save you a hefty amount of ad dollars in the long run.
Honestly, it’s easy to lose a bit of subjectivity during the process of finding your target audience, and it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Avoiding assumptions is difficult but it can significantly damage the efficiency of your marketing campaign if you’re not careful.
Sometimes, people will unintentionally misinterpret information because it confirms some of their pre-existing beliefs (aka confirmation bias).
Even in the modern business era, this happens all the time.
In fact, CB Insights conducted a study where they found that 42% of startups fail because of a lack of market need, not due to insufficient funding or similar factors.
The people behind these startups are so passionate about their product that they don’t even validate whether it has a place in the current market.
Another issue can be that companies conduct a bunch of research, but don’t really test their products accordingly. Testing is proof and it should always follow research.
There could be millions of people telling you that they would use your product, but the only number that matters is the one that showcases how many actually bought it.
Furthermore, some companies can make assumptions about their potential prospects that aren’t backed up by research.
Overall, don’t make an assumption that anyone cares about your brand or product until you have sufficient proof that they do.
Determining your target audience on a large scale is a necessary thing to do, but you shouldn’t stop there.
If you get a bit more granular and niche down on your audience, you can increase both your company revenue and recognition.
In short, a niche audience is a subgroup of your main target audience. This group of prospects has a specific set of needs, desires, expectations, and pain points to curate.
By splitting your market into niche audiences, you have an easier time approaching them and you can create personalized marketing strategies for them (instead of appealing to the masses).
Here are a few nice examples of niching down a general audience:
One of the main reasons you should decide to go niche is that there’s far less competition. Your competitors could be casting a bigger fish, but you’ll end up getting more “bites”.
Plus, focusing on a niche audience will save you a lot of marketing costs in the long run. As your business develops in a certain niche, you’ll not only be able to cut ad costs, but also develop better-targeted PPC campaigns.
Related: To Niche or Not to Niche? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Niching Your Digital Marketing Agency
Building out customer personas is a way to easily digest all of the market research and audience insights you uncovered. This can go all the way down to creating a specific character or characters – such as Enterprise Ed or Small Business Sally – which personifies all of the key traits and characteristics of your target audience.
According to our survey data, we discovered that nearly 67% of marketers create personas to help drive marketing efforts on a regular basis.
To create a persona, you’ll first need to collect the necessary data such as general demographics, customer personality, needs, motives, etc.
In most companies, marketers develop between 3 – 6 personas and personalize their content and messaging for each one.
Here are some of the most frequent steps companies take in developing a customer persona:
Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles shared a very useful process for developing avatar worksheets that they use.
This is just the tip of the iceberg… as you gather more information about your audience, you’ll add new characteristics to your customer persona.
Also, make sure you optimize the profile from time to time and check whether anything has changed in the past few months that could alter your offering.
In our survey and research, we found that marketers were relying on a few different target audience tools to collect user feedback and assist with audience research.
The most popular tools were: Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, HubSpot, Ahrefs, and Hotjar.
Let’s see what these tools can offer and how you can use them.
Google Analytics is usually the first place that marketers go to when looking for audience insights.
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering that GA offers extensive demographic data about website visitors.
There are numerous reports you can check out and the insights are categorized into several sections (age, gender, location, device, etc.).
Not only is everything neatly organized, but you also get colorful graphs and excellent visuals.
Here’s an example of what Google Analytics offers in the demographics overview (Age overview and Audience Portion).
And demographics data is just the beginning – Google Analytics also provides insight into:
McCall Robison of Best Company recommends using Google Analytics’ Affinity Category.
“I like to use Google Analytics Affinity Category, which you can find by going to Audience > Interests > Affinity Categories,” says Robison. “This will give you a percentage breakdown of that specific audience’s interests, including news and politics, banking and finance, media and entertainment, Do-It-Yourselfers, etc. The more you know about your audience, the better you can tailor your content to fit their needs.
There’s just so much data to find in Google Analytics that ignoring it simply isn’t an option. If you want to do the job right, that is.
In case you switched to GA4, we recommend using this GA4 Demographics Details dashboard template to get started. This dashboard will provide you with complete insights into your website and app audience — from their average engagement time and average purchase revenue to conversions and engagement rate by country.
Facebook analytics tools can be of huge help if you run a Facebook page and the insights you receive will be very similar to what you get in Google Analytics.
For starters, you should use Facebook Insights to gather some useful information about the audience like age, gender, location, education level, job title, and even relationship status!
The great thing about Facebook Insights is that you don’t even need to run ads to get this information and it’s completely free.
Facebook Pixel is another great option, according to Joe Gast of Truck Driver Institute.
“Facebook Pixel is great because it allows you to make custom audiences based on traffic to certain webpages or people that have performed specific actions on your site. Facebook’s demographic targeting options are also a great option for reaching the target audience for your site.
For example, if you sell pencils, try advertising to a few different interests based audiences, like students, accountants, pencil collectors, etc. See which audiences are more successful and narrow it down until you have found an audience that works the best.”
SEO tools are another way to go since they provide you with precise data and a definitive answer to “who should I market to?”
It’s important that you also focus on keywords and see who the people searching the keywords that lead to your specific website and product are. Once you have the answer to this question, you can start researching those visitors to create a persona.
Some of the best tools for this purpose are Ahrefs and SEMrush. Plus, you can use them to check out which keywords your competitors are ranking for as well. This will help you pinpoint the type of content you should create, which keywords to focus on, and what your target audience responds to.
Last but certainly not least is HubSpot – one of the best tools for monitoring audience behavior.
Aside from providing you with basic demographic details, HubSpot also shows you details about where visitors click on your website, how far down they scroll on specific pages, which links get the most clicks, and whether your subscription offers are being submitted.
Once you start drawing up patterns about existing user behavior, you can look for more ways to target the people that haven’t found you yet.
To ensure you get the most sales from your product, pulling out a scattergun and shooting all over the market won’t cut it – you need a sniper and a direct target.
In other words – you need a target audience.
To identify your audience, you’ll need to do proper research, collect data, organize it, and follow the techniques we’ve talked about above.
Unfortunately, this process can take hours, especially if you use several tools for gathering data and collecting information about your website’s audience.
That’s where Databox comes in.
With Databox, you can integrate any data source, select the metrics you need to understand your website’s performance and target audience better, and drag and drop them into one comprehensive, easy-to-share report.
All of this is just one signup away. To get started, signup for a free account immediately.
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