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Marketing | Mar 25
Jessica Malnik on December 10, 2019 (last modified on January 6, 2020) • 23 minute read
Identifying your target audience is the foundation of your marketing strategy. 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.
In this post, we’re examining what a target audience is, the tools and tactics you can use to define one, and how to turn these findings into detailed customer personas.
Creating a target audience is essential for knowing where to focus your sales and 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:
When we conducted our latest survey, we found that target audience research was most helpful with content marketing, social media marketing, and SEO efforts.
Maria Mora of Big Sea, says, “Before you can identify your target web audience, you need to understand your target customer. We begin with a deep dive with the sales and marketing teams to understand what their client base has looked like in the past, and what their aspirational client base looks like. Then you can take tactical measures to attract and connect with that audience online.”
“Look at the characteristics of your best existing customers and organize that list into at least one profile based on shared characteristics,” said David Hoos of The Good. Some good metrics include those with the largest deal sizes, the longest retention, and the easiest customers to work with.”
“Brands should get an accurate report on their current customers,” says Chachi Flores of Peacock Alley. “By running an RFM (recency, frequency, and monetary) analysis on your current clientele, this can help pinpoint your future target audience. RFM can help categorize your target audience into specific levels of buying potential.”
Bobby Reed of Capitol Tech Solutions elaborates on this approach.
“I would break down your customers into multiple segments if possible,” said Reed. “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 more of that 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.”
In addition, previous customers can also provide useful data and insights.
David Silverman of Solution Loans says, “Have a look back through your database of previous customers (this can even be offline customers if you are just starting out with a website) and try to spot trends. Are a large percentage of your current customers, male/female? What is the average age? Is there anything else that stands out, such as employment status, etc.?”
Steve Pritchard of Orlando Villa Holidays says, “The best way to work out which consumers to target is to identify who has a need or interest in your product or website and then begin narrowing it down from there. Start by pinpointing all of the different features and qualities of your offering, then have a think about who would benefit from these features.
If it’s a blog or website, this might be having specialist knowledge in a niche area, having a trusted and unbiased perspective, or a special widget that makes your site easy to use and find information from.
When you begin to understand the benefits of your site, you can begin to understand who would value these features. For example, older travelers who are slightly technophobic would benefit from a website with a helpful widget that allows them to compare deals easily. Similarly, avid travelers would value an unbiased blog, which gives them honest holiday tips. From here, you can begin to target the people you know will get the most benefit out of using this site.”
Adam Cole of Grant Park Academy of the Arts recommends using this thought experiment.
“Think of yourself as the solution to someone’s problem,” says Cole.“Whose problem are you the solution for? Who has the problem, and what is your solution?
“To identify your target audience for your site, you have to go backward, starting with your final goal,” says Minuca Elena. “Who could buy what you are selling? Even if you sell services or you sell products (your own products or as an affiliate), there is still a sale involved. Ask yourself who are your ideal clients, what profession or hobbies do they have, gender, age, income, topics of interests, etc. For example, let’s say you are selling baby gear, then your target audience is young moms, with an age between 25-40 years old, that are searching for parenting advice.
Tino Jaimes of Sunrise House Buyers TX agrees, “Brainstorm to develop your target customer persona and begin thinking and seeing things through their point of view.”
Ross Kernez says, “To better understand the customer, I would suggest marketers up draw up their demographic portrait. This process is a bit like creating a character in video game Sims: at the beginning, you have a digital person with a zero background, but gradually he has a house, work, hobbies, and friends. It is important to make the portrait as detailed as possible so that the abstract client turns into an old acquaintance. Also, if you have direct competitors, it will be logical to look for the target audience among their subscribers on social networks. You can add potential customers as friends and invite them to your group, write private messages, or set up targeted advertising on them.”
“Collect data on user behavior, location, and demographics,” says Cierra Flythe of BoardActive. “Expanding your user profile gives a website insight into the type of user that does/does not engage and interact. Once you back your website marketing with user data, it is much easier to segment campaigns effectively.”
David LaVine of RocLogic Marketing mentions, “For B2B, go beyond demographics & firmographic data. While this is helpful, you’ll need to get beyond information like job titles, industries, and company size. If you want your website to perform for you, you’ll need to understand the indicators that let you separate your audience from someone that looks like they’re your audience. These will often come in the form of either their (1) skills or (2) interests.”
Anna Rubkiewicz of Survicate says, “One of the best methods is running surveys to find out who the leads who convert to customers actually are. After all, your target audience should be the people who find your services of value – even if you’re currently targeting a different group with your website messaging.”
For example, Rubkiewicz recently ran a survey looking to understand what blog readers wanted to get from their articles and newsletters.
“We ran a survey on some of our most popular articles on the blog and were astonished to collect over 600 answers – just within 3 days,” said Rubkiewicz. “You can imagine how many insights that gave us as to which content we should write to make a difference for our target audience and turn them into prospects.
Nick Maynard of Ridgeway agrees, “Talk to your current customers. Build a survey with one of the many free survey tools (Google Forms is an obvious starting place) aimed at identifying key personas and combine with Audience data from your analytics.”
Patricio Quiroz of Code Authority says, “You want first to identify what is the purpose of your product or service. Really take some time on researching and finding the benefits that your product or service provides. Then you will identify who exactly is buying or in need of your particular services. Then you can go to popular online forums like Reddit or Quora to see who exactly is asking questions or interested in that industry/niche. This will help you pinpoint what age group, gender, and industry that your target audience might be in. Once you have narrowed down who this audience might be, you will be in a better position to market specifically for this group of people.”
“If you have yet to identify the segment you most resonate with, focus on distribution and user studies,” says Yaniv Masjedi of Nextiva.”Promote your content among new audiences, then engage with and read user feedback. From there, you’ll begin to notice trends in which demographics most align with your content. And, you’ll have insights into how to best tailor it to them.
Jason Yau of CanvasPeople says, “Know your niche and own it. Spend the majority of your time focusing on all things related to your website. Your target audience should be hyper-focused because that is who will most likely be interested in your products or services. Have a specific plan of action with your targeted audience, and stick to that plan.”
Jake Hay of PopShorts agrees, “Define a group of people you want to reach with your marketing message. Really narrow down and define who you are trying to appeal to. It is impossible to target everyone, so the more specific you get, the better. Your website will gain much more attention if it solely appeals to your designated target audience.”
“Join every forum, Facebook group, subreddit that you can. Immerse yourself in the community, understand your customer’s problems, see the world through their lens,” says Tung Dao of Avada Commerce.
Hazel Pan of The Content Brewery adds, “Join trade associations, attend events, join groups and forums where your target audience hang out. Listen to podcasts, Q&As, etc. Lurk and listen to their stories, problems, etc. Interact if you have something of value to offer for free. DON’T sell or promote anything when you’re in this research phase. Once you’ve gathered enough data about your target audience’s pain points, you can then build your website to answer those questions and provide solutions to their problems.”
Ellie Pearce of Whoever You Need says, “My number 1 tip is always to keep a close eye on your competition. If there are companies that are selling a similar product to yourself and have been doing so for years, then they already know your audience very well.
Look at their social media platforms, the type of people that regularly like their posts, and what is the type of content that gets a lot of response?
Also, see if you are able to find the areas that aren’t working so well. Ask yourself, how can you improve it? Get an idea of the blog articles that they are regularly posting. Can you create a similar article on your own products?
Compiling this along with the data you already have on current customers can help broaden your audience reach to a group of characteristics that you may not have even considered before.”
Alex McCormick of Checklate says, “A good way to identify a target market for your website is to use a market analysis method known as market mapping. This is 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,” says McCormick. “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 a niche.”
“Gary Stevens from Hosting Canada adds it is easy to overthink it,
“What type of person would be most motivated to respond to your call to action?,” says Stevens. “Even thinking on a granular level, such as thinking of just one person, can be extremely helpful. If your friend Todd is the first person you think of when you think about who would answer your call to action, then your next step would be to figure out what type of audience Todd belongs to.”
In our survey and research, we found that marketers were relying on many tools to collect user feedback and assist with audience research. The most popular tools were Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Hubspot, Ahrefs, and Hotjar.
Google Analytics is usually the first place that marketers go to when looking for audience insights.
Alice Nelson-Smith of The London School of Make-Up says, “No matter how much research you do, you cannot truly know who your audience is until you see who is visiting your site, whereas Google Analytics lets you know exactly this.
Once you have this knowledge, you can adjust your digital marketing campaigns accordingly, or even branch out and target a new market and new demographics along the way, as your audience is not always the one you might expect.”
“Look at your current audience,” says Juliana Weiss-Roessler of WR Digital Marketing. “Who is currently visiting? How long are they staying? If it doesn’t align with the intended target audience, then you likely need to shift your content marketing strategy.”
Editor’s Note: Looking for a quick and easy way to identify and monitor audience data in Google Analytics, check out our Audience Overview dashboard.
Claire Shaner of ZooWho says, “Though at first, it might just include a few data points, check out your Google Analytics audience data. If you’re running digital ads for your product, look at where the best conversions are coming from. Start to build out a “buyer persona” from the data you have. Then fill in the blanks with your best guess. Narrow your audience as you go. When first starting a website, you won’t have that much data about your audience. As you get more traffic, you can get better information about who’s visiting.”
“One of the best ways to identify the people who visit your website would be leveraging various analytics tools,” says Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness. “Google Analytics, in particular, allows you to visualize the average time spent on the site, the countries that traffic has originated from, and what device they are using to visit the site. This culmination of data can allow businesses to have a comprehensive profile into their audience and their behavior.”
James Dyble of Global Sound Group adds, “If the website is already live and is getting traffic, then I would recommend using Google analytics to determine who your audience is. If it is not yet live, then you could check your competitors’ websites and do research to find out who they target.”
Laura Gonzalez of Audi Las Vegas agrees, “Google Analytics is a great and free way to see some demographic characteristics of your audience. You can see your audiences’ age, location, device (mobile or desktop), as well as some key statistics that relate to these figures. You can see how long each age range and gender spend on your site and which specific pages they tend to visit the most and least.”
“Utilize the Demographics section of Google Analytics to its full capabilities,” says Dominique Martinez of Tandem Interactive. “There’s so much data in Google Analytics accounts to provide you with plenty of information to infer who your target audience is.”
McCall Robison of Best Company adds how he uses the Demographics Insights inside Google Analytics. (i.e. Google Analytics > Audience > Demographics.)
“You can delve into a demographic overview of your audience,” says Robison. “This includes a breakdown of the percentage of users that are male or female and what age groups they fall under. You can also find out what percentage of your visitors are new visitors and returning visitors. This tells you if you need to do more for your audience to incentivize them to come back. If you go to Audience > Geo, you can also find out where the majority of your audience is coming from. This includes the countries as well as a specific state breakdown. This is a great way to get an overview of your audience and to start tailoring your content towards that audience.”
Robison also uses the 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.
Jeff Spencer of Akyson Buyer LLC relies mostly on traffic and content insights to get audience information.
From looking at your traffic on GA, you will be able to get more information about your visitors,” said Spencer. “See what article gets the most clicks and write more on that topic. Don’t forget to interlink the articles to keep the audience on the website.”
Tim Brown of Hook Agency agrees, “For finding your website’s target audience, I strongly recommend creating content and checking your analytics to see who is viewing it. Then make tweaks to the content to accommodate your ideal customer.”
Ivan Teh of AdVisible says, “By connecting your Google Analytics account with your ecommerce store, you can easily find your exact target audience based on your conversion data. Simply enable only the ‘Converters’ segment in any report, and it will show data for the users that converted on your ecommerce website. If you have newsletter sign-ups or other goals, you may want to create new segments based on transaction data only; otherwise, you can simply select the segment of users that ‘Made A Purchase.’ From here, you will be able to go into each audience report and find out exactly what age range your real customers mainly consist of, what gender they have identified as, what topics they are most interested in, their physical location, device they used to purchase, and much more.
The good thing is that you are not only limited to Audience Data, but you can also find out which channels perform the best, which pages your real customers went to and stayed on the page the longest, which page they usually convert on, etc. through Acquisition, platforms the audience have visited before the final conversion and Behavior reports.”
Katie Weedman of THAT Agency says, “Install the Google Analytics tracking code and the Facebook pixel on your website, so you can obtain real data about your website visitors.”
Paul Fairbrother of AdEspresso likes to use Facebook Audience Insights tool to analyze his Facebook page fans.
“The basics are there such as their age, gender, and location but also much more information including relationship status, education level, job titles, the most popular other pages that they like and most popular page categories,” says Fairbrother. “This will allow you to build buyer personas for your website even if you’ve never run any Facebook ads, and it’s completely free to use.”
Editor’s Note: View our Facebook Page Insights Dashboard to learn more about your Facebook page followers.
Joe Gast of Truck Driver Institute says, “It’s important to leverage your existing marketing tools, such as Facebook. Facebook advertising tools can analyze your current website traffic with its Pixel tool, and allow 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.”
“Look through your social media insights to see who engages the most with your content, and that should be your target audience,” says Charles Kahlila of Tandem Interactive.
Colette Nataf of Lightning AI recommends taking this a step further.
“To find your perfect audience, you need to test different groups on Facebook and then use that data to make informed decisions,” says Nataf.
Tzvi Fried of Logomotive, agrees, “To find the audience for your website, test different interests related to your brand on Facebook Advertising. For example, if you sell pencils, try advertising to a few different interest-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.”
Jordan Terry of TorHoerman La says, “SEO tools provide precise, empirical data – and data doesn’t lie. It may take multiple tools to target your exact market, depending on the specificity of your topic, product, or service. But these tools will unbiasedly provide you with a clear-cut answer to “who should I market to and how?”. It took me a long time to come to terms with this fact. Now that I have accepted it and become proficient in marketing tools, my job is much easier.”
“Concentrate on the keywords,” says Andrei Vasilescu of DontPayFull. “Boost your SEO drive for the best keywords of your business and see how those keywords are working. The people who search for your keywords or anything near to your keywords will be your target audience. Then, pick one or two visitors to your website and intensely research on them to create your persona.”
Dorian Reeves of SH1FT says, “Use tools like Serpstat, Ahrefs, and SEMrush to analyze what keywords your competitors are ranking for. This will give you an idea of what type of content you can create, what keywords to rank for, and see what your target audience responds to.”
Anna Kaine of ESM Inbound says, “You need to use a tool such as HubSpot, which monitors audience behavior. You might not know the exact features of your audience at first, such as age, gender, and income, but you’ll be able to discover much more useful details, such as where visitors click on your site, how far down each of your pages they scroll, which links are getting a high percentage of clicks, and whether your content offer or subscription forms are being submitted. When you start to find patterns in how existing visitors are behaving, you can target other people in this group who haven’t found you yet more specifically.”
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.
Levi Olmstead says, “When creating customer personas, think about everyone who uses your website. Then break it down into subgroups. For each subset, build-out exactly their persona. Their pain points, their problems, their needs. This will help you deliver each persona the best content that satisfies their wants and needs.”
Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers provides a tactical approach to building buyer personas.
“Create 3 to 6 profiles of people that would be interested in your product or services,” said Aufray. “Here are a few questions you could ask yourself:
Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles shares the process he uses for his customer avatar worksheets below.
Pro Tip: You can install a Facebook pixel so you can build a custom audience of site visitors.
Gloria Lafont of Action Marketing Co sums it up nicely.“It’s about being very clear on who can you help, what will you help them achieve, and how will you get the job done,” said Lafont. “Once you are clear on those 3 points, it will be easy to determine what your target audience has in common, and the right marketing message to communicate how you help them.”
Doing the hard work upfront to identify your target audience will help you hone your brand messaging and marketing strategy. This becomes a solid foundation that you can use to grow your brand.
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