“Target audience” is a little misleading. It sounds too singular. Generally, a single target audience is built up of multiple personae. Effective marketing builds out a separate persona and strategy for targeting each contributor, or “segment.” In a diverse buying culture, segmentation is key.
As an example, think of marketing a family swimming pool. Your target audience is the family, but that family is made up of different members, each with their own separate persona based on demographics, interests, role in the purchasing process, and behaviors (both on- and offline). Marketing to a 15-year-old boy usually differs remarkably from marketing to a 40-something working mother. Both should be considered. Where, in the end, whoever controls the finances is the ultimate decision-maker, the teenager is surely going to lobby for a diving board, the add-on basketball hoop, etc.
How do you find your target audience?
Ideally, you configure a target audience at the beginning of your project. Your product is meant to provide a solution to some sort of problem. Who does that problem affect? Who needs your solution? Who influences the people who need your solution? These are questions most companies should be asking before investing time and energy into any sort of enterprise. Go back to your drawing board and review those answers. That will be the start of your content strategy journey. Next, find ways to valildate or adapt your initial conclusions based on existing customer/client behaviors.
In their report, Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer: Only Customer-Obsessed Enterprises Can Survive Disruption, Marketing Research giant Forrester explains:
In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers. The successful companies will be customer-obsessed…and invest in four priority areas:
- Real-time actionable data sharing
- Contextualized customer experiences across touchpoints
- Sales efforts tied to buyers’ processes
- Content-led marketing and customer interactions.
One option for established companies is to start at the end and work backward. Look at your sales data and reverse engineer your customer demographics and behaviors. Collect your customer information data on behavior, purchasing habits, and engagement rates in your customer relationship management (CRM) software and use that to identify your best audiences. Need a great CRM for this?
For online retailers (or anyone online, really), website analytics offer a venerable gold mine of information. If you don’t have analytics on your website, you can go ahead and put that as high priority on your to-do list. Analytics will allow you to retrace the steps they took to the point of purchase, including conversion markers/touchpoints along the way.
If you don’t already have a customer base from which to draw information, don’t worry, you still have plenty of opportunities to find your people, as it were. While building your target customer personas, consider the following:
- Who are my ideal customers?
- What are their interests?
- When are they available?
- Where do they work, live, play?
- Why should they pay attention to us?
These answers won’t just help you figure out who your people are, they will lead you to some very important, dare I say critical, information: where to find (and reach) them. According to recent research, “Today around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves.” Read that again. Not only does it give us an idea of how many Americans use social media, it tells us how, specifically, they use it.
Social media users aren’t just there to connect with each other; they’re sharing information and engaging with third-party content. Knowing where your people spend their time gives you an automatic step in the right direction because it allows you to meet them where they are and cater better to their interests. After all, your message is only as successful as the audience it reaches.
Personalization Starts With Customization
Where you market is just as important as how you market and to whom, and the successful marketer knows they all work together. Just as you have to create specialized messages for your different personae, you also need to keep in mind your medium or, in today’s world, social platform. Don’t just create cookie-cutter content. Remember, your end goal is personalization, so start with customization. Each social media platform draws unique demographics and most of them offer tools that let you utilize the general information users freely provide to tailor your intended audience. Using the appropriate formats and message types for the platform will help grab your audience’s attention. From there, you can continue to map behaviors, gather metrics and personalize content based on engagement.
Social media and browser traffic aren’t the only places to gather digital data. Done right, email campaigns provide a wealth of information. The key word here is “campaign.” When looking to personalize content through email engagement, you’ve got to be prepared for the long game. First create generalized content you believe will be of interest to your target audience as a whole. Within the generic content, offer links to different kinds of specialized content. Track click-thrus and content analytics to the more specialized content and behaviors from there. Turn around and use that information to further personalize your future content.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t warn you about a few common pitfalls to avoid in content personalization. First and foremost: don’t get too personal. The line between convenient and creepy is not as thin as some want to believe. As you’re drilling down, consider whether you’d, personally, be comfortable receiving the same kind of message from another company. Better yet, think about whether you’d be okay with someone you love getting that message. Your customers may not realize your respect for their privacy, but they will definitely notice an invasion of it.
Second, leave room for deviation. Online behaviors do not necessarily give a crystal clear view of the person behind the keyboard. In fact, it’s best to keep in mind that there may be more than one person on the other end of the line using a friend or family member’s account. Online retailers should also take into account that a lot of people now buy gifts online. Someone perusing the baby department may just be looking for a friend. Wait until they sign up for a registry before you start sending them parenting tips and tricks.
Lastly, you don’t have to do this on your own. Knowing your own resources, strengths and limitations is just as important as knowing your customer. Take stock of your skillsets and acknowledge how to best use them. To be done right, target marketing, segmentation, data analysis and personalization require focused energy. If you don’t currently have the resources in-house, there are numerous tools and agencies available to help you gather metrics, understand data and build personalized content.