Know Your Audience
Know your audience. Know your audience. KYA. Every marketing blog post in the history of the world-universe has “know your audience” in it somewhere.
But…it’s kind of a lie.
Don’t get me wrong—understanding your audience is crucial. If you do it well.
The problem is that the term “know your audience” has been thrown around so much that it’s essentially meaningless. What does it mean to know your audience? How do you do audience research? Who is your audience?
When you really know your audience, you know exactly what to say in your marketing.
Most advice on KYA doesn’t tell you exactly what to say.
Before you keep reading, pause for a second. Do you know exactly what to say to market your business right now? The exact words that will make people sit up and notice your business? On the spot, no preparation. If not, the audience research techniques in this post will help.
Sometimes, you’ll hear advice about identifying your target audience using demographics. Or maybe psychographics. If you’re in B2B, someone might throw out the word “firmographics.”
If you go to Toastmasters or talk to journalists, they’ll talk about how you should know your audience before speaking or writing.
In a marketing crowd, you might hear a lot of talk about “buyer personas.”
But when you really dig into it, you’ll find that most “buyer personas” don’t seem to actually tell you all that much. Slapping a cute alliterative name like “Business Brad” or “Sales Sally” or “Musician Methuselah” doesn’t actually help you out when you sit down to, ya know…do some marketing.
When you sit down to define your positioning. Your place in the market. Your message. Your brand. You need more than basic demographics.
Here’s how you actually can know your audience.

Why is it important to know your audience?

Knowing your audience helps you figure out what content and messages people care about. Once you have an idea of what to say, knowing your audience also tells you the appropriate tone and voice for your message.
Let me put this another way. Have you ever wanted to read minds?
Skeleton thinking about stuff

What’s this fella thinking?

The absolute best marketing messages make people feel like you’re reading their mind. You can state their pain points, challenges, goals, and desires so clearly that it feels like you’re living in a sweet penthouse apartment in their head.
Imagine for a second that you have a problem. It could be any problem at all—maybe you want to lose weight, or maybe the grout in your bathroom tiles is coming out.
Now imagine that the person you turn to for help exactly articulates your problem. They understand your beliefs, values, and attitudes towards your situation. You feel like they understand you.
They can describe your problem more clearly than you can describe your problem. All you can do is nod along while they talk.
You’re probably going to hire that person, right?
Have you ever heard someone talk about a public figure (often a comedian) and say “he’s saying what people need to hear” or “he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”
You know what they’re really saying? “He’s saying the stuff I believe but don’t talk about.”
When you know your audience, you can pluck the words right out of your customers’ mouths and use it in your marketing.
You can read minds.
That’s all pretty abstract. What actually happens to your business when you can read minds?

  • You get more leads, because people feel like you understand them
  • You get more customers, because leads feel like you understand them
  • You get more referrals, because customers feel like you understand them

Sensing a theme?
Conversion rates go up. Social media shares go up. Email opens and clicks go up.
Sales go up.
By how much? Check out this example, written by copywriter Joanna Wiebe for the website of a rehab clinic.

Copy Hackers review mining
Source: Copy Hackers

The new messaging on this site increased button clicks by 400%. It increased form submissions by 20%, even though the form was on an entirely separate page.
That’s what happens when you really know your audience. When you can get inside their heads. Digital marketing, content marketing….all your marketing improves.
You don’t get those kinds of results from a vague Musician Methuselah “persona.” Let’s talk about why many buyer personas are a mistake—and how you can really know your audience.

Why buyer personas are a mistake
(aka, common audience research methods that don’t work)

Marketing Mary is a mom in her mid-thirties who lives in the suburbs of a major city. She’s married with two kids, college educated, makes $77,000 a year, and drives to work every day. At work, she manages a small team of three marketers and reports to the head of marketing.
If you want to sell her something, how would you do it?
To be frank, I have no idea how I would do it. Because even though I have a lot of “information” about my “Marketing Mary” persona, I know very little that actually matters.
What are the tasks she struggles with day to day? Where are her frustrations? What work does she love doing—and what work is she the most proud of?
Answers to those questions are a lot more important to me as a marketer.
If you know what Marketing Mary struggles with, you can position your product or service as an answer to her problems. If you know what she loves, you can show her how what you offer helps her do more of that.
Don’t get me wrong: a buyer persona can be valuable. If it includes the right information.
It’s just that…they often don’t.
starting with a blank page

After all that “persona development,” you don’t want to start with a blank page

And also—information about demographics and income level and all of those other details is important in the right context.
When Procter & Gamble is looking to optimize their product line by offering cleaning products at every price point and for different uses around the home—knowing their target market’s income level and type of dwelling (e.g. home, apartment, etc.) is probably crucial.
P&G probably does need to do market research surveys and questionnaires. They probably need focus groups, competitive intelligence, and a SWOT analysis. A mix of qualitative and quantitative research and complex data analysis is probably valuable.
But do you need those things?
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the common audience research techniques that you might run into in the process of understanding your audience.

Demographics

Demographics is the study of populations. The word “demographics” comes from Greek roots (demos means people, grapho implies measurement). In other words, demographics is the process of using statistics to study the composition or change in a group of people.
Demographics gets complicated quickly. When you talk about the statistical study of populations, you start needing to think about stuff like

  • How to accurately sample large populations
  • Population size
  • Population dynamics
  • Sampling bias
  • Direct vs. indirect methods of collecting data

When you’re using demographics to build audience profiles, it’s also important to consider that the demographic that uses the product isn’t necessarily the same as the one that buys the product.
Sometimes spouses buy things for each other, or for their children. Department heads buy things for their businesses, but do so on the recommendation of their managers.
The picture gets complicated quickly.
For your marketing, it’s not that demographics don’t matter at all. There’s probably a difference between talking to a parent in their 40s and a single person in their 20s.
Where you may run into problems is that demographics don’t tell you how your audience feels.
a fancy looking chart

Having a lot of information can trick you into focusing on the wrong information

Know your demographics—using them in your marketing materials is a fast way to filter out your best customers. If you say “I help women in their 40s lose weight,” women over 40 will be interested and everyone else will leave you alone (which is exactly what you want).
What’s crucial is that you don’t stop at demographics. You need more information to create great marketing messages.

Psychographics

Psychographics is a qualitative market research field that’s used to research the psychology of an audience or target market.
Psychographics are a major step forward from demographics, because psychographics tell you a lot more about the kinds of things your audience cares about.
For our Marketing Mary example, demographic information tells you that she:

  • Is in her mid-thirties
  • Makes $77,000 per year
  • Manages a small team
  • Reports to the head of marketing

Psychographic information might tell you that she:

  • Struggles to manage her workload while also managing a team
  • Is interested in social media marketing
  • Wants a promotion but isn’t sure how to negotiate salary
  • Is very into building model trains

This kind of information tells you a bit more about what you do to market things to Marketing Mary. Maybe you can reach her on social media, or on model train forums. Or position your product as a way for managers to get their own work done.
Psychographic information is useful in that it tells you broadly what your message can be. Psychographics tend to focus on “AIO variables” which stands for:

  • Activities
  • Interests
  • Opinions

AIOs help you understand more about your audience—but they still don’t quite give you the information you need to actually create your marketing message.
Once again, psychographic data is useful on a large scale. A huge company like Procter & Gamble can use psychographics to position their “portfolio of brands” at different target markets.

To actually create your specific messages, though, you’ll want more detailed info. In a few moments, we’ll talk about research that tells you exactly what to say.

Online analytics

There’s a huge marketing trend in the last few years. “Data-driven” marketers are everywhere.

As free platforms like Google Analytics have made it easier and easier to access data about what people are doing on your website, marketers have been eager to use data to prove the results of their work.
John Wanamaker, one of the early marketers, once said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
In a lot of cases, analytics solve this problem. When you run Facebook Ads or PPC ads, you can see exactly how much money you make for each dollar you spend.
Facebook on a mobile phone

It’s relatively easy to know the ROI of channels like Facebook Ads

Analytics are extremely useful for marketers—and they can help you send your messages to the right people at the right time.
Some ways to use analytics include…

  • Seeing which product pages and landing pages people visit on your site, then sending those people messages that offer them those products (this can be done automatically)
  • Tracking engagement with different types of content, so that you can focus your efforts on the material that gets you more customers
  • Retargeting people who get halfway through your funnel, to push them to the next step

By seeing where people go on your website, you can make some important inferences about what will turn them from leads into potential customers. And then into customers.
That’s valuable information.
…but then what?
Analytics are valuable and useful. So are demographics. And so are psychographics.
But none of those research methods tell you exactly what to say to people.
When someone lands on a product page and you send them an automatic email, you know what to offer them (the product). What specifically should you say in that email?
You know that someone needs to be able to manage their team more effectively. What marketing message can you create that will make them believe your product is the answer?
Here’s where we get deep into “knowing your audience.”

The results of knowing your target audience

Check out this homepage from Clockspot, a company that sells employee timesheet software.
Clockspot homepage copywriting

I don’t even need to track time and I want this

Combining demographic and psychographic information could tell you that small business owners s