Know Thy Audience: One of the immutable truths of marketing
Keywords. Conversion. User Experience. Search Engine Optimization. What do all of these words and phrases have in common? They all relate to how you will attract, engage, and convert your target audience.
And they all start with understanding that audience.
Let’s break it down: If you don’t understand your audience(s), how can you understand their likes and dislikes — and prioritize what really matters to them? If you don’t know what matters to them, then how can you effectively gain their interest? If you don’t build relevant and resonant connections, how will you drive engagement? And if you don’t understand what factors are most important to drive engagement, how can you expect them to take the actions you desire?
In short: Without truly understanding your audience, there is simply no way to inspire them to action.
It’s not enough to know the demographics and location of your prospects. You have to know as much as possible about them: perceptions and misperceptions, interests, values, motivations, preferences. In marketing the university, we want to know:
- What do you know about (associate to) Ohio State?
- How did/do you gain that knowledge?
- What experiences have shaped your perceptions?
- What do you expect from an Ohio State experience? (Related question: What don’t you expect?)
- Which factors are most important in driving you considerations to choose Ohio State—for an education or as an employer, a partner, a care provider? What motivates you to share your time, talent and treasure?
No one is born with the ability to understand audiences — what people want and how they want it. We all need to dig in and do some research. Yep, good old-fashion audience research. Here are the steps I take when I consider audiences—existing or new:
One: Ask questions. Lots of them.
As marketers, we must take advantage of all information at our disposal — including the wealth of knowledge that exists outside of our own teams and departments. So much can be learned from previous surveys and questionnaires.
From Human Resources to the Buckeye Room survey community to the front lines of Customer Service, others may have research and anecdotal experience that can help you learn about your audience and avoid missteps. Take the time to reach out and ask questions about your target audience. Your goal is to get as many details as possible about the audience you are targeting
Two: Listen, listen, listen.
To drive actions, you need to understand deeper connections. With a working set of inputs, consider interviews and focus groups (conversations) with several existing constituents and prospects to delve deeper into motivations, thoughts and even opinions. Again: there should be more listening.
Social listening, with informally or with a tool like BrandWatch, taps into your prospects’ minds and voice. It is an invaluable way to discover what is being said about your program, your competitors, and topics relevant to your offering. Instead of asking your audience questions, you can listen to their social conversations and determine what type of content will be the most valuable and relevant to them, what social networks they are the most active on, and formulate a set of keywords to quickly test and refine
Three: Find what your audience segments have in common.
The insights you’ve identified for specific target audiences can then be quantified, providing statistical results about your population and identify the commonalities across audience segments. While common interests may exist across segments, knowing your segments helps you craft a single piece of content in multiple ways to satisfy different segments. In other words: A message about Ohio State may resonate with more than one audience. Then, it’s up to you to craft it in the right way to drive actions specific to that audience (for instance: apply to school here, apply for a job here).
No matter how much research you do, the key is to be disciplined in defining your audiences and decoding the factors most important shaping their considerations. Or as a wise colleague once said: Know what you know, and know how you know it.
IMMUTABLE TRUTH: The crux of all good marketing plans starts with identifying the specific characteristics of your ideal audience. With that knowledge, you’ll have the greatest potential to influence them to take the actions needed to achieve your business goals. The more you know about your audience, the more effective your marketing efforts will become.
If you are considering undertaking some audience research and want to chat first, let us know.