When designing a marketing campaign, one of the first questions that needs answering is ‘who’s my target audience?’
A good understanding of target demographics (or firmographics in b2b markets) is usually a good starting point but it can only get you so far!
Many people who share the same demographics have very different needs and preferences. And the more precisely you’re able to define your target audience the more effective your marketing campaign is likely to be.
Basic demographics might tell us that 99% of our past customers are female and aged 25-49. Or, if we sell b2b, we might be able to say that most of our customers are SME engineering businesses. But clearly, not all women aged 25-49 (or SME engineering businesses for that matter) are interested in our product. So, it’s getting a step beyond this that’s often the problem.
So, how might we sharpen our focus to ensure we are targeting the right people with the right messages.
What we need is to develop a profile that includes other useful information. It might tell us something useful about how they like to buy that could affect the way in which we sell. Or, perhaps it might tell us something about their interests that helps us to design a more effective advertising message.
Knowing what is likely to interest and engage our target audience is key. It helps us make important decisions about messaging and message placement.
This all sounds great in theory, but it is not without its challenges.
I’m sure we’ve all heard some ‘marketing persona’ horror stories.
The trouble is that once you go beyond demographics you are looking at increasingly intangible things. This makes it harder to pinpoint exactly what you need to focus on and what is, frankly, not relevant.
Typical problems in these cases might well include:
- It becomes hard to see the wood for the trees, as you have so much detail.
- You can create some great looking personas but, when it comes to actioning them, it’s hard to see how they help you design and execute a marketing campaign.
- With several different persona types, it looks sensible but … you struggle to see how or why you can practically approach these groups any differently from each other.
In essence, you end up with information that you can’t action.
So how can you get it right?
Having a clear business goal
It may seem obvious but having some clear overall business objectives in mind before you even start is a critical first step.
A vague objective like “we need to improve our marketing communications” is not only going to make it hard to define your target audience, but it also makes the design of any marketing messages very challenging. And, of course, it makes it very difficult to measure the success of any marketing campaign.
Often the objective might simply be to boost sales. That has the merit of being tangible, but sometimes there might be more to it than that.
Perhaps we’ve identified our brand has an image problem with certain customers? If this is the case, we might want to look at which customers these are and why, so that we can address these issues directly.
Perhaps we want to attract more customers of a particular type (e.g. higher margin)? That means we need to understand what makes these people different from other customers and how we can engage with more of them.
Our business objectives determine what kind of information we need to consider or collect to better understand our target audience.
Deciding what we need to know and why
Once we have our objectives clearly in mind, we can start to make some choices in terms of the kind of information we need.
Clearly, we are going to want to look at buyer behaviour, preferences, attitudes, and interests. But we can’t look at everything! So, we need to set some rules early on in terms of what’s relevant.
Ultimately, when the chips are down, we only need to know three specific things about our audience:
- Who are the people I need to target? And,
- How do I reach them? And,
- How best can I engage with them?
A good marketing agency can certainly help with these, especially the latter two. However, the more focused your brief, the easier it will be for them to get it right.
So, you need to define your target audience but only in terms of information that sheds light on these three key questions – not in terms of everything!
Knowing that someone has a particular hobby is potentially interesting. But what do we do with that information? Does it help us assess whether we should be selling to them or not? Can it help us target them more directly? Does it help us design a message that engages them more effectively? If the answer to those three questions is ‘no’, then, interesting or not, it is useless information since it is not actionable.
On the other hand, if, for example, we were considering whether to sponsor a sporting event, it could help us a lot to know how popular that sport was in our target audience. If it is only 5% then sponsorship is hardly worth it. If it is 90% on the other hand, then sponsorship looks like a good investment! Then the information becomes actionable.
The key thing is to make sure that each piece of information we consider (or try to collect) has the potential to be directly related to one of our three key questions.
Sometimes it is possible to create a detailed, meaningful, profile of our target audience just with the information we already have. The results of past marketing campaign activities, customer interactions with salesmen and CRM records might all help you build up a picture of your target audience.
However, sometimes you might find that there are gaps in your knowledge or aspects of customer behaviour that you simply don’t understand.
Maybe you have some of what you need buried in your CRM somewhere that just needs digging out. But maybe it’s information you just don’t have. This is where market research can come in; helping to plug any gaps and provide the answers to anything you might be missing.
Developing meaningful audience personas
It is one thing having information – it is quite another making effective use of it.
Pulling it all together and sifting out what is important from what is not is an important step in itself. The last thing you want is to end up in a situation where information overload prevents effective action. During this sifting process it is key to keep referring to our three key questions.
One of the reasons these exercises can sometimes run into problems is when people go overboard and (for reasons ultimately unclear) develop numerous different marketing personas, each of which represents a different potential target segment.
Before you start going down that road, ask yourself this – do I even need that?
It is all too easy to divide your audience up into different audience personas. However, although they may indeed be different in very real and measurable ways, the question is are they different in a meaningful way? This come back to our three key tests – should I target these people? How do I reach them? What should I say to them? If the answers to these three questions is the same for all the different personas you create, then it is pointless having all these different personas.
Perhaps you only need one target audience persona – unless there is a tangible business reason for having more than one, there is no need to over complicate things. Developing multiple personas can provide valuable insight when it’s actionable but is nothing more than a confusing distraction when it’s not.
When you arrive a definition of your target audience, there are some key things you need to check to make sure it’s on the right track. More specifically, ask yourself; is it…
- Identifiable: your definition of your target audience has a distinct / characteristic mindset that sets them apart from everyone else.
- Significant: it may sound obvious but there is little point in defining a target audience that only represents 1% of your market!
- Reachable: You need to have a good idea of how to reach your audience.
- Differentiated: Your target audience needs to be clearly differentiated from the rest of the market. Also, IF you have ended up with more than one target persona, you need to be able to differentiate between them.
- Actionable: i.e. it helps you design and execute a marketing campaign.
- Has sustained relevance: you need to be confident personas aren’t based on passing fads that won’t apply two months down the line.
If your able to define your target audience in those terms, you can really make your marketing campaign a lot more focused and effective.
Synchronix Research is a full-service market research agency. If you have any questions about our services or would like to explore the concept of creating meaningful audience profiles further, please get in touch.
You can email us with any questions; we’d be more than happy to hear from you.