How to research the target audience

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Defining your target market is one of the marketer’s most important tasks. It’s the foundation of all elements of your marketing strategy, from how you develop and name your products or services right through to the marketing channels you use to promote them.

Here’s a hint before we dig in: Your target audience is not “everyone.” Your task in defining your target group is to identify and understand your particular niche so you can dominate it.

  • Learn from what others have found

This is entry-level market research at its finest. Read up on some case studies, examples and psychological analyses by marketers who have come before you. Sources include industry reporters, general market researchers and, in some cases, sociologists. Filter your data to ensure the research is as relevant and as recent as possible.

  • Create a customer persona

Once you’ve collected enough objective data to start forming solid conclusions, you can start crafting a customer persona. This persona is basically a fictional character who exhibits all the traits an “average” member of your target audience is expected to have.

Include hard factors like age, sex, education level and income, as well as disposition factors like temperament, sensitivity or curiosity.

  • Conduct large-scale quantitative surveys

Now it’s time to back up your assumptions and conduct some primary research (rather than the secondary research described above). Start with large-scale quantitative surveys, covering the widest cross-section of your audience possible. Your questions should be multiple-choice, giving you hard statistics that can teach you about your audience’s habits.

  • Conduct small-scale qualitative surveys

Complement your quantitative research with qualitative research — the data won’t be as objective, but you’ll learn more detailed insights on your audience’s psychological makeup. Target a small sample of audience members, and use open-ended questions to get long responses you can interpret.

  • Look to your competitors

Your competitors may have already done such market research and put it into action. If they target the same audience you do, observe and learn from the way they write and advertise to their potential customers.

  • Look to other popular products and services

Look for products and services that your target audience is already using — unrelated to your industry. How do these brands position themselves? What kinds of messaging do they use?

  • Listen to social conversations

Use social listening software in combination with targeted social lists to zero in on what your customers are saying online. What trending topics are they following most closely? Whom do they usually interact with, and why?

Again, you can look for other brands that may emerge as successful messengers.

  • Examine interactions with your brand

You can use social listening software again, and tap into Google Analytics to examine user behavior on your site. Evaluate how your target demographics are interacting with your brand: Do you get lots of blog comments and social shares? Use this data to fine-tune your approach.

  • Allow some room to grow

You’ll never have a perfect understanding of your target audience. Even if at some point you did, your audience members would evolve and change as soon as you figured them out. Allow some breathing room in your strategy, and always strive to understand your audience a little bit better.

None of these methods can, by themselves, give you a perfect portrait of the “average” customer in your target demographics; populations are too diverse and too unpredictable for any one set of assumptions to hold true.

Instead, you need to collect your findings from multiple sources and merge them into one comprehensive, multifaceted vision. From there, you’ll be able to better shape everything you create for your audience, from blogs to headlines to calls to action.