“Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person-a real person you know, or an imagined person-and write to that one.” ― John Steinbeck
One of the keys to developing an effective message is understanding your audience. Your audience is one of the three pillars of foundational content that you need to create your brand voice. The other two? Your organization and your offer.
Now, you might be thinking, “Of course I know who my audience is — any woman aged 18 to 65.” But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Who are they really? What are their hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs? What makes them frustrated? What makes them giddy with excitement? Do you have a clear picture of that one single person you are creating for? Creating effective messaging requires a much deeper understanding, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
But, I Don’t Want to Exclude Anyone!
One pushback I get often when I talk to businesses is the fear that if we message specifically to one audience we’re going to alienate other potential customers. As a result, messages their messages end up generic and vague in an attempt to be everything to everyone (which is essentially nothing to no one.)
It’s important to acknowledge that the fear of missing out on potential customers is real, but the question I usually push back with is “How many customers are you already losing because your message isn’t specific enough?” In today’s world of short attention spans, a message that doesn’t immediately resonate with an audience has a real opportunity cost. Think of the last time you were struck by a brand, became intrigued and moved on through to a purchase. Was their message generic and watered down? Or did they seem to “get” you immediately and seem to appeal to your specific needs? If you start paying attention to your own purchasing behavior, you’ll notice pretty quickly that the latter wins almost every time.
A New Way of Looking at Your Audience Landscape
When we look at all of the people we could potentially message, the landscape becomes pretty cluttered and can be difficult to parse. But if we start thinking of our audience landscape in terms of overlapping concentric circles, it’s a little bit easier to visualize.
As our message becomes more specific — that is to say, we understand our audience better — it is a smaller part of the circle. The first three outer rings, segments, demographics and psychographics, and archetypes, are all data collection. We’re learning about our audience and their behaviors. The inner two rings are where we synthesize the data we’ve collected and create a description of who we’re targeting using personas and ideal customers. Let’s take a look at each piece:
Step One: Segment Your Customers
Your audience segments are broad groups of customers who are defined by a characteristic that describes how they interact with your business. Typically, I find that three to four segments is a good start for most businesses. Fewer than that, and you’re at a higher risk of leaving out a key group. More than that, and it becomes a bit too much to manage. Here are some questions you can ask to determine these target audience groupings:
Who is the most profitable?
Who is the easiest to work with?
Who refers the most?
Who gives the best feedback?
Who is the most loyal?
How do people use my product/service?
Don’t have customers yet? Chances are you can estimate many of these based on your past experience. Give it a go, use your best instincts, and you can always go back and refine later as you gather more data about how customers interact with your business.
Step Two: Define Their Demographics
Demographics are qualitative traits that you can measure. If it fits nicely into a spreadsheet, chances are it’s a demographic. Next, for each of your segments, define their distinctive traits:
Years of experience
Devices used to access content
This information is relatively easy to collect, either through online surveys or firms who sell this type of data. But there’s a catch — just because you can get a lot of this data, doesn’t necessarily make it useful. Demographics give you a snapshot into surface-level information, but it lacks the important “why” that we need to create an effective message. For that, we’ll need a different tool...
Step Three: Identify Their Psychographics
Psychographics can be a little more difficult to measure, but they tend to give you much more useful information about your audience. They’re things like:
One way to get access to your audience’s psychographics is to do in-person interviews. Ask a current customer or client for a little of their time. Here are some tips for making the most of your interviews:
Make your interviewee comfortable.
Use open-ended questions.
Ask about actual behavior, not hypothetical.
Bring a list of questions with you.
Take notes and record the conversation. (Ask permission first.)
Beware of group think. If you sense this is happening, dig deeper.
I also highly recommend using Empathy Maps which help you gauge what your audience thinks, feels, sees, and does when interacting with your offer. Here’s an example of what one looks like:
I won’t go into the specifics of how to create an empathy map because David Bland from Big Visible explains it really well in this post. Demian Farnworth over at Copyblogger also offers his perspective on empathy maps and getting inside your customers head here in this post. Do yourself a favor and check out both!
Step Four: Find Archetypes
Now that we have our target audience’s basic traits down, we can move into an even deeper perspective - finding out what emotionally moves them to take action. Archetypes are storytelling patterns that help identify core motivations - they’ve actually been used as far back as the Greek era. And let me just confess, I totally geek out on them. Why do I love them so much? Because using these already established patterns saves time and money. Archetypes give you easy access to pre-packaged profiles that you can use to create opportunities for customers to engage with your brand in a way that really appeals to them.
And, for another incredibly useful resource, check out Margaret Hartwell & Joshua Chen’s book Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists.
Step Five: Sketch Out Personas
Great job. You’ve collected the data and now you’re ready to boil it down to the insights that are most useful to you and your business. We start by creating a fictional description, or a persona, to help create an at-a-glance overview of what we’ve learned.
Here’s a step-by-step outline for creating personas from Michael King over at Moz blog that I highly recommend reading. If you like a good Smurf reference, you’ll especially like this one!
Step Six: Determine Your Ideal Customers
The final step in this process is to find real life people who represent who you described in the persona exercise. For each persona think about people you know, and assign each one to someone familiar to you. What’s so useful about having ideal customer profiles is that once established, you can refer to them each day when creating content and products.
Now it’s your turn. What tools have been useful for you in defining your audience? Share with me in the comments below!