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Get into your buyer’s psyche to create relevant digital marketing

A deep understanding of your target audience will do more to shape your digital media marketing plan than nearly anything else. The more specific you can get, the easier it is to pick the most effective marketing tactics and distribution channels and to develop highly relevant content marketing. I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about target audiences and buyer profiling. I’m at the start of a couple of new projects and that always gets me thinking about people. That’s because after the strategic objectives, defining your target market is the most critical step in designing a successful digital marketing campaign.

Yet, it’s surprising how little thought some businesses give to this phase of the planning. I love the execs who can tell me the specifics: their ideal customer is a young man, 24-35, single, likes to travel to Vegas yearly, has $100K+ in income and is glued to ESPN. That’s a great starting point. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s those who simply give me broad categories (Millennials) or, my personal favorite, “everyone.”

Something I made up.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In digital media marketing, specificity means relevancy, and relevancy means higher engagement, more clickthroughs, and higher sales. The more I know about a specific buyer, the better I can craft messages that hook him, and the more likely I can create a distribution strategy that gets the company’s story in front of the most number of buyers.

The thing is, defining the buyer isn’t rocket science. We don’t need Dr. Sheldon Cooper to develop a complicated algorithm.

And I actually like this part of the process, because, well, it’s really, really fun. I’m naturally curious about people – all people – so digging deep into their psyche is endlessly fascinating. (In fact, I’m such an obvious people-watcher that I’ve been caught a number of times.) Also, I love research (and yes, I am that annoying person at dinner who whips out her iPhone during a debate about naming the largest cities in the world by population*).

Here are the top three questions I ask when developing a target audience definition, along with a few of my favorite resources.

1)   What problem are we trying to solve?

My starting point and best initial resource is always the client. They’ve developed a product or service for a reason, and by getting them to describe the problem, I quite often can narrow the audience from “everyone.”

2)   What are the demographics and psychographics?

A demographic study provides an outline, but a psychographic study allows me to fill in the color. A good find is a study that breaks down large groups, like Millennials, into smaller subgroups, allowing me to weed out chunks of the demographic that will have no interest in my client’s work. Marketing firm Barkley USA in partnership with Boston Consulting Group released a study recently on Millennials that looked at attitudes and behaviors of this group and identified six very different segments. It’s useful information if you’re marketing to Millennials.

US Census Data, available for free, can be a valuable resource for understanding the composition of populations on a very targeted local level. It covers key demographic data such as business growth, income, education, marriage and recent births. This dovetails with regionally targeted digital marketing strategies on social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

3)   What do they read and how do they gather information?

One of my current projects is to develop and market a product to college-educated women between the ages of 40 and 60. Critical to the success of this product is understanding reading habits. Now, I happen to be an expert on this demographic – or at least, I think I am. After all, I fit right into it myself. But, as you know, a focus group of one spells disaster.

Fortunately, there are several very easy ways to understand reading and research habits of this group.

  • Pew Research Center. The only problem with this site is that I can get completely distracted by it for hours. Pew’s Internet & American Life Project and the Project for Excellence in Journalism cover reading habits of Americans. Some recent studies: 72% of Americans Follow Local News Closely and How Teens Use Video.
  • Nielsen. Best known for its Nielsen Ratings, which tracks viewing habits of TV audiences, Neilsen has greatly expanded the media channels it tracks. It now reports on Internet, mobile, and video games and the usage habits of particular demographic groups.
  • Experian Hitwise. Check out this provider of insight into consumer behavior online. Recent studies include political personas, Fast Track Couples, and environmental attitudes. It’s worth downloading their recent 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report.
  • Surveys. No marketer needs to be told the value of a good survey, but while fielding a scientific survey is always best, sometimes quick and dirty can get you good enough answers. I wanted to know if women in my demographic read blogs, so I sent roughly seven questions to about 50 women friends in email. Response rate? 30% to date and it’s still in the field. Answer: most of my friends read news online, but only a small percentage read blogs at all. It’s enough to get me started.
  • Editorial calendars of publications. Once you’ve got a clear idea of specific media, visit the editorial calendars of the publications that your target audience reads on a regular basis. These can give you some insight into topics of interest. Many publications have been catering to these audiences for years and tapping into their editorial planning can help you create relevant content marketing.

These are just a sampling of questions. What do you ask when defining target audiences? Share your favorite resources with us.

*Tokyo, Guangzhou, and Seoul, per Wikipedia

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