True Power Comes from Knowing Your Audience

Ever try selling ice cubes to Eskimos? Selling bikinis at a retirement center?  Both ice cubes and bikinis have their place and target market but in order to be successful we need to get the right product to the right audience. And as a marketer one of the most important foundational aspects of your focus must be getting to know your audience. If you don’t know the target of your product or service, how do you know when and where to reach them?

I was asked to speak at an industry conference in Nashville. The theme of the conference was “Digital Communications in the Coming Age.” I prepared a speech focused on the axiom “Content is King: How to leverage content creation on the new and emerging tech platforms.” Sounds good right? I had lots of creative examples and my PowerPoint was a whiz-bang. I buzzed in from the airport, rushed to the stage and as I sat listening to the end of the speech ahead of me looked out in the crowd a noticed a lot of people in suits. A clue. And the speaker before me was wrapping up “The Digital Pipeline of Tomorrow.”  Another clue. Suddenly I realized that the group I was about to address was comprised of mainly engineers. I had goofed. I had assumed that these were “creatives” and hence had come prepared to address that group. In the end my speech was fine. I adapted my material and delivery to meet the engineers where they were. I learned an important lesson; b sure you know who you are speaking to. This is not only true in public speaking but in every facet of communication.

As a marketer audience or target market research is critical. Why? Truly knowing Mrs. Smith, or Donnie, or Uncle Tim or Auntie Jenny as your customer, as the person you are serving, is crucial to understanding who they are and the best way to reach and serve them.

Imagine if you knew your customers passions, the quality of their neighborhood and how they behaved, then you’d know where to reach them and know how best to service them. The best way to get to know your audience is through on-going audience research.

I have had the opportunity to market many products and services, and yes, with a lot of failures along the way and a few successes to add balance. The major distinction between success and failure has always been truly matching a product with the right audience.

Here are a few tips in getting audience research;

1.)   What pieces of information about your audience will help you most: What are the key characteristics and behavioral patterns that you need to know about your audience that will help you reach them best. Many people rush head long into research projects without knowing what they want to learn. Yes it’s important to learn allot of fringe information maybe such as their interest in magazines or hobbies but there must be a core set of demonstrable target market characteristics that you would want to know about your audience. I encourage you spend the time upfront. Here are a few little tips as you go through that process.

  1. Understand your own product; you’ve got to understand what is your “brand promise.” What do you promise that your product or service will deliver? What will the consumer know your product for? If you don’t understand that then you can’t set about finding and developing your target market.
  2. Dream about what your audience “looks” like: With your team, figure out what audience you would like to have and what audience your product or service demands; demographics, physiographic, geographic, behaviorally, etc. I like to imagine my audience using whatever I am selling. It helps me understand them better.

2.)   Engaging a quality research firm doesn’t have to be expensive. The marketing culture today has a lot of means of gathering data and providing pieces of information. However, a snap shot of Google Analytics does not give a full picture of the target audience. A research firm needs to guide your process. Search Google and literally hundreds and thousands of research firms pop up why? Because they are an important part of our marketing fabric. You cannot launch a product today without a research firm attached. Now there are research firms that manage multimillion-dollar contracts, but then there are terrific small boutique firms that are operating all over the world that focus on specific targeted industries. These boutiques are just as good as the large firms especially when it comes to understanding your business and building relationships. Let me give you three C’s that will help you select the right research firm.

  1. Chemistry. You and your team have got to like the people you’re going to work with. If you don’t like them, no matter what the results, you are not going to get along with them.
  2. Competency. Do they understand your business? Do they have a history of similar projects in your industry? Is the research firm you are about to hire competent to handle your account and to help you understand your market?  Do they understand the terminology of your world? Language is very important. If you are speaking to the industrial turbine industry, then you’ve got to find the firm that understands that world. Likewise, if you are in the broadcast industry then you’ve got to find a firm that understands Nielsen ratings and TV household counts and rating points and cost per thousands and so on.
  3. Character. You’ve got to have a firm that is strong and courageous and filled with integrity. They must possess the guts to tell you the painful truth. They cannot be afraid of being the barer of bad news. You can hear the good news about your product or service from anyone but not everyone will be honest and tell you the bad news. That is where the rubber meets the road.

3.)    Engage in the process. Many marketers often slough off the hard work of research to an assistant. I encourage you as the marketing person, as the person responsible for the results, to engage in the process personally. The fact is that nobody is more qualified to know your audience than you. You need to be the one driving this research process otherwise; when you receive the reports you’re not going to be quite sure of the trust level of the data. Especially if the report has disturbing findings or bad news.

  1. Once you hire the firm, the firm drives the process. There is, however, is the development of the questionnaires, focus groups selection, file penetration, research segmentation, etc.
  2. Read the entire the report not just the summary. Read the transcripts, watch the videos, attend the focus groups or watch on Skype, listen in on phone calls. In short, understand the detail; hear what people are really saying don’t be afraid about the facts, and don’t slough it off to someone beneath you.

4.)   What you feel matters. The report is in and you simply cannot believe what it is suggesting. Unfortunately, focus groups, donor research, target market surveys are rarely completely wrong. Here’s the big but, as the person responsible for driving the marketing efforts, the existing facts and your intuition , what you feel inside is also important. There are always elements of the report that you simply don’t believe. Understand that a research summary is interpreted from flat data. Its up to you to put each element into context. I did audience research once for a Christmas DVD product that literally suggested that 82% of the people we felt were the target market said “stop delivering your product.” And “if I saw your product on the shelf I would never buy it.” This was not a product that the target market said they neither wanted nor needed. But the product was 4 years old, generating revenue at margins that were incredible. Did we to stop delivering the product? No! But it did tell me that had a real issue; we were missing the correct target audience. Over time we were able to adjust our marketing and communications language to fit the proper target market correctly. The Jingle DVD enjoyed another 2 years of prolonged market success before we the eventual decline. So believe in the report but place it in context.

To recap when you enter a market research project, first define what you want to know, second, hire a good firm to help you. Third, engage in the process, don’t be a person to hand it off. And fourth believe the information but place in context.

I hope it has helped bring understanding to the importance of developing your audience. Remember no one can influence your product and your organization better than you.

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