If you don’t know who you are talking to, it’s hard to speak their language.
If you have ever worked in marketing or taken a marketing course, you’ve likely heard of personas. Personas are essentially fictional representations of your ideal customer. To create personas, companies typically use data about their existing customers combined with market research. The biggest problems with personas are that they are also often built on a lot of assumptions and many marketing teams rely on them too heavily. While there is certainly value in combing the data and making educated guesses, I worry that strict reliance on personas can ironically dehumanize your messaging.
However, if you combine the data and research with real interaction with your customers, you’re more likely to get a complete and accurate picture of their needs. And ultimately, their needs (not stock characteristics) are what prompts them to purchase your product or service. It’s also important to realize that those needs are layered. When you understand both the superficial needs and the underlying needs of your ideal customers then you’re in a much better place. With that knowledge, you can write and speak in ways that motivate them to do business with you and build affinity with your brand.
Here are some steps you can take to better understand your target audience so that you can strengthen your brand’s messaging.
1) Capture data, identify trends.
While the data can’t provide you a complete picture, it is a perfectly good place to begin. Through Google Analytics you can uncover important demographic information including the geographic distribution of your current customer base, their gender and age breakdown, and the technology they use to consume your content. You can also find out how they interact with your website. Be sure to also tap into inventory logs and other data that your business gathers to learn more about your customers’ purchasing behaviors, where they live, and more.
2) Live the customer experience.
When I say live it, I mean live it. Come up with a need and then visit your website and try to satisfy it. Go through all the steps and figure out what information might be useful that’s missing. Next, visit your brick and mortar store with the same goal. Determine where the experience soars and where it falls flat. Notice things like: Are there issues with finding parking? Do the displays help or hinder you in finding what you need? Can you find customer service specialists easily to assist with any questions?
3) Talk to your current clients and customers.
It involves some legwork, but I guarantee that taking the time to connect directly with your current customers will pay off big time. You’re bound to experience some “ah-ha moments,” provided you ask the right questions and commit to listening with an open mind. Use the information you gained from Steps 1 and 2 to inform the questions you ask. If you need help getting started, be sure to download the free focus group question guide at the end of this post!
Remember that as you gather information in this way, you are also strengthening relationships with your customers and hopefully turning them into brand ambassadors. People love sharing their opinions and feeling like insiders.
4) Stop, lurk, and listen.
Now that you have talked to some current clients and customers, hopefully, you have a better sense of where they spend their time. Make a list of both online destinations (like blogs, social media groups, and the like) and physical locations where your ideal clients are likely to congregate. Spend some time keeping abreast of the topics, discussions, and trends that bubble up in these places. If you profess to be a community-centered shop but aren’t getting the newsletter from the town library or following the community affairs committee on social media, you’re missing huge opportunities. Being in the know allows you to tailor your own content to the needs and current mindsets of your customers.
5) Do a deep dive into the underlying needs.
By this point, you’ve likely identified your target audience’s major needs. While many stop here, there’s a huge benefit to going a bit beyond the surface. People want to feel heard and understood, not “marketed to.” If you have the empathy to dig beyond their obvious need to get at the root cause of their need, you can craft messages and content that speak to them on an emotional level. For instance, you might sell a line of smudge-proof lipsticks. Let’s say you have identified your target audience as “working moms between the ages of 30 and 50” and the basic need is “a lipstick that’s fast and easy to apply and will stay put all day.” That’s a great starting point, but if you peel back the layers further you can be more effective. Ask yourself: What’s the need behind the basic need? It might be “to feel attractive and put-together, even on days when everything else falls apart.” By understanding that deeper need you can craft your messages with more nuance and sensitivity.
6) Identify who you aren’t talking to and . . . don’t talk to them.
It can be tempting to try to address every possible person who may in some specific circumstance need your product or service. I caution you against this. You’re only going to dilute your messages by trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, identify the most important people you are trying to reach and target your messages specifically to them. If you have more than one type of ideal customer, you will need to address this in how you organize your website content, segment your email messages, or target your direct mail pieces. However, beyond that, trust that you know your current target audience and focus your energy on them. Remember, as your business grows and evolves you can always go through this process again.
Ready to get to work on this month’s challenge? Click here to sign up for emails and get access a free list of focus group questions to get you started with Step 3!