How To Find Your Target Audience In Content Marketing
If you don’t understand your target audience, there is no sense bothering with content marketing.
I mean it. Just stop right now.
The truth is that good content marketing takes time – a lot of it – and you can’t afford to waste that time with content that isn’t perfectly focused on your target audience. You need to find your target audience, but how?
I wanted to share a few of the methods that we use here at CoSchedule for understanding our own target audience. They aren’t difficult, and some may even surprise you. You see, we’re pretty zealous about understanding our audience. It’s not that we are trying to be creepy or anything, but instead, we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help our customers and our audience.
We look at it in two ways:
- As we build our product, we want to make sure that we build a tool that our customers will actually use. This requires that we understand their problems and frustrations, particularly ones that we can solve.
- As we write our blog, we want to make sure that we create content that our audience will truly find useful. We don’t just want a share or a click out of you. We want you to trust us as a knowledgeable and go-to resource.
To do these two things, we need to understand our target audience. It’s as simple as that.
How do we go about it? First we take a unique approach that I call ‘finding your content core.’
Finding Your Content Core
The purpose of the content core exercise is to understand the difference between what you do, and what you need to talk about.
One of the big mistakes that early content marketers make is to talk about themselves and their product, rather than the things that their users really care about. This is a huge misunderstanding of what it means to find your target audience.
Of course, your product is helpful to your customers, but that doesn’t mean that it will also be helpful to your blog audience, that group of potential customers who are probably interested in a much greater variety of topics.
Visually, the content core looks something like this:
At the center of your content is what you do. At CoSchedule, we make editorial calendar software, so this is a combination of social media and content scheduling topics. For our customers, we solve problems such as:
- Providing a single interface for scheduling both blog and social media content.
- Displaying an upcoming publishing schedule on a visualized monthly calendar.
- Allowing users to re-schedule content via simple drag-and-drop.
- Facilitating team communication and an effective workflow.
- Providing a tool that helps them save time and grow their blog traffic.
These are things we should certainly write about on our blog, but it’s not all we write about. In fact, it’s not even what we write about most of the time. We spend most of our time writing about the ideas that surround these topics. This the big idea behind ‘expanding our content core.’ As we move away (ever so slightly) from our content core and focus on what our target audience really wants to hear about, we improve the effectiveness of our content marketing and better focus on our target audience’s needs.
At the same time, this method will also help us keep the topics we are writing about connected to our true topical focus.
At CoSchedule, this brings us to topics like:
- Tips and tricks for using social media to effectively promote your content.
- How to optimize your team’s workflow and communication.
- Advice on how to create better, and more shareable, content marketing.
- Ideas on how to create a better, and more engaging, blog.
These topics tackle the problems that our product already addresses, but in a new way that is specifically geared for what our target audience cares about. The question is: what do your readers really care about? There are several easy ways to find out.
10 Ways To Find Your Target Audience
Before CoSchedule ever launched, we began trying to understand who our target audience was. Here are a few of the tools that we use regularly to keep our understanding sharp.
1. Create Reader Personas
In an early planning meeting, we came up with a few Lean UX-type user personas that were designed to help us solve problems our CoSchedule users actually need solved.
This was conducted as a team exercise, and was tremendously useful in our process. Looking back, we weren’t always right about what our users cared about, but it was a solid place to build from. Now, we frequently advocate the development of reader personas for your own blog.
These reader personas seek to document the real motivations and curiosities that empower your readers. By identifying them, you will better able to find your target audience when the time comes.
2. Conduct User Surveys Regularly
We use a free product called Survey.io to conduct users surveys about our product on a regular basis.
Everyone who ever creates a CoSchedule account will be asked to participate in the survey. This has been a great tool that helps us maintain a constant pulse on what our users are thinking. From this, we can translate that feedback into a deeper understanding of our target audience.
3. Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics actually has a ton of data about your audience if you know how to find it.
Julie, one of our writers here at CoSchedule, broke this down wonderfully in a recent post. She also developed a handy dashboard that anyone can add to their Google Analytics account instantly to get these same stats.
4. Dig Into Your Facebook Insights
Facebook provides every Page owner with a powerful set of insights (analytics) that are free for you to use anytime you want. From here, you can quickly determine the demographic of your most active users and determine the topics that they share in common.
5. Connect To Your Twitter Followers Dashboard
Twitter also provides an excellent followers dashboard that you can access if you sign up for a Twitter Ads account.
This dashboard does an excellent job of telling you what your followers are interested in – specifically listing common topics and other Twitter accounts that your followers have in common. This is powerful information that goes way beyond the usual demographic details.
6. Champion A Blog Reader Survey
Each year, blogger Michael Hyatt conducts a survey of his blog readers as a way to keep tabs on who they are, and what they want to hear about on his blog.
Once the survey results are compiled, Michael shares his insights with his readers, which always results in great discussion that serves to both confirm and/or refute his assumptions. This is one of the most proactive ways to understand your blog’s target audience that I have found, and Michael has developed a great model that anyone can implement.
7. Follow Your Readers’ Activity
Which social networks do your readers share your content on the most?
This little tidbit of information can actually tell you a lot about what they like and want to hear about. Recently, when we analyzed nearly 1 million headlines in the CoSchedule system, we found that the tone and topics covered on each network varied wildly. These simple hints provide clues about who you are writing for, and help you find your target audience.
8. Monitor Your Best (And Worst) Posts
Looking back to Google Analytics, it should be easy for you to find your best and worst posts for each week or month.
At CoSchedule, we compile a traffic report at the conclusion of the month that does just this. We use both total shares and pageviews as a way to determine a post’s overall popularity. By comparing the posts that did well versus the posts that performed poorly, we can get better insight into what our readers really want to be hearing about.
9. Ask Them Using An Automated Email
When users subscribe to one of our email mailing lists, they are automatically added to an email queue that will ping them about 30 days after they sign up to see if they are enjoying our content. The purpose of this email is to solicit a response that usually generates meaningful conversation if the reader has something to share. We also use this tactic frequently with the users of our application.
By engaging with your audience personally, you can develop a relationship and an open channel for communication and feedback.
10. Reply. Reply. Reply.
You can also learn a lot by being an active member in your own community.
At CoSchedule, we make a huge effort to reply to every tweet, share, or comment that we receive. This is a lot of extra work for us, but it keeps us in touch with our readers and constantly helps us understand what they are interested in and motivated by.
Finding Your Target Audience Isn’t Science
One of the things that gets stressful when identifying a target audience is the presence of demographics.
These insights frequently include the age, sex, and location of your target audience. While these statistics are valuable, they are often very difficult to quantify in terms of what you should or should not be writing about on your blog. This is something that you need to guard against.
Rather than focusing on WHO they are, it might be helpful to focus on what they are struggling with instead. For example:
- What they want to do better?
- What actually motivates them be better?
- What keeps them awake at night?
Content marketing is about trading your readers’ time and attention for helpful and useful information. When you go about finding your target audience, be sure to take this approach rather than just chasing shallow demographics.
A Story About ‘Getting Out Of The Building’
One of the early lessons that we learn here at CoSchedule was that it simply isn’t enough to ask our readers a question or two via a survey. That method can be mechanical and too far removed from what people really want to say, missing the deep emotional information you are looking for. So, in addition to all of these other methods, it is also helpful (and necessary) to “get out of the building.” In other words – talk to your readers face to face.
Depending on your location, this may be harder than it sounds. At CoSchedule, we conducted most of our face-to-face interviews over a Google+ Hangout, but that didn’t make them any less valuable.
As a blogger, you can easily choose a few frequent readers to interview in a one-on-one setting. You will be surprised at how accommodating and willing to talk most of them are. Once you get them talking, you will also be surprised at how helpful they can be.
A great example of this is a line that we use on our own features page – “being an editor is a lot like herding cats.” This great line came straight from the mouth of one of our users during an interview. It hit the nail on the head, and immediately became a major part of our marketing message. To this day, it is still one of our most powerful taglines, and has even been repeated by dozens of customers in their review of CoSchedule.
That’s a major win!
Don’t merely settle for stats and numbers when you attempt to find your target audience. Your audience isn’t stats and numbers, they are people. The beauty of the web is that you can understand and reach them with helpful and insightful content that is targeted directly at them.