In a single sentence, describe your ideal customer. Where do they hang out online? What are their biggest problems? How often do you talk to them? Don’t rely on assumptions. Consciously focus on your customers by creating content that serves their needs and beats the competition.
Today’s guest is Shondell Varcianna from Varci Media, a content writing company that helps financial institutions save time by writing content that speaks to their target audience. Shondell and her team have transformed their clients blogs into a solution provider for their customers, and on this episode, she'll explain how you can do the same. She shares effective and easy-to-follow advice to improve audience research without extra time and resources.
Ben: Hi, Shondell. How is it going this morning?
Shondell: I'm good. Thank you so much for having me.
Ben: Absolutely. Excited to have you on the show. Before we get too far along, would you mind introducing yourself to our audience and explaining what you do at Varci Media?
Shondell: My name is Shondell Varcianna. I'm the owner and CEO of Varci Media. We're a content writing company for financial institutions. We write blog posts and newsletters for banks, credit unions, and mortgage companies.
Ben: Very cool. Something we're going to talk about in this episode is understanding your target audience and your target customer. I think this is something that most marketers, most businesses probably think they have a good handle on, but might not have as good of a handle on it as what they think.
At a basic level, why is it important to understand who your real target audience is and who your real target customer is? On a real granular level, why is it important to have a detailed understanding of exactly who you're trying to reach?
Shondell: Because you can't really offer something to someone that you don't know. Just at the basic level, if I know of you but I don't know you, how can I offer you anything? I don't really know what you want. Just knowing who your customer is gives you the opportunity to serve them at the highest level. And the more you know them, the better you are able to serve them.
That's why knowing who they are—you almost have to know them as well as you know your friends to serve them at the highest level because it's not just about you selling your products or selling your services. It's about you providing a solution to whatever problem your target customer has. You can only solve problems for people that you know.
That's establishing relationships with them, getting to know them, who they are, what they want, what questions they have, what problems are they trying to solve, and if you are the right person to help them get from A to B. That's why it's important—just so you can serve them. You can't really serve someone you don't know anything about.
Ben: Sure. If you don't get this step right, literally everything else that you do is going to be a little bit off.
Shondell: Yes, it will be. Because then, you're going to be throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it sticks. That strategy never works. When you focus on a particular group of people, marketing becomes so much easier when you really get to know who your customers are because then you only market based on what it is they want. It makes it easier to track versus just trying to do everything and hoping that something works.
If you take the time upfront to get to know who your ideal customer is, your work to try to get them as customers is so much easier because you're basing it off of who they are, what they want, who you are, and what you have to offer them.
Ben: Sure, makes sense. For our audience, for marketers who are listening to this episode, how would you recommend they get started on doing more detailed audience research in order to really understand their target customer? I think I know who my target customer is, but if you're not sure, you don't necessarily have data or firm research to back up your assumptions, where do you start? What's the first thing you do?
Shondell: There are so many ways to get to know who your audience is. Of course, you want to know who it is you want to target first, naturally, and then just go where they are. If they are on forums, show up on those forums and see what they're talking about.
Chances are your target audience is somewhere on Facebook. Facebook Groups are huge for determining what your target audience wants, what they're talking about, what they're thinking about. There are Facebook Groups for everything, so a lot of ideal customers are on Facebook in these groups.
For example, we service financial institutions, and their target audience is in a whole bunch of Facebook Groups. There are first-time home buyer Facebook Groups, there are rental property Facebook Groups, there are apartment-investing Facebook Groups. Depending on exactly who they want to target in the home-buying sector, I always tell them to task somebody to go inside.
If you want to target first-time home buyers, there are a ton of Facebook Groups for first-time home buyers. I tell them to task someone to go into the top three Facebook Groups that have the most people, most engagement, and just sit back and listen to what people are saying because what they are talking about, you'll start to see patterns in what people's common problems are. You should be creating content to address those problems that people are talking about in the groups.
Once you sit back and you're observing what's happening in these groups, then the next step is to engage with the people that are making these comments, having these questions. If you can provide value in these groups, you do that. Then you start to get your brand out there more, and then they'll come over to your Facebook page and like it.
On your Facebook page, you should have a bunch of content based on what they're talking about in the groups. Then, you could take it a step further, create content for your website, and match that with keywords that people are searching for on Google. Now you can create content on your website that is also answering the questions in the Facebook group, and tie into the keywords people are searching for in Google. Now, you have a holistic approach to how you are creating content for your ideal customer.
But the first thing is definitely to sit back and just observe what they're talking about, look for patterns, and then try to match that into what people are searching for on Google. You don't even need to do all of that. I'm just giving you a more holistic, more top-level approach on how you want to serve your customers, how you want to find out what's on their minds, and what they are thinking.
This is something that you continuously do because your ideal customer changes, and you want to know when they change. Are they asking different questions? Do they have different problems? You want to constantly be part of their journey so that you can help them along their journey and provide them with your products and services.
Ben: Something that's interesting about that with Facebook Groups is some people or some marketers might think, well, my business or my niche is too narrow, too obscure, too boring, too whatever for there to be a community around this thing. But if you're selling a service or a product, obviously, someone needs it, and obviously, those people belong to a community of some sort somewhere.
Shondell: That's just one example. There are forums. For example, my ideal customer is not really on Facebook, they're on LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn every single day, connecting with my ideal customer. I have a LinkedIn Sales Navigator. I connect with 10 people every single day that are my ideal customers. I save their profile, so that every time they comment on LinkedIn, I get notified. Then, I spend 20 minutes every day engaging in their posts. If I could provide value, I will do that so they constantly see me. I'm also posting valuable stuff on my LinkedIn profile. I take a holistic approach on LinkedIn simply because that's where my ideal customers are.
The point I was making at the beginning is you want to show up wherever they are. If they're not on Facebook—I use Facebook because Facebook has a lot of different industries' ideal customers, but wherever your target audience is is where you want to be. You'll have to find out where they are and then you need to show up where they are consistently.
Ben: Absolutely. I think that's great advice. If I'm not exactly sure where those people might be—think Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, forums are some pretty simple but pretty effective examples, very logical places to start. But if I really feel like I'm at a loss, say I'm a marketer at a company but as an individual, let's say I'm nothing like my target customers at all and so I have no idea what those people do on the Internet. Where would you advise that I begin doing my homework to figure out where those people might be?
Shondell: Ask. If you know anybody who is your target customer, just ask them. Are you on Twitter most often or do you go to forums? Are they mainly offline? Maybe they're part of different associations. Can you join a local association? Just ask them. If you know a couple of people that would be your ideal customer, ask them where they hang out, what do they do for fun, what kind of podcast do they listen to.
That's another reason why I started doing podcasts because my ideal customers listen to podcasts so why not come on podcasts. That's a way for me to increase my brand. The reason why I know some of them listen to podcasts is because I've asked. Just ask them, where they hang out, what they do. If you're at a complete loss, you'll have to figure out a way to find some of them.
Everyone is accessible on social media—everybody. I connect with strangers every single day on social media. I do, I'm a people person, I like talking to people, and I don't take no personally. If they say no, I don’t want to talk to you, or if they don't connect with me, okay. Let's move on to the next person. Just ask them. Connect with them on social media, and just ask. The more people you ask, you'll again start to see patterns.
Okay, the last five people told me they're on Twitter all the time, or the last five people told me they're on Facebook. Okay, you're on Facebook, are you part of any groups on Facebook? Are you part of any forums? Are you part of any agency groups?
Just ask them questions and you'll get the answers to what you're looking for. You'll just be able to dig deeper and deeper until you have an idea of where they hang out. Then, you could figure out how you can insert yourself into where they are to provide them enough value and get your name out there in front of them.
Ben: The tip that Shondell shares that seems so obvious when you hear it and yet are so important and probably underutilized are to just ask people for answers to questions you might have. If you don't know where your target audience hangs out online, just ask one of your customers. They'll tell you.
If there's literally anything about them that you don't know that you feel would be important for you to know, seriously, just ask. Run a survey, create a Twitter poll, get someone on the phone. There are a million different things that you can do to get that information. Just because something seems simple, or because something isn't complex, or reinventing the wheel in any way doesn't mean that the insights that you can learn from doing those things are any less valuable.
Sometimes, I feel like audience research can feel like it's got to be this big, complex thing. It can be, but there's a lot that you can learn from doing some of those real, simple things right now. Now, back to Shondell.
We've covered why it's important to really know who your audience is, and don't operate under assumptions—actually know. Why is it important to understand or to ensure that your content is also narrowly-focused on that target audience and not so broad that it ends up speaking to no one?
Shondell: Because that's going to help them get to know you and determine whether or not they want to do business with you. It's the value of the content that you are providing them that's going to inform them, educate them, inspire them, make them laugh. That's part of them getting to know who you are so that they can build that like, know, and trust factor to determine whether or not they even want to buy your product or your service. Because if they don't like you, obviously, they're not going to buy your product.
The content is to help them to get to know you, help them to get to like you, and help them to get to trust you. Those are the three things that are needed for people to buy from you. That's what content does if you are consistent with it over a period of time, then it's just part of building that brand. You want people to feel good when they think of you, and they will feel good if they think of you based on the value that you're providing them, based on the content that you're putting in front of them consistently.
Ben: On the flip side, what's the danger in creating content that is too broadly-focused or maybe content that attracts people who actually don't fit what might be an ideal customer for you?
Shondell: You can confuse the people who you're trying to target. A confused mind doesn't buy. That's not mine, I don't even know whose that is, but that's a common quote.
I always say content that speaks to everyone is content that speaks to no one, at the end of the day. Because if you are too broad with your content and it's not speaking to who you want it to speak to, then they're just going to go somewhere else, look for content that does speak to them, and forget your content. That's why it's so important to really know who your audience is—so you can speak to them.
If you and I are friends and I know you don't like McDonald's, I'm not going to talk to you about McDonald's. That's a very simple example. When people feel like you know them as a brand, they feel like they're a part of your family, they feel like they're a part of you. That makes people comfortable, that makes people want to buy from you. The consistency of that is what helps people to get to like you more.
That's why you want to know your audience. It's the connection, it’s the relationship that you're building over a period of time is what you really want.
Ben: Once you've got those two components down, you know who your audience is, you know where they hang out, you know what their pain points are, their likes, dislikes, and all these other things. You understand that your content needs to narrowly focus on those folks and not chase after search volume for SEO or not do things that just inflate your numbers but don't drive sales.
Once you've got your head wrapped around all of that, when a marketer is actually sitting down to work out a content strategy to appeal to those audiences—maybe going beyond just simple keyword research—what can they do to really stack the odds in their favor that the content that they're creating is actually going to resonate with that audience? What can you do to try as best you can to ensure that that content is going to be successful before you hit publish?
Shondell: By knowing exactly what the pain points are. If people are asking specific questions. For example—just giving you examples from my niche—if a lot of people are having a hard time qualifying for a mortgage because their FICO score is too low, then address that, talk about that. What can they do to increase their score?
It is the information that they're even getting accurate. Just because they think that their score has to be 600, what if you have a program that requires their score to be less? Talk about that. You want to educate them if they are having a hard time in one area. Bring light to that situation by saying, this is not true, this is not accurate information, this is what we offer, you can try this.
That is providing value because you know they're talking about something. If you're going to educate them on that, over time, when they're ready, they'll raise their hand and say, you know what, I didn't know that. I thought it was 600, and you said it only has to be 550—I'm just making this up. Can I talk to you about an application?
There you go, that's a lead right there. Definitely, you want to know what their pain points are, you want to know what problems they're having, and figure out a way to answer those through your content. That could be through video, through infographics, through the written word, through audio. You can get creative with how you create content. Netflix creates content. Content is not just the written word. It's pretty much information that you're providing to your ideal customer, being where they are non-stop, and getting in front of them non-stop.
Radio is content, TV commercials are content. Regardless of the arena that you take to get in front of them, it should resonate with them. It can only resonate with them if you developed enough of a relationship with them to know what it is they like and what they don't like. You got to speak to them based on how they speak. It really is about getting to know them.
We're in a time right now where people want authenticity. Especially with what's happening in the world, people really want to know that you genuinely care about them. You're not just about the money, but you actually want to help them.
That is what long-lasting relationships will do when you're really authentic and you really care about them. That brings in more business because they're obviously going to tell their friends, their family about you if you're helping them.
The focus is always how could I help you, and if I can't help you, do I know someone who can? That's the mindset we need to be in as marketers is what can I do for you, how could I provide value to you?
Ben: Absolutely. Agreed 100%. There's been this shift—it seems like in marketing—between marketing primarily being something that disrupts someone's day versus something that becomes a part of someone's lifestyle, if that makes sense. That sounds like what you're advocating for.
Shondell: Exactly. You don't want to disrupt. What's happening in this world right now is just very sad. People are losing loved ones all the time. Understanding where someone is and being a part of their journey makes the sales process seamless because you're coming from a place of understanding versus a place of wanting.
You'll always get what you want when you put the other person first, always. When you're thinking about how you can help the other person, you'll always get what you want. People appreciate that because you're making it about them, not about you.
Ben: Absolutely, 100%. Shondell, this is great. I really appreciate you coming on the show to share your insights with our audience here. I really think that in the course of this conversation, we've really been able to touch on a lot of things that marketers know that they want but struggle to achieve.
It really all does come down to having an authentic understanding of your audience. All of these other benefits that you've outlined seems like that's really where everything begins.
Shondell: Yes, that is where it begins, and that creates loyalty too. You having a relationship with somebody will create that loyalty versus I'm just going to get your product because of price. They'll just leave because of the price, too.
If you create that sense of relationship, if you build that relationship with your customers, and you really get to know them—do social media and so forth, or wherever they are—that helps to bring the right customers to you. Because nobody wants customers that are just going to come to you solely based on price. Like I said, they'll leave because of the price.
If they're coming to you because you really cared about them, you really helped them, you really showed them that it's possible to get into their dream home in my niche, then they'll appreciate that and they'll come back to you for the refinance. They'll tell their sister when their sister's ready to buy the house. They'll tell you when they're ready to sell their house and buy another house.
That's what you want. You want that long-lasting relationship because if you can sell multiple services that you have to one person, that's so much easier than trying to get new customers all the time. That's something you want to take into consideration as well. One person can give you so much business if you create the right relationship with them.
Ben: Absolutely. Like I said, this has been great. Before I let you go, is there anything else you'd like to leave our audience with through any parting thoughts you'd like to share?
Shondell: Nothing besides take the time to get to know your ideal customer because it'll be worth it in the long run for you. That's just definitely the biggest takeaway. Facebook Groups are huge for that. If they're not on Facebook Groups, check forums, check local associations. Just think outside of the box and think where they are. If you don't know, just ask them where they go to get information on whatever product you have or whatever service you have. How do they choose a company for your particular service?
Just ask them. Just come out and ask them. That will give you some idea of what direction to take.
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.