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Audience Research: 8 Proven Tactics and Tools To Understand Your People


How well do you know your target audience? Understanding who you’re trying to reach is vital to effective marketing. So is knowing what information is relevant to your audience and how they prefer to communicate.

Industry experience and intuition can be a starting point, but fight the urge to make broad assumptions about your audience. Something that may have been true about them years ago may have changed more recently.

Audience research is a valuable and ongoing practice to better understand and appreciate the people our business serves. There’s no one-size-fits-all research approach, but we’ve compiled a few key tactics to get you started.

1. Public Data

There are several free websites that have compiled population and demographic data. This information can be used to gain a broad understanding of your audience. 

Here are a few websites to check out:

Remember that this data is generalized and far from personalized to your audience. It takes time to comb through these numbers to find what’s relevant for your people. Public data is a helpful starting place but usually requires a deeper dive using other sources.

2. Audience Surveys

Want to learn more about your audience? Try asking them directly using a survey.

Surveys are valuable feedback tools, however, that’s also why they’re overused. The average person is asked to do a survey daily. And most of them ignore these requests because they don’t see any value for them.

If you want people to complete your surveys, remember to keep them short and be willing to offer a small incentive for their time. More importantly, craft the questions carefully so you can implement their feedback. There’s no value in a survey that gets ignored.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Typeform.

3. Focus Groups

Larger companies organize focus groups to collect live feedback from a representative group. Focus groups test everything from new products to upcoming movies and political candidates. However, they also require a heavy investment of time and resources.

For this reason, focus groups aren’t a feasible option for most small businesses. You might be able to get more informal responses from sharing new ideas with family and friends. Just remember that this feedback could be biased or incomplete.

Thankfully, video conferencing tools like Zoom have made focus groups slightly easier to organize. No matter where the meeting is held, be sure to take extensive notes and ask follow-up questions. 

4. Conversational Interviews

Rather than speaking to a group of people all at once, consider doing conversational interviews with individual audience members one at a time. This process could take you longer or not provide as broad of a perspective. However, these conversations can be more informal and easier to organize.

Some businesses will choose to do conversational interviews with current customers. You can also mix in former clients or prospective leads. Some questions to consider asking include:

  • Why did you consider doing business with us?
  • What problem were you looking to solve?
  • How and where did you look for solutions?
  • What information helped make your decision?
  • What would you tell someone else considering working with us?

Some clients might give slanted answers because you’re representing the business. Encourage them to be open and honest, and don’t get defensive if they point out something negative. These are opportunities for your business to improve.

These interviews follow a similar pattern to a case study interview. If the narrative is compelling, ask the client if they would let you share it with others.

5. Search Trends

Similar to public data, some tools collect information about what keywords and topics people are searching for online. Some of these are from search engines, while others gather data from social media platforms.

Many of these tools are free or at least have free options. Try them out to see which ones work for your business. They each offer different information which can be compiled into a more complete picture of what’s happening in your industry or environment.

6. User Behavior

How are users interacting with your current marketing? Examining user behavior data will present a smaller data set, but it’s completely customized to your business. And it should be readily accessible, assuming you’ve been capturing it properly.

Here are a few tools we recommend using to capture this information:

These insights help you understand what pages people visit on your website, and what content is most relevant to them. Use this information to optimize your website and content strategy. You can also use your findings from offline interviews for ideas on new content to create.

7. Online Reviews

People offer their opinions about businesses every day through online reviews. This is a highly public way to share their sentiments and feedback. Other potential customers use this information to make purchasing decisions, but you can use it to improve your business.

Take the needed steps to control your online reputation and respond to these reviews. This also gives you insights into how customers think and their concerns. No one wants a negative rating, but each one is an opportunity to get better.

8. Your Competition

Don’t forget about the businesses that have (roughly) the same target audience as you—your competition. Yes, you do have competitors and they’re not automatically the enemy. Instead, they can provide some insights about your shared audience.

Do some research about your competitors. What content are they sharing? How is their website structured? Which social media platforms are they active on? Which accounts do they follow?

Don’t automatically copy their every move, but studying them might give you new ideas on what to try with your business. You certainly want to stand out from the crowd, but you can also put your own spin on what’s already working in your industry.

Still Need Help with Audience Research?

Even with the right tools and tips, effective audience research takes time—which may be time you don’t have to invest. Audience research is a significant part of the messaging strategy process that GreenMellen does for many of our marketing clients. If you’re interested in getting a messaging strategy completed to point your marketing in the right direction, reach out to us today to start the conversation.

About the Author

Robert Carnes

Marketing Manager

Robert Carnes is a freelance writer, published author, and professional marketer. His book, The Story Cycle, is your business's guide to becoming a better marketer. Robert lives in Atlanta and you can follow him on social media @jamrobcar.

View Robert's Profile

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