Fresh eyes

Six steps to understanding your audience

Six steps to understanding your audience
Andrew Taylor Senior PR & Comms Manager

Published by Andrew Taylor,
PR & Communications Director at Freshfield

All successful marketing communication starts with a strong understanding of the target audience. If you’re not sure who you’re trying to communicate with, how can you expect to influence them?

Here’s six tried and trusted steps to defining your audience and ensuring you’re giving them the right message.

1. Ask your customers questions and LISTEN to them

Your existing customers and contacts can give you a great deal of valuable information, much of which you’ll be able to get for free.

For example, if you’re a business-to-business company, speak to your key clients and customers to get qualitative feedback. Ask them how they perceive you, whether they would promote you to others, what services they find most useful, how they like to receive information and what type of communication works for them. If you’re more of a business-to-consumer brand, with thousands of customers, you could get qualitative research by running a focus group, or if you wanted to capture more quantitative data, by asking for feedback through your website or an app.

Equally, you may be trying to tap into a new sector. If so, speak to industry bodies and trade publications to build up a better picture of your audience and the best way to reach it.

2. Mine data to visualise your customer

Research existing customer data or market research. Use as much data and intelligence as possible to build up a profile of your customer or client. This will provide valuable insights and inform your objectives. Ultimately, this process will underpin all marketing activity.

If you are building a target database to help gather your audience’s contact details, or running a campaign in partnership with a publication or trade body, ensure it is as ‘clean’ and current as practically possible. If it exists, check that you have data from previous campaigns about your customers’ and prospective customers’ behaviour to help inform the next one.

To further build a profile of your ‘typical’ or’ ideal’ customer, tools like Google Analytics, Trends and Adwords can help identify demographics about your website visitors and the search terms that are most popular for your products and services.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

To really identify your customers’ needs, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what would be of most interest and relevance if you were them. Do they have a genuine need for your services? What are the triggers behind purchasing decisions? Do they have disposable income? What time of day are they most active online?


If you are targeting people with health-conscious services or products, they may be more interested in practical tools and techniques to help them quit smoking, exercise more or eat better with some kind of incentive. For example, the above ‘Body as a Band’ campaign by Bupa wanted to target people in their twenties and thirties to get them thinking about their health. The online campaign featured an interactive music video featuring The Futureheads, which asked the audience to answer questions about their smoking, drinking and exercise habits. It allowed the audience to find out about how lifestyle changes could have a dramatic and positive impact on their long-term health, without preaching to them.

Consider the audience’s age range, gender, where they live even down to post code if it is a more local campaign and then what kind of activity is most likely to get them engaged.

4. Know their interests and habits

You can only choose the right channels, by defining and segmenting your audiences. This will determine how they like to receive their information and how it you can then communicate with them and the tactics of most relevance.

If your target audience is active on Facebook and the aim is to capture contact details to use for future marketing campaigns, then a competition designed for that demographic, like the one below, could work. Facebook advertising can be used to target your audience based on gender, age, location, likes and interests, so this helps to speed up the profiling and ensure you get best value from your budget.

You may have a much older target demographic, in which case you may choose to get your message across through more traditional means, such as print media, a direct mail piece or a personalised letter.

5. Be clear about what you want them to do

Once you begin communicating with your audience, your activity needs to be clear about its purpose. Is the aim to get a response with opinions on an issue of relevance, change behaviour, generate likes or follows on social media platforms or drive website traffic?

When issuing any form of collateral, whether literature, a video or a press release, think about a clear call to action you are asking from them whether to phone, e-mail or visit a website for more information.

6. Track, evaluate and inform

Keep track of activity as it progresses and design a measurement and evaluation model which fits the campaign.

Google Analytics can play an important role in tracking a visitor journey through the website. The impact of digital marketing activity – e-newsletters, advertising and social media initiatives – on website visits, enquiries and user demographics can also be measured over the life of a campaign.

A small focus group representative of the target audience can also be used to assess awareness of specific brands or products as well as changing attitudes.

If the programme is primarily media-focused, then there are media monitoring services which can track which of your target publications are covering your stories online and offline. With this information, you can also assess which key messages are being used and whether they are positive, negative or neutral.

Knowing your audience from the outset will ensure your activity is targeted and relevant, meaning you can then plan for the longer-term based on sound information and evidence rather than assumption.

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