Determining Research Direction: Letting the Audience Decide

by | Oct 15, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

The direction of your audience research can save your brand time and money.

What does it mean to know your audience?

Merriam-Webster defines “know” as “to have an understanding of.” But there are many ways to have an understanding of a brand’s audience. That understanding could range from a poor misunderstanding to a complete grasp of all the facts.

Most commonly, though, knowing your audience these days means reading the tea leaves by sifting through what can be overwhelming amounts of data.

While that’s good for a programmatic approach where you have dozens, hundreds, thousands of different clients, knowing your audience through data alone can be a hollow experience for all involved.

Although, how can you give the impression that you know each of your clients on a 1:1 basis? I’m not just talking about your marketing and sales team working together to target best-fit accounts; I’m not just talking about Account-Based Marketing (ABM)—no.

If you’re not using ABM, how would you “know” your audience? Research. Data. Audience intelligence tools.

via Tenor

Clearly, if your research is about the right subject, but about the wrong aspect of that subject, your marketing efforts will fall flat. For example, if you know the buying demographic for your product or service is female, but you’re researching the wrong age group, you’re going to need to refine your efforts.

A real life example may look like Dolce & Gabbana. In 2017, they promoted a line of sneakers with the brazen description, “I’m thin & gorgeous!,” written on them. Here, your target audience may indeed be “thin and gorgeous,” but those people aren’t the only ones who buy the shoes.

This underscores the need to know your audience.

In Dolce & Gabbana’s example, they knew their audience, but they disregarded the direction of their research; they didn’t account for the broader audience at large.

Get to Know Your Audience

There are ways to get to know your audience that will provide direction for your research.

Luckily, Ann Handley, in collaboration with C. C. Chapman, released a book called, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business. It supplies a few of the types of starter questions you should be asking yourself about your audience:

“Insight inspires originality. Know yourself better than anyone. Get your brand story straight, and give voice to your distinctive point of view based on your mission and attributes. Know your customers, too, and what keeps them up at night. What are their concerns and objectives? What do they care about? How will your brand help them in their daily lives?”

So Handley and Chapman agree that research is important. But they think it’s important for a reason you may not have expected. They believe research is important for creating content. And not merely content for content’s sake. This content must have value.

For instance, in what is an example of literally creating valuable content, consider McDonald’s. Until 2004, the company offered to supersize meals and beverages. But as their customer base shifted, new insights led them to innovate in a direction with healthier options. The McDonald’s team knew that their audience was shifting, and changed the direction of their research accordingly.

Just as knowing the broader audience can be (or would’ve been) helpful for your brand, as seen in the Dolce & Gabbana and McDonald’s examples, knowing specific segments can also dictate research direction. This move saved time and funding.

Because value isn’t the only benefit that comes from knowing your audience. It also increases the chances of you developing what Mark W. Shaefer calls an “Alpha Audience,” in his book The Content Code: Six Essential Strategies for Igniting Your Content.

The Alpha Audience are “superfans” that can be created when you earn the trust of your prospects and customers.

The Content Code says “Google research shows that these most loyal members of your audience are more than 250 percent more likely to transmit your content!”

You can find these “Alphas” by identifying those that have had at least one exposure to your content, and once pointed out, you ramp up the frequency of their exposure.

According to the book, once you pepper your prospective Alpha Audience with ad exposure, you give them something to aspire to. This aspiration may take the form of a success story to help them envision what they could be.

For example, take the male vitality brand, Nugenix–they’ve got this down to an art form. In a commercial for one of their products, they show you the athlete, Frank Thomas. To solidify the vision of who their audience could be, they do a couple of things:

  1. They introduce Thomas by having him appear in a suit–clothing equated to success
  2. Nugenix shows Thomas on a stationary bike and bench pressing–something that may be difficult for older men to keep up with.
  3. They show customers lifting and carrying furniture, further pushing the point that Nugenix provides energy and strength for practical purposes.

In short, to get the Alpha Audience, expose prospective Alphas to your ads and show them what they could be, as Nugenix has done. Getting an Alpha Audience can take time, but will save your brand precious resources.

To be excited–to get customers to see themselves your ads–that excitement begins with customers literally seeing an ad.

The first thing that customers see, in many cases, is usually the headline copy.

This is where the copywriting secrets of copywriting guru David Garfinkel come into the fold.

The Audience and Headline Copy

Audience research direction can heavily inform headline copy. In Garfinkel’s book, Breakthrough Copywriting: How to Generate Quick Cash with the Written Word, he presents a few directions your audience research can follow for headlines that generate steady sales.

The type of headline he suggests that you use appeals to prospects’ or customers’ sense of pride, in addition to how well you actually “know” them:

“For example, a landscaping service could say, “Have a Yard That You Can Be Proud Of.” Well, if you don’t have a yard, or if you’re already proud of your yard, you might laugh at that. But, if your yard looks like the Mojave Desert, and everyone else’s looks like a lush tropical jungle, that might really reach out to you.

So, the key thing here is you really need to get to know your customers better than you ever have before, and understand what’s on their minds.

You need to know:

What’s bothering them?
What are their secret hopes?
What are their dreams?
What are the things they complain about to their family when they finally let their hair down?

And you work that into your copy.”

For an example of how this would play out in marketing, I’ll cite Nugenix again. If you’re playing to a sense of pride, a male’s sense of “manhood” is a good way to do it. On the Nugenix website for their product, Nugenix Total-T, the headline reads, “Live Free With Nugenix.” Freedom is an excellent concept to take pride in or aspire to.

In part, a headline like the one Nugenix used above contributed to the company winning GNC’s Top Product of the Year Award for two years and counting in 2019.

Customer research can be a tough thing to do: you don’t know whether the direction you go with it will change based on what you find. So whether it’s knowing your audience well enough to pick out the Alphas, crafting an original headline inspired by insights, or asking the right questions, the importance of knowing your audience takes many forms.

Just make sure you’re facing the right direction.


Have you tried any of these audience research tips? Which one do you plan to try out first? Tell us in the chat below.

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MESH is a digital marketing agency that has pioneered Account-Based Marketing via our proprietary Outcome Driven Marketing (ODM) methodology. We keep our focus on tightly integrating (or MESHing) lead generation, inbound, and outbound methodologies. We help you understand the hidden levers that impact your customers’ buying decision process, develop the right marketing strategy for your unique business case, and effectively execute and measure all aspects of your Account-Based Marketing program.

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