“What should we be telling our audience?” That’s the first question business owners in search of marketing advice ask me. “Depends,” I’d often answer, “Who is your audience, anyway?”
You first need to know who you’re trying to connect to in order to have a viable marketing strategy. It sounds like a no-brainer and that’s why I didn’t get around to writing this post for a long time. Surely people know who their users are, right? Right?
Turns out that the same question pops over and over and over again. And so, it’s high time that I share with you my process for audience research.Do you know who your audience is? Build your buyer persona through data. Here are the tools, tactics, and templates you'll need for audience research.Click To Tweet
Buyer personas, customer avatars, archetypes, jobs-to-be-done, and more
At this point, I’ve gone through so much content on audience research that I’m not sure what I’m creating any more. I’ve tried to get the best of all worlds. It looks like the love-child of the classic buyer persona profile and the Jobs-to-be-done methodology. The reason behind this is two-pronged:
- Buyer personas are specific enough so that you will have a mental model of your audience that’s easy to understand. It comes naturally to people. If you sit down to write a blog post, it’s easier to write for one person than women from high-income households, urban, 25-34. So having a buyer persona lets you pass a simple test – will this content help Mary Buyer or not? Will she like it? The persona is your quality criteria.
- Jobs-to-be-done helps you get rid of all the typical buyer persona bullet points that don’t matter to you. So what if Mary is 33 or 45? Does that really matter if you’re selling her a B2B booking system for her family-owned hotel? JTBD puts a laser focus on the one thing that matters the most – what your audience is trying to achieve.
So the way I work on the process consists of two stages. First, find out everything available about the customer’s profile. Second, focus on the jobs they need doing, the ways they evaluate alternatives and the anxieties they have.
Let’s focus on the ways we can get all this information together.
Google Analytics for demographics and interests
If you already have an audience, the easiest place to start is with your own web properties. I’ve already written more on the topic, but here’s the skinny. GA will give you a bunch of data on:
- General Interests
Not just how many, but how engaged
Looking at these stats in Analytics helps you see what the predominant audience is. More importantly, it lets you know who’s engaged. It may turn out that the 25-34-year olds are more numerous, but the ones converting are actually in the 45-54 age group. There’s a reason Analytics reports have more than one column – use them all! Here’s an example – French, German, and Italian visitors might be more, but the conversion rate is higher for Bulgaria, Spain, and Poland:
Check the traffic composition, but also make sure you know who engages with the content and what’s your conversion rate for different groups.
Demographics can inform your marketing and content
These data points can be used for much more than creating a believable buyer persona. You can use interests data when selecting media sites to advertise on, or location data when looking at what events to sponsor.
Knowing what your audience is interested in will also help you create more engaging content. Here’s an example. Some time back I was working on a product that combined content from different sources and topics. We saw our users are predominantly male and techy, also focused on sci-fi, fantasy… nerd stuff. So, when Comic-Con came, we wrote a blog post explaining how you can get all the event news in one place. We showcased different features of the product with a real-life example relevant to our users. It made for more appealing and useful content, not just a regular feature post.
Facebook for interests and influences
You can learn a lot about a person by their favorite brand of shoes. If you’re an online business, however, you can’t see what shoes users wear when visiting your store (and even if you could, they’d probably be at home in slippers, which doesn’t tell you a lot, but I digress). That’s where Facebook’s Audience Insights comes in.
Find out more about your fans and website visitors
If you already have a set audience on Facebook, like the people engaging with your page, you can see what they are like. The reports show you audience composition, but also the differentiation from everyone else on Facebook. You’ll get information on:
- Interests (Page Likes)
- Relationship status
- Education level
- Devices used
- Household income and size, buying behavior, and more (US audiences only)
Find out more about the industry’s typical buyers
Even if you don’t have your own audience yet, you can put in competing brands or general interests to get information about the target market. Here’s how that works if you’re looking at what coffeeholics look like:
The interesting bits here come when we look at the Page Likes tab. You can see what media this audience reads, what places they frequent, who are the celebrities they follow and much more. Again, doing this research does not only lets you have a better idea of who your audience is. It informs advertising decisions, content ideas, and more.
We recently used Facebook Audience insights to find out what are the typical readers of an online tech media. We split the audience into three different personas. We knew where these guys shop, what other media they read, what types of devices they’d be interested in reading about. Even what shows they watch on Netflix and what beer they drink while doing it! It became easier to focus on writing for three readers than “the audience”.
Here are a couple of useful articles on how Facebook Audience Insights works and what audiences you should run through it.
LinkedIn for business visitors
If you’re B2B-focused, then the tool you’d like to add to your quantitative buyer persona analysis is LinkedIn Website Demographics. Collecting data here is slower as you don’t have access to stats until you get a specific amount of website visitors recognized by LinkedIn’s pixel. But, technicalities aside, the information you’ll get is very useful. You’ll have access to:
- Company industry
- Company size
- Company name (!)
- Job title
Here’s an example of what reports you’ll get. To get access to the demographic data, you’ll have to be an advertiser on the platform.
If you’ve never done LinkedIn ads, you don’t need to actually spend any money. Just add your payment details, create a dummy ad and pause the campaign right after. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
When you don’t have your own audience
Sometimes I’ll be doing exploratory research at the beginning of a project or looking for general customer behavior. That’s where I’d use general population stats. Frankly, that’s not my favorite approach, as it can be very broad. But hey, you may not have the luxury of working with a niche target or an already set audience.
Consumer Barometer for user journey behavior
You know how the rule of thumb is that everyone is now on mobile? Well, turns out that 91% of users in my country use desktops for product research. Google’s Consumer Barometer lets you explore such great insights into the user journey and what each point of it entails. You’ll get a general understanding of your (future) audience’s behavior.
Did you know New Zealand makeup shoppers don’t do online pre-purchase research 81% of the time? You might want to forward that marketing budget away from mobile…
PopulationPyramid for getting that demographic info
Many businesses don’t rely on one specific demographic. But if you will, you can look into population trends with PopulationPyramid. The site is very specialized in one type of data but does its job very well. You can look into current and future population composition, trends, historical data and more.
We’re all used to talking about the population boom in Asia, but did you know how fast Africa is growing? If you’re starting a real estate business, you might want to focus on the bunches of new people who’ll need homes there!
WorldFactbook for an overview of new markets
In principle, you can get detailed data on a country/regional level from national statistics institutes. But information there is often in the local language and navigation is less than ideal. Hell, I’m local and even I can’t get how our national statistics site works!
So for marketing or high-level research, you can use the World Factbook website generously compiled by the lovely people of the CIA. It provides all sorts of detailed country-specific information. If you’re setting up a shop with hand-made Smiling Buddhas, you might want to know that just 0.5-0.75% of French citizens are Buddhist. That’s still a potential market of 249,000 in the active shopper age groups 15-54!
The website is too text-laden to include a screenshot of it here. But trust me, it can be very handy!
When personas don’t cut it: Jobs to be done
We had set up 4 pretty and neat buyer personas. Each of them had specific characteristics that differentiated it from the rest. We thought all those guys were massively different from one another. So we were creating content for each one, employing different channel tactics to interact with each…
Then we spoke to real customers. Turns out all these elaborate distinctions didn’t matter – people were coming to us for one and one key reason only. We then merged the personas into two types, according to the main reason they were looking for a solution. In other words, the job they were hiring our product to do.
Jobs to be done is already a well established and very cool way of looking at your audience. It doesn’t focus on external criteria like age, location, or interests. Instead, it goes deeper, to the motivation of the user.
I won’t go into too much detail here, as I have a separate guide dedicated to the topic with all the details and the way Jobs to be Done research is conducted. Here are the basics:
What’s the actual end result people are aiming for – what’s the expected outcome they want when looking for a new solution.
We need to mention the distinction between the actual product use and the outcome. Someone uses the product for something specific, at this level you’d focus on features and widgets. But that someone uses the product in order to achieve a deeper outcome. When doing marketing research, we’re going after the latter.
People are generally switching to your product because there was something wrong with the old solution. You need to understand what their criteria are when choosing the new one. What’s their internal checklist of characteristics you need to comply with in order to make a conversion?
Say you’ve covered the main criteria. What do you bring to the table that interesses, delights, and persuades users?
What anxieties do they have? There’s never a perfect solution. The price is a bit too high, delivery dates are not so convenient. What compromises did users make when choosing you? Why did they linger before clicking the “Buy” button?
According to Jobs-to-be-done, there are three levels of competitors and we usually think just about the first one. There are regular direct competitors – ones doing the same job in the same way. Then there are the secondary competitors – ones doing the same job in a different way. Lastly, the indirect competitors – the ones who do a different job that has a conflicting outcome.
Say you decide to watch a movie. You might go for Netflix or go to the cinema. But you might choose a different way of entertaining yourself, going to the theater or reading a book. Finally, you might decide passive entertainment is boring and you want to go get a subscription to cooking classes so that you spend your free time with other people while learning something new. Get the point?
What Jobs-to-be-done can tell you
This is a very rough and basic overview of the Jobs-to-be-done methodology, but it gives you an idea about the types of information you will have once done. The only way to get it? Talk to customers!
It’s useful research not just because it helps you communicate benefits better. It might show you that your communication is off by a significant margin and people are using your product for completely different reasons. Here’s my favorite example.
Snickers was competing with Milky Way. Both are sweet desserts, both are communicated in roughly the same way, they stand in the same place at the grocery store. Turns out, though people were using the two chocolate bars in completely different ways – hiring them for different jobs.
Milky Way was a dessert you’d get for a special moment – either if celebrating a win or trying to get over a hard day. Snickers was a way to get energy fast. Snicker’s competitors weren’t other chocolate bars – but bananas, nuts, sandwiches… anything that satiates hunger and is in a convenient form factor to eat on the go. So all those “you’re not you when you’re hungry” ads – they are the direct result of Jobs-to-be-done research.
Putting it all together
Wow! Stats, pixels, CIA data, customer interviews, hiring, and firing products… How can you wrap your head around all of this?!
Your best shot is to compile in a usable and workable format. There are a lot of templates and solutions out there.
Xtensio is an easily customizable format. However, the suggested information is a bit abstract, not entirely actionable. Some of it would be hard to get even with customer interviews.
HubSpot asks all the right questions but is on the wordy side. It won’t be that useful for a quick glance at an odd content calendar brainstorming session.
Buyer Persona Institute goes into lots of details with information from interviews. Again, too wordy for my taste, but pretty useful way of logging specific phrases your customers use.
My buyer persona template
I’ve created my own template format that brings all the information listed in this post together. It has two separate slides. The first one summarizes the quantifiable information that helps you have a specific person in mind when creating content, communicating benefits on a landing page or doing ads. The second one gets all the Jobs-to-be-done qualitative data on one page. It will help you nail messaging and drive the point home.
The most important thing to remember when using such templates is that the end result is highly dependant on your niche and your needs. Sometimes you’ll need location info, other times it doesn’t make sense. Sometimes having family and relationship data will be of utmost importance – otherwise, you’ll put in some flavor text to make your avatar more true to life. Whatever the situation is, always ask yourself “Does that information help me make better decisions?” If the answer is no, then you’ll be better off without having the distraction in the file.
Download the template now, let me know if it works for you and what changes you’ve implemented to make it yours!
Selina Bradley (@selinamb) says
I can’t believe no one has commented on this yet. This is a really well-written article with actionable, useful steps. The template is a great bonus, but your guide and linked resources are the winners to me. Well done, comrade!
Very useful article!
Really great 🙂
Victoria D. says
So much value in this article and throughout your website. Thank you!
Really helpful and actually usable article – thank you, Caroline
This was super helpful for me. It gave me some very good idea for the launch of my new product. Great written!