Why You Don’t Know Your Audience as Well as You Think

Before I begin writing content, one of the first questions I ask my clients is, “Who is your target audience?”

For some reason, it usually stumps them, or the answer I receive is incomplete.

I talk all the time about writing for people, not search engines and algorithms, but you have to know what people you’re writing for.

If you don’t know exactly who your target audience is, how can you make your content relevant to them? How will you know where to share your content so somebody who cares will see it?

Content that’s poorly targeted, in terms of both the audience and the platform, kills conversion rates and wastes valuable time, money and resources because it doesn’t speak to the specific needs of the reader.

There are three main reasons why a target audience is misidentified or misunderstood.

1) Your target audience profile is based on assumptions, not research.

Many startups and product launches fail because someone assumes there’s a need or demand within a certain segment of the population. In reality, no such need or demand exists.

If you can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to have a company conduct comprehensive market research, take a grass roots approach.

Conduct surveys and do your own research. Instead of just looking at the number of stars in customer reviews, read what people have to say about why they bought a product and why they liked or disliked it.

Talk to your customers. Better yet, ask an open ended question and let them do the talking.

After all, you know what they say about people who assume.

2) Your target audience profile is what you want it to be, not what it really is.

I know a woman who opened a Jersey Shore boutique about 10 years ago.

She hoped to attract 20- and 30-something women with trendy clothes, shoes and accessories because no other shops in the area served this group.

One problem – most of the people who shopped in her store’s community were seniors.

Instead of stubbornly refusing to recognize this miscalculation, she quickly pivoted, catering to the 50-, 60- and even 70-plus generation with casual, affordable fashions. She committed to this new customer base, and now her boutique is thriving.

It’s great to have a vision for your company and who you want your customers to be, but if that vision is based on hope and not reality, you’ll be in serious trouble.

3) Your target audience profile is too broad.

When I first ask a client who their target audience is, I typically get a one- or two-word answer, like:

“Everyone.” Impossible. So just stop it.

“Women.” Not specific enough.

“Moms.” Better, but still nowhere near specific enough.

When you try to be everything to everybody, you’ll end up with a diluted, vague message that resonates with nobody. Your content will be one giant cliché that sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Demographics are just the beginning of establishing your target audience profile.

Major advertising agencies rely on broad demographics (women 25-54, men 18-34, etc.) to place mass media buys.

More than demographics, individual businesses need to dig deeper into psychographics – the personality, values, lifestyle, attitudes and interests of your target audience.

This will enable you to determine what specific group of people – and what specific type of people – will be willing to hand over money in exchange for a product or service.

Once you have that information, you can develop content that solves their problems, fills their needs and makes their lives better, easier or more enjoyable.

These questions will help you develop a specific target audience profile.

What is your audience’s family situation? Single, married, divorced, kids, living with parents?

What kind of job or career do they have? Do they have a long commute and work long hours?

What is their financial situation? More than a salary range, how much disposable income do they have? Are they investing and planning for retirement?

What is their lifestyle? What kind of home do they live in? What kind of car do they drive? Where do they go for dinner? What do they do for fun?

How do they consume information? Do they read blogs, newsletters, newspapers and/or magazines? Do they watch videos or listen to podcasts? What social media channels do they use, personally and professionally?

What influences their buying decisions? What factors pique their interest and help close the deal? What factors make them skeptical and could potentially kill the deal? What emotions play a role in their decisions?

What are their most pressing concerns and problems? What prevents them from focusing at work? What keeps them up at night?

What are their values? What social and family issues are important to them?

The answers to every single one of these questions probably won’t be relevant to your business or product. But the more you know, the more powerful and well-received your message will be.

Your audience is a group of human beings, not numbers and statistics.

When we’re developing sales forecasts and revenue goals, and visions of dollar signs dance in our heads, we tend to lose sight of the fact that our products or services are supposed to help real people.

Just like people make purchasing decisions based on emotion and justified by logic, the human element should influence our content more than any statistic.

When we get beyond broad, superficial demographic data, we’ll be better prepared to develop content that speaks to our target audience’s needs and motivates them to buy.


About the author: Scott McKelvey
scott mckelvey

I’m a copywriter, marketing consultant, lifelong New Jersey resident, husband to a beautiful wife and father to two beautiful girls. I love playing with my daughters, a day at the boardwalk, sarcasm, craft beer and grilling. I despise beating around the bush, synchronized swimming, Toddlers & Tiaras and onions. Most people don’t know I used to be a radio DJ and once wrote, produced and voiced a commercial for the TV show 24. Two places I want to visit before I die are Ireland and Norway, the homes of my ancestors. One place I never want to revisit is my first apartment because my creepy landlord, Monty, freaked me out. That just about covers it.

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1 reply
  1. Andrew Healey
    Andrew Healey says:

    Good post, Scott. Having a clear picture of their target markets seems to be something most businesses don’t have — they often try to reach everyone to avoid missing out. As you say, though, if we’re not specific, our message becomes diluted.

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