Some might answer the question of “Who’s your target audience?” with “Anyone with a wallet!” That’s cool but hardly nuanced. And when it comes to social media optimization, a lot of brands still just broadcasting posts — there’s not a ton of targeting, and they just think if they spray out to the highest number of possible viewers of a post, something good is bound to happen. While that can work, it’s not very common for it to work. The one true path of making social and brand and sales and everything else fit together is understanding your target audience. This is a time-consuming undertaking, but it’s not massive in terms of the number of steps. In fact, you really just need to do three things. Each one is time-consuming, but if you work the steps right, you’ll be ready for selling, and scaling, success.
The first step: Who are you? What do you do well?
You need to understand this about your company. Some companies will create inflated mission statements — at one point WeWork’s was about “elevating consciousness” — and while that can be good for PR and all-hands meetings, it doesn’t describe what the core product or service(s) of the business really are. You need to know what you sell and how you differentiate from the competition. That’s the first step to learning who to target.
To figure out who you are, you need to speak with:
- Current customers
- Any customers/clients who left you
- Look at how your competition presents itself
- Look at how other companies in your region present themselves
This can be done via survey or in-person or via email, but it needs to be done. At the end of the process, you need to understand these elements:
- We are X-type of business.
- We sell Y-elements.
- People come to us for Z-reason.
Who are you? What do you do? And why do people care? It takes a while to get there, and some established companies still haven’t fully done this work. If you get there, though, you can move on.
Step 2: Personas
There’s been an argument made that the conventional user personas — “Leader Larry,” etc. — are useless in an age of more and more data. That’s not actually true, because personas — while they can be generic — help marketers and sales teams understand the big picture who of targeting. When shaping a persona, try to involve the following events:
- How old might this person be?
- What job title might they have?
- What industry?
- Who might they report to?
- What’s their chief pain point?
- What is their boss’ chief pain point?
- What’s the chief pain point of their employees?
- How experienced are they?
- What solution might they be using now?
- How could your solution directly benefit them (time, money, etc.)?
- Can they make decisions with relative autonomy or will there be a lot of decision-makers?
You can get to these answers by looking at the results of Step 1 and looking at your current customers. Look at which deals closed the quickest; often those are closest to the “ideal customer.”
If you don’t have a single customer yet, don’t worry. You can still do these exercises, although they will be more speculative and less information-driven.
Now you should understand your brand’s value and the persona of a person that might need what you do. And now comes the most time-consuming part of it all: research.
Step 3: Research
This means finding out as much as you can about actual, real-life people who fit your target personas. That means digging into:
- LinkedIn bios and backgrounds
- Annual reports
- Quarterly reports
- Glassdoor reviews of companies
- Any news articles about companies
- PR articles about companies
- Use a tool like SimilarWeb to understand their site traffic, or Ahrefs to see where their traffic comes from
- Look at what they blog about and which posts, if any, have engagement
- Do the same with social media
What you’re doing here is research on both competitors (to see what resonates with other buyers in the space) and individuals (to learn more about them if you approach for a discussion). If you work at a place with more staff, oftentimes the SDR/BDR role — a more junior sales role — is almost exclusively focused on leads and cold calls/emails. In more developed organizations, though, the SDR role does a lot of this research to help the sales principals with a higher-touch, higher-context approach.
If you know your organization’s value, you know who wants/needs it, and then you know specific information about them (Steps 1, 2, and 3), you’re doing great. This can, in turn, inform your content and ad strategy so that it’s less broadcast and more personalized and targeted.
What other questions do you have about developing a target audience?
Author: Ted Bauer
Ted Bauer is a freelance writer and content consultant based in Texas. He has worked for brands including Microsoft, Oracle, McKesson, ESPN, PBS, and more. Since early 2020, he’s been serving as Managing Editor of the Whiterock Locators real estate blog, the Conectys blog, and more.