Last month, we talked about personalizing your content marketing by presenting your content with a consistent – and human – voice. Even B2B companies benefit from this approach. After all, it’s not a business making the buying decision. It’s a businessperson.

And while it’s obvious that people respond better to other people than they do to a faceless corporate entity, what’s often ignored – and, ironically, even more obvious – is the fact that people respond best when what they’re hearing interests them. Knowing what interests your audience means knowing your audience, so let’s take a look at painting a more personal picture of them.

The first step in this process is understanding that your audience is not a single monolith. Nearly every firm’s audience invariably consists of various segments, each of which, by definition, has different needs and interests than the others. (There can be overlap, of course, but if you can’t find a real difference between segments, chances are you’re not looking deeply enough. Or you’re not defining segments properly, though that’s less likely.)

Learning more about these segments – how many there are, what they are, etc. – can take many forms. Popular tools and concepts you’ll hear about include voice of customer (VOC) research, creation of customer persona, and developing customer profiles.

These each have their differences, but at their heart, the goal is to be able to recognize and understand who your target audience is and, critically, what motivates them.

As you can imagine, this is incredibly valuable information. Sadly, it is frequently overlooked by marketers in their rush to get the word out. Friend and colleague Scott Hornstein sums it up pretty succinctly:

The overwhelming majority of people working on your marketing campaign have never seen, met or spoken to a customer, and certainly not a prospect. They’re on one side of a chasm. Effective marketing is on the other.

Bridging that chasm is a matter of asking your audience the questions that will help you uncover their motivations and the fears that keep them from taking action.

Sometimes that means quite literally asking clients and prospects about their interests and expectations. First-hand customer data is hard to beat. But it’s also anecdotal and frequently colored by both the interviewee (who may be eager to tell you want he or she thinks you want to hear) and the interviewer, whose salary and bonus may depend on the answers.

That doesn’t mean interviews aren’t worth doing. Far from it. It simply means that those interviews should be supported by other research. The best way to corroborate what you’re hearing from customers and prospects is to check the data.

Your web analytics will tell you what pages people are visiting most frequently – and which they are lingering on the longest. Your email data should tell you want topics got the most clicks. Social media can tell you where sharing and engagement are highest.

These numbers aren’t without problems themselves – sometimes great content in an email goes unnoticed because of a poor subject line, for example – but along with the interview methods mentioned above, they help paint a more complete and accurate picture of your audience.

It’s that picture that will allow you to engage them most effectively. If you’re just guessing at their interests, you don’t stand a chance of getting it right. Let’s face it: if you’re not doing the research, you are guessing. Educated guessing, perhaps, but still guessing.

There’s a lot more to VOC research, audience segmentation, and personalization, and I encourage you to dig deeper. At the very least, though, you have to do basic research, do it regularly, and see how your audience’s interests and fears change over time. Only then can you adjust your content and other digital marketing to answer the questions your audience is asking.