The very first step in your content marketing plan should be to pick your target audience. You’d think this would be common sense; however, the vast majority of small business owners all make one common mistake.
The mistake that they make is to attempt to be to general. They do this because they fear that by really focusing their marketing on one audience, they will “lose out” on the hundreds/thousands/millions of other potential customers that aren’t a part of that audience.
Well, guess what? It never happens!
The reason you don’t lose out is because all those other people would have never found you anyway. There are just too many websites out there for you to rank for anything other than what you are really trying to rank for.
Another excuse that I often hear for not picking a targeted audience is because these same small business owners are afraid that if they get a referral, the potential referral might see that they don’t fit into the target audience and not end up being a client.
This doesn’t happen either. Why? Simple. When someone is referred to you from someone they trust, the referrer wants to look good in the process, so they will most often do their very best to convince their friend that yours is just the firm for them, and because of this, the person being referred is not likely to be put off by the fact that they don’t necessarily fit within what they believe to be your targeted audience.
Why Should You Pick a Target Market?
The reason that picking a target audience is so important comes down to this: the benefits of doing so far outweigh any downside that you can ever think of.
In the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, he conducted an extensive study on what makes great companies – as opposed to just good ones – and in the book he talks about something he calls the Hedge Hog Strategy.
The point of the strategy is this: you need to find a market that you can totally dominate.
Do you think you could be the #1 marketing agency/consultant/SEO firm for everybody in the entire world? Not likely! There is simply too much competition for you to have any hope of achieving that.
Instead, as Jim points out in his book, great companies are extremely selective about who they are targeting, thereby significantly increasing the odds that they can achieve the #1 position in the mind of their audience.
I agree with Jim Collins and I think that a really killer inbound marketing strategy has to start with picking a very specific audience to create content for. If you have a different opinion, please share it down below in the comments.
How to Define a Targeted Audience
Defining your audience is not as hard as you might think. In the next few paragraphs I’m going to walk you through some ideas and strategies that you can use.
First, let’s use Apple as an example, as it relates the the hedge hog strategy.
Do you think that the people who work at Apple are deeply passionate about creating amazing products? I’m going to go with a big “you betcha” on this one.
So, with that in mind, do you think it would make sense that a suitable audience for Apple would be a group of people who believe what Apple believes? Again, I think the answer is yes.
For example, I’m a loyal Apple customer. I own an iMac, a Macbook Pro, an Apple TV, an iPhone, and an iPod mini. Why? Because I believe that ease of use and a killer design is more important than a bunch of technical details that I don’t care about – and I’m willing to pay more for it.
If you go to Apple’s website, you will see that all their messaging is for people just like me. The technical details are there, but they aren’t front and center like they would be with a company like Alienware.
Unlike Apple, Alienware makes PCs for gamers, and these folks are deeply concerned with technical specs and performance. While I’m sure Alienware’s customer enjoy a pretty looking computer, I’m equally sure that aesthetics have very little to do with their buying decision. Theirs is all about performance.
Do you think Alienware cares one bit about regular PC users that don’t play video games? Nope.
Do you think Apple cares one bit about price conscious buyers? Nope.
Both of these companies are successful because they know exactly who their customer is and they direct their entire marketing effort to reaching more of them.
Now that we covered why having your target market clearly defined, let’s talk about how to learn more about them, as well as to establish two way communication.
Researching and Connecting With Your Target Market
When it comes to researching and connecting with your target audience, there are several strategies that I suggest you use. The include:
- Discussion Forums
- LinkedIn Groups
For Twitter, forums, and the social networks, make sure that when you first start out that you spend the bulk of your time answering questions for other people. When you do this, the other people in the community are going to become interested in who you are, and when they do that, they will naturally think, “hey, Dave is a cool guy. I wonder what else Dave has done?” Once you have established yourself as a knowledgeable person, the participants in these communities are going to come and check out your site.
So, with that said, lets have a look at some ways to use each resource.
When I first learned of Twitter, I thought it was a huge waste of time. Now that I’m starting to figure out how to use it, I have actually become a pretty big fan.
When it comes to finding your target audience, as well as connecting with them, Twitter is pretty amazing.
For example, let’s suppose that you wanted to find and connect with hardcore gamers. How could you use Twitter to do that?
Well, you could first begin by looking for “best gaming PC” on Google. When I performed that search, that is how I found out about Alienware.
Next, I pulled up Alienware’s profile on Twitter and noticed that they had 62,672 followers while following only 130 people. This tells me that Alienware is an influential brand in this space, and, because they don’t follow very many others, I also know that their 62,000 followers are legit. (whenever you see a Twitter profile that has a lot of followers, it can often be the result of their following a lot of others, just to get them to follow back)
The next thing I will want to know about Alienware is how much social authority they have.
Social Authority is ultimately a measure of influential activity. As such, it highlights content that is successful on Twitter. When you find users with high Social Authority, you’re finding great marketing strategies to analyze and mimic. And we think that this will help you be more successful with Twitter. – @peterbray
To discover how much social authority someone has, I’ve been using SEOmoz’s tool, FollowerWonk. This is a powerful tool that makes discovering influential Twitter accounts extremely easy.
As you can see below, Alienware is the most influential Twitter account for the phrase “pc gaming”. When I sorted by the Social Authority column, Alienware’s score of 61 put them on top.
Social Authority, in its simplest definition, is based upon re-tweets. If your tweets get lots of retweets, you have a high social authority. If you want more details on the science behind this, just read the entire post.
So now that we know Alienware has a high social authority and plenty of followers, the next move is to start connecting with the people that follow Alienware so that you can learn more about them.
To do that, I used FollowerWonk to find people that are interested in Alienware and then I sorted them by social authority. As you can see below, there are two users who actually have more social authority than Alienware. These are definitely people that you want to connect with because they can help you to really understand your audience (by speaking with them), as well as to help you to connect with your audience (by retweeting your tweets).
As you can see below, when I mouse over Anthony Wheeler, his total engagement is 56%. This is a good person to know if you want to learn more about hard core PC gamers, as well as to have the potential to get your content in front of many of them.
Even if you don’t have FollowerWonk, Twitter is a total goldmine because it gives you the ability to search the Twitter stream. You can search by topic, by hash tag (#PCGamer) or by user. As soon as you do, you are going to find endless ways to better understand what your target audience is interested in.
For virtually every topic you can think of, there is at least one discussion forum. Finding them is easy. Just go to Google and do a search.
When you participate in a discussion forum, you are going to see first hand what your target audience is interested in, what keeps them awake at night, and what they believe.
If your company sells to other businesses, I would strongly encourage that you check out LinkedIn Groups as they are very popular among the B2B crowd.
As you can see below, for the phrase, “marketing automation” there are 209 groups; the first of which is called Marketing Automation Experts. This group has 4,218 members, 142 discussions this month, and is considered to be very active.
Do you think that if you were to join this group that you could learn more about people who are interested in this topic? Do you think you could connect with a few of them? Do you think you could position yourself as an expert (assuming you are) within this community? Do you think that if you did, some of them would want to know more about you?
Each time I’ve started a new blog, I’m quick to incorporate surveys into my auto-responder sequence. I do this because I want to quickly find out who is reading my blog and what they are interested in. The more I learn about my audience, the better chance I will have of creating content that they will enthusiastically share with their respective followers.
For example, because I ask every new subscriber to complete a welcome survey, I have know that 15.9% of my audience are marketing agency owners, 41% are small business owners and 34% are solo-preneurs.
I also know that lead generation is the #1 challenge faced by my audience, hence why I do so many interviews to address that topic.
Once you have access to this type of information about your audience, you are now in a position to either create more content for the audience you have, so you can expand that audience, or, if the majority of your readers aren’t the exact audience you intended to have, you can now publish more content that will be of interest to your intended audience, as well as to share that content on the social networks where your audience hangs out (which we discovered by using Twitter to ask them directly).
Side Note: Check out this post on How To Know What To Write About.
If you don’t yet know that much about the demographics of your targeted audience, and you don’t yet have a following, don’t despair. There is another way to very easily get the demographic profile for virtually any marketing that you could possibly be interested in.
There isn’t a magazine around that isn’t staffed by a crack team of researchers, all of whom have invested countless hours in market research. You can bet they know exactly who their customer is and exactly what that customer wants to buy.
They know this because they need this information to pass along to their prospective advertisers.
Don’t have the funds for a research team that big? No problem. Just piggy back on the magazines.
For example, when I googled “Field and Stream Media Kit” I was taken right to this page. Once there, all I did was click on the demographics link to learn more about this audience. With just a few clicks of the mouse, I now know the median age, percentage that are college grads, percentage that are employed, percentage that served in the military, etc…
Let’s suppose that I wanted to know how many people in my local area and into hunting and fishing. How could I find that out? With Facebook, this is actually pretty easy to do. It won’t be 100% perfect, but it will be close enough to help you assess if your size of a certain targeted market is large enough.
To do this, just pretend as though you are going to create a paid ad on Facebook. You don’t have to actually publish the ad, but you do want access to the data that going through the ad creation process will give you.
As you can see below, when I did a search for people that lived in San Diego, aged 37 to 57 (I chose this because of the median age from the Field and Stream media kit), who are interested in hunting and fishing, I see that there are 11,120 people. If that number is too small, or too big, you can easily just make changes to your search criteria, and from those changes, you are likely to make some valuable distinctions.
For example, if I change the gender from men only to men and women, the 11,120 increases to 16,840. So, for this topic, I now know that the ratio of men to women is roughly 3:2. For this particular example, the answer was rather obvious beforehand, but that probably won’t be the case in many other niches you could be looking at.
I’m sure there are more tools than this, and if you have some good ones to suggest, please be sure and share your thoughts down in the comments below.
By far the most common and most expensive mistake is trying to be everything to everyone and that was the whole point of this post. With tools like the ones that I’ve discussed, I hope that you never try to do that ever again because it just won’t work.
The next most common mistake is not taking the time to listen to your audience to really find out what they want. Surveys are a terrific way to do this, and if you do, be sure to ask questions that are both multiple choice as well as open-ended, because, while harder to analyze in aggregate, it’s those open-ended questions that can provide you with some really valuable insights.
It’s also worth mentioning that one of the goals of your initial marketing campaign to your newly defined audience should be to further test and validate your chosen niche.
A marketing plan that doesn’t begin with a thorough understanding of the needs, wants, and desires of a very specifically designed target market isn’t really a marketing plan at all. Instead, it’s more of a hope and a prayer, and when it comes to business, hope is not a strategy.
Getting clear on who your target audience is has never been easier. Twitter, discussion forums, LinkedIn Groups, Surveys, Magazine media kits, and Facebook have made it easier than ever to thoroughly research and connect with your audience. Not making use of these free resources will significantly reduce the effectiveness of anything that you try, and, even worse, could spell the end of your company before you ever have a chance to really get going.
Put the time into identifying your targeted audience and you will have taken a step that so many small business owners don’t put nearly enough focus on, and you will be in far better shape as a result.
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Thanks so much!