You might be surprised to learn just how many businesses don’t have a solid grasp on who their target audience is. As this piece of information is key to fully understanding their interests and motivations, many businesses are missing out on the opportunity to gain deeper insights into precisely what their audience want to see and how they want to consume content.

Misunderstanding who your audience are and what they like can cause your video content and strategy to miss the mark, sometimes seriously. From poorly judged creative decisions, to ill defined brand style and personality, through to misjudged promotional and seeding strategies, making assumptions about your target audience can be costly. At worst it can help to foster a brand identity that will never resonate with your potential customers and clients.

In this article I want to explore how successful brands and businesses seek to understand their audiences and use this information to create content that is loved and shared. But first, let’s turn our attention to the fate of so much content online.

Avoiding the Fate of Orphan Content

Content may still be king, but all kings need a kingdom. Your content may be absolutely incredible, which may get it some initial recognition and lift, but branded content will never get the attention it deserves without a considered and comprehensive activation strategy behind it.

Orphan content is a term we here at Aspect have coined to describe content that has failed to garner enough attention to justify its creation and has therefore been consigned to the sparsely populated and unloved corners of the internet (a sad fate, I know).

Although it is tricky to determine with accuracy just how much orphan content is currently sitting out there online, it is probably a lot more than you initially imagine. To provide some context for this statement, research conducted by Moz and Bussumo in 2015 found that more than 50% of the randomly selected posts that were analysed had 2 or fewer Facebook interactions. Whilst a lot of that content may well have been rubbish, it’s likely that a lot of it wasn’t and deserved a lot more love.

The Causes of Orphan Content

Creating content that is engaging, memorable and powerful is no easy feat but that task is further complicated if you don’t have a fundamental understanding of who you want to engage.

– A Lack of Quality

No amount of promotion will help content that simply doesn’t offer anything of value to its audience. And remember, it is impossible to deliver value to an audience that hasn’t been comprehensively defined.

– An Unsuccessful Activation Strategy

An activation strategy is the process of delivering your content to your intended target audience through a range of media and marketing channels. Getting this wrong means that regardless as to how good your content is, it simply won’t get enough attention to justify its creation.

– An Ineffective Approach to Content Repurposing

Longevity is a core component of successful content. Keeping your content in the spotlight is reliant on your understanding of what your audience wants to see, when they want to see it, and how they want it to be presented to them.

Note that a lack of audience understanding is a common thread running through each of these primary causes of orphan content. With that in mind, let’s now turn our attentions to market research and understanding your target audience.

How to Research your Target Audience

The process of conducting comprehensive target audience research should be taken as your opportunity to turn your attention towards the actual needs of your audience and away from what you think or assume those needs are.

These assumptions are often the result of business leaders assuming their audiences share their values and even interests. This is understandable, especially in the early stages of a startup, when the founders may have genuine affinity and similarities to their target market and their problems (a fact that has allowed them to identify these problems and offer a popular solution). As these companies grow into brands though, this connection becomes more remote and the result is growing dissonance that can result in flat or even irrelevant content strategies.

You, naturally, want to ensure that your messaging is as effective as it can possibly be then, but to do this you need to get to know your audience better. This is where well conducted market research is worth its weight in gold. Successful marketers are more than 200% more likely to conduct audience research on a quarterly basis and more than 50% of leading marketers conduct audience research every month.

Let’s delve a bit deeper into what successful audience research looks like then.

Never Assume you know your Audience

Effectively defining your audience relies in part on your ability not to make assumptions. Although you might have already painted a detailed image of your target market in your mind, it is important not to take any of the anecdotal information you have amassed over the years on customers and clients as a blanket rule on your audience. Actively challenging your thought processes and gathering hard evidence to substantiate your thoughts will help you to ensure that you are in the best possible position to begin creating the kind of content that will resonate with and deliver value to your audience.

As you won’t want to find yourself swimming in a sea of information, understanding what you want to learn from your audience research is critical to identifying the insights you should be focusing on. Whether you want to know where your audience spends time online or what type of content they want to engage with, referring to these questions regularly will ensure that your research remains on track and that you aren’t getting distracted by superfluous information.

Audience Research and Social Media

Social media is an excellent tool to leverage when conducting audience research. Sometimes people aren’t necessarily fully aware of their habits and sometimes they simply won’t be willing to share particular details in interviews that an analysis of social media can also reveal.

Remember, you can use social media to:

  • See what your customers are saying about your business online
  • Understand the types of content your audience are sharing
  • The other individuals, brands and businesses your audience are choosing to follow

Using Audience Research

As soon as you have gathered together your information, you can begin to use it to identify patterns and themes that will inform your digital and marketing strategies. This process is best split into two distinct activities.

– Customer Personas

Creating a set of core customer personas will help you to form a clearer image of your audience. While these won’t be actual customers, they will be fictional characters who will embody the traits of an “average” person within your target audience. They can then be used as a guide and useful anchor during the creative process. If an idea doesn’t seem to resonate with your customer persona, then it probably won’t resonate with your actual customers.

– Idea Generation

As you are analysing your research you will likely begin to form some initial content ideas. Although these might not be fully formed concepts, it is always a good idea to write things down when inspiration strikes. Remember, avoiding assumptions is critical and you should determine that enough of your audience will be interested in every piece of content you ultimately decide to produce.

The Dangers of Failing to Understand your Audience

There are many examples of unsuccessful advertising campaigns. One great example is last year’s disastrous Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner that was both released and pulled shortly thereafter.

The ad was a hugely misjudged attempt by a multinational to jump on the global movement of resistance and street protest. In doing so the company was attempting to piggyback on a cultural bandwagon that in many ways it could be seen as the antithesis of. Pepsi, unfortunately, neglected to recognise this and the audience it most wanted to impress was aghast (as were many in the professional marketing industry). The use of a priviliged model like Kendall Jenner, only compounded this utter failure to understand it’s audience.

While the data Pepsi used did probably did identify that younger generations are politically engaged, the company drastically misinterpreted how this demographic sees the world and how they would respond to this engagement being co-opted in this way for advertising purposes.

In pushing out this misguided campaign, Pepsi illustrated that failing to understand audiences can so easily mean that delivering the levels of authenticity that consumers are looking for, particularly in the young Millennial and Gen Z demographics, is essentially impossible.

Just because someone buys Pepsi (or your product to take another example) that does not mean you can make assumptions about them. It certainly doesn’t mean you can quickly pigeonhole them. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and creating strong branded content that appeals to them means taking the time to understand more about them.

Ultimately, embracing the notion that you are not your audience will help you to ensure that your marketing efforts are always tailored to meeting the needs and expectations of your actual target audience, not the fictional audience you think you are targeting.