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Weekend Project: Research the Audience You Want … but Don’t Have

This guest post is by Logan Marshall of the Free Life Project.

When I was starting out online, there was something that drove me absolutely crazy. It infuriated me. It made me want to punch a dozen newborn kittens.

Okay not really, but it got me mad. Real mad.

What am I talking about? Simply this: Everyone says you must “understand your audience.” The so-called “gurus” relentlessly preach a gospel of Customer Avatars and Empathy Maps, telling you that you must know the hopes, fears, and dreams of your readership in order to effectively position your offer.

You’ve heard this advice before right? I’ve had it crammed down my throat.

While this is fine advice and some people have gotten close to actually nailing down a strategy for completing this impossible mission, I’ve yet to find an actual guide on how to do it! Of course there are the common suggestions:

  • “Just run a few surveys.”
  • “Spend some time thinking about it.”
  • “Talk to people.”

Blah blah blah … fluffy useless garbage … blah.

You see, when I’m presented with the advice “just run a few surveys,” a gazillion questions immediately flood my brain:

  1. What should I say in the survey?
  2. When should I survey my audience?
  3. How often should I conduct surveys?
  4. What if I don’t have a list of people to survey?
  5. What if no one responds?
  6. Is this the only strategy I should use?

…And the list goes on and on. If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked yourself similar questions. And, unfortunately, you’ve probably been met with maddening silence.

But not anymore.

I’ve designed this and tomorrow’s posts to fill this “black-hole-of-a-void” and give you a step-by-step resource on how to really understand your audience. Not a superficial understanding but a real, deep understanding of who your audience is, what they want, and how to make them engaged and excited when they land on your site.

Let’s get started.

The foundation

Before we get into specific tactics, let’s take a step back and look at the overarching goal behind “understanding your audience.” Why do we even want to do this in the first place?

Because without a deep understanding of who you are serving (or trying to serve), you might as well be trying to find a newborn Pygmy Marmoset in a pitch-black cave. You will be guessing. And guessing is never a good idea. In fact, “guessing” is one of the main reasons why most blogs fail, most products bomb, and most newbie entrepreneurs end up pulling their hair out in undeserved frustration.

Instead of just hoping that your message resonates with your mysterious “target audience,” you want to know with utter certainty that your projects will succeed before you even create them. After all, there’s nothing worse then spending months (or years) creating something, only to find that no one wanted it in the first place. I’ve been there. Not fun. Not fun at all.

So please don’t just “hope for the best” or “trust your gut.” Instead, take the preemptive approach and spend some time doing the research that no one has the guts to do.

Starting from scratch: How to understand your audience before you write a single piece of content

Many of you probably don’t have a blog up and running yet, and that’s fine. It’s great, actually. Now you have the opportunity to make sure your messaging is cybernetic gold before you start implementing like a unstoppable vortex of awesomeness. (Too many over-the-top descriptions? My bad.)

You don’t need an audience to know what people are looking for. Of course, if you do have an audience, these methods will work fine for you, too. With the following strategies under your belt and a few hours of hardcore “niche mining” you can virtually guarantee that your business will crush it. Let’s start with Facebook.

Mining Facebook: a treasure trove of marketing goodness

Facebook is a goldmine for the blogger or online marketer. An absolute jackpot. You literally have the personal information of thousands of potential customers at the tip of your fingers. You have people’s age, interest … even favorite movies.

Personally, I use Facebook as a way of determining the demographics and psychographics of my niche—things like gender, age, location, and interests. This stuff is priceless information you can use when creating your marketing.

Facebook groups

For example, my upcoming project is in the lifestyle design/internet marketing niche. But who makes up this niche? I know. Do you?

How do I know? Simple. I went over to Facebook Search and “creeped” on people who have told the world that they are interested in what I’m writing about.

Here’s how you can do it too:

  1. Determine the niche you want to operate in.
  2. Head over to Facebook Search.
  3. Select “Groups” on the left hand side and type in keywords people would use when searching for information about your niche. For example, I typed in things like “lifestyle design,” “internet marketing,” and “online entrepreneurship.”
  4. Find a group with at least 200 members. This way your results will be statistically meaningful.
  5. Spend some time browsing through the members and writing down any patterns you notice. Are there more men or women? Are there common interests that keep popping up? How do people describe themselves?

In addition to Groups, you can also look through pages and live status updates that people are writing about your topic.

Quantcast: the least-known online weapon

Have you heard of Quantcast? Until just a few months ago, I hadn’t. But let me tell you something: it’s awesome. Real awesome.

Quantcast lets you see exactly who your audience is. As there homepage reads, “Quantcast is free direct audience measurement for all website owners including traffic, demographics, business, lifestyle, interests and more.”

Quantcast

You give them your URL, they give you the data. Sweet. If you have a website and get a decent amount of traffic I highly recommend you get your site “quantified” a.s.a.p. It will give you the insight you need to specifically target more of your best (most profitable) customers.

If you don’t have a website yet, don’t worry. You can still use Quantcast by analyzing the data of websites that are similar to the one you’re planning to create. Websites who’ve already attracted the audience you’re trying to reach.

Say you’re planning to start a blog in the baseball niche, for example. You’d head over to Quantcast and type in the URL of a similar website. Not all websites are “quantified” so you may have to do a little digging. Once you’ve found a popular site that has already attracted a thriving audience, browse through the data.

Quantcast gives you the traffic, demographics, geographic location—even the “likes” of that particular audience. This is priceless information. Information you can actually use to create a “Customer Avatar” later on.

The “B-list breakthrough: gain insight and authority in one fell swoop

I learned this next (without a list) technique from Corbett Barr. He calls it the “B-List Breakthrough.”

Basically, it’s a method that Corbett and a few others have used to gain attention, traction, and authority, all while uncovering invaluable insights about the audience they’re trying to serve. It involves creating a survey and leveraging the audiences of other bloggers to create “buzz” and capture insanely useful data.

While I could take you through the process myself, I’ll just send you over to Corbett and let the master teach you this art himself. In order to get this free training, sign up for his list here and you’ll immediately get access to his “Traffic Toolbox.” Once you’re inside the subscriber area, find “The B-List Breakthrough” and enjoy!

If you do decide to employ this strategy, make sure you really analyze the results you receive. Don’t just throw up a survey and never actually use the information. Spend a few hours (or days) breaking down the responses and use them to power your marketing.

Amazon negative reviews

This final (without a list) strategy is probably the most powerful of all. It’s all about using Amazon reviews to determine the most common objections in your niche.

Amazon reviews

Here’s how it works:

  1. Head over to Amazon.
  2. Enter the title of a popular book in your niche.
  3. Select the negative (one- and two-star) reviews.
  4. Read through the reviews and write down common objections that you notice.
  5. Repeat with other similar books.

If you spend even 30 minutes doing this, you’ll start to gain a definite understanding of what people dislike about your niche. You’ll also discover the most common needs people have, which will allow you to fill the gap.

In addition to these four (extremely powerful) strategies, here are a few other ways to understand your audience if you don’t have a list:

  1. Browse through forums and look for common problems that people have. I don’t recommend spending a lot of time doing this, but even a few hours should give you a better idea of who you’re trying to serve and what they are really looking for.
  2. Use Twitter search to find out what people are saying about your niche in real time. Again, it’s not the most effective tactic, but it can give you some insight into where your niche is headed right now.
  3. Keep your eyes open. While all this stuff will definitely help you understand your audience at a deep level, don’t forget to keep your head up. Be on the lookout for common problems. Notice if phrases or ideas keep popping up. Listen to what people are saying.

These are my favorite tactics for researching a new audience. But what about researching the readers you already have?

Logan Marshall is on a mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs change the world with their message. If you’re one of them, check out the cinematic trailer to his upcoming blog.

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Comments

  1. Hi Logan, this is indeed really very inspiring and useful. Out of the 4, I only know about knowing my audience through facebook. I will try your techniques out.

    Thanks for the wonderful post.
    Dan

    • Deepak says:

      I too know my audience through facebook and I think that’s the most powerful and effective technique. I have been into amazon for research but not that much. Quantcast is an awesome tool which I have to learn now :)

  2. Great stuff here. Headed over to check out your lifestyle design project. When I started my site it was intended to be a 50/50 mix of personal finance and lifestyle design, but it has trended more towards personal finance. That’s probably mainly due to my audience, which Quantcast seems to be pretty accurate in gauging.

  3. Very, VERY helpful information. I never thought of using Facebook or Amazon in such a way, but you’ve definitely shown what goldmines they can be. Heading to FB to try it out right now. Thank you!

  4. Long says:

    I have never put any thought into researching the negative aspects of a niche in order to improve my understanding of an audience. What a great point of view.

  5. Taylor says:

    If you were my wife, I’d kiss you right now! Super insightful! I appreciate the specifics apposed to the generalities I often get from “experts” or “gurus”. Planing for a late June/ early July launch so this info comes at a perfect time for my preparation.

    Your guest post landed you at least one more supporter… me.

  6. William Lee says:

    Thanks for the tips. Great information in this article. These methods will surely hit the jackpot. I have written some articles about web tools to check our blog in terms of backlinks and audience as well. You might want to check it out. :)

  7. Peter Scott says:

    Great post Mr Logan Marshall

  8. Thor says:

    Awesome tips! Now you’ve given huge task ahead. LOL. I fully appreciate your generosity of sharing these important aspects of engaging online audience.

  9. Michelle Sun says:

    Thanks for the great walkthrough! Very informative. Cant wait till the follow up posts

  10. Karun says:

    Hi Logan, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, and yes all those websites amazon, quantcast and twitter are very good to start collecting new data about our audience and what they exactly need. I do have this in mind – target audience are better than non-targeted audience and it also improves conversion.

    • Logan says:

      Definitely Karun. Trying to go too wide and appeal to everyone will dilute your marketing and end up making you appeal to no one. Thanks for the comment!

  11. Linda Caroll says:

    What Peter said. This is a really, really great post.

    To add to the list — Alexa is old and outdated, but still gives some good insights on what keywords are driving traffic to the popular sites in a niche. Knowing what people are searching for is a helpful part of customer research.

  12. Leila says:

    Valuable for the competitive information alone that you get from mining Facebook, using Qantcast, etc. Thank you for setting out this blog in a truly useful way.

  13. Hi Logan, this is indeed really very inspiring and useful. Out of the 4, I only know about knowing my audience through facebook. I will try your techniques out.