Picture yourself seated in a courtyard café, sipping espresso and trying to look inconspicuous. You’re donning sunglasses and a tam hat, and have a foreign newspaper opened to a random page. You’ve been sent here by your spy organization to recover information on a prized gemstone, and you need to survey your target—a suspected jewel thief—in secret. As you stare across the street toward the fancy hotel they’re supposedly staying at, you begin searching for subtle clues. You’ve been given some small hints– they’re dressed in a pinstripe suit, with a beautiful starlet or handsome actor on their arm. They have all the trappings of wealth, and never go anywhere without their precious poodle. It takes some time, but suddenly your target emerges. Now it’s time to follow and engage!
Though this might seem like a fantastical, cinematic idea, it’s actually not too different to the experience of a content marketer working to understand their target audiences. In fact, this work is so important that a recent study found that nearly half of marketers identified a well-defined target audience as the single most important element of great campaigns. You may not know the name or whereabouts of your readers on an individual basis, but by understanding what makes up an audience, how to discover their motivation, and how to give them what they want, you can be sure you focus your efforts on the right person.
Identifying Targets: Who Is Your Audience?
In our early example, our spy knows that they’re going to be following an individual person, meaning their scope is fairly small. However, in the content marketing you’re speaking to large groups of people, many of whom have differing motives and needs. At its core, your audience is anyone who you think wants or could benefit from your service or product. They don’t need to be specifically looking for your company, or maybe even for what it is your company offers. In fact, your content should be aimed at capturing readers as they move through their unique journey with your brand.
When considering customers and audience, it’s helpful to take into consideration all three and equally important parts of the content marketing funnel, which we like to think of as a simplified version of the four-part AIDA sales funnel:
- At the top, you have your broadest category of those who have no idea who you are but are simply discovering your brand.
- Moving down the funnel, you have those who have perhaps heard of your brand but are simply researching and not ready to make a purchase—they may be interested but unsure of their need for what you offer, or they may be trying to make a purchasing decision.
- And finally, at the bottom, you have your narrowest category of those who are in immediate, desperate need of your products or services and may be ready to contact you to speak further, if you can offer them a promising glimpse at relief.
In any case, understanding that an audience can be from any one of these sections will be of great help when considering how to target and shape your content. You’ll have potential customers who haven’t heard of your brand yet, and content should be easy for them to find when they need what you sell. You’ll have followers on social media and on your email lists, who know about you but need more convincing. And you’ll have some people who are hot leads, in need of their own kind of content that aligns with their urgent need. Which brings us to our next point…
Tracking Movements: What Are Your Audiences’ Motives?
Even the most skilled and expert spies still receive a dossier on their specific topic. The agent is told who they are, where they go for lunch, how often they walk their dog, and all sorts of in-depth information to help track and understand the target. And it’s not so dissimilar as a content marketer. In order to create great content, you need to be certain you’re speaking to the right personas and understand their respective motivations for being a potential customer.
Let’s suppose you’re working as a content writer for a sports store. You’re looking to produce some written marketing pieces that will attract your audience in all parts of the funnel, all while not alienating anyone in that wide net. Consider, then, the different faces who may come into your store or click onto your E-commerce site, as well as the needs and motivating factors for each one:
- You may have an individual sports enthusiast who is looking for the newest running shoes that are built with the newest innovation in podiatric engineering.
- Maybe it’s another individual buyer, but she just needs a durable glove for a summer softball league at the right price.
- Perhaps it’s a football coach, who wants to keep his kids safe but also needs to stay competitive.
- Or even an athletic director, who wants to set up a buying relationship that allows them to purchase equipment in bulk at a discounted price.
Whatever the motivation is of these personas, you’ll want to keep their pain points in mind when producing your content. When combined with you understanding of the different parts of the content funnel, you can begin to see how this knowledge might help you not only predict where your different targets might be at different parts of the journey, but also to produce content campaigns designed to help move these distinct audiences further down that funnel toward your target.
Making Moves: Using Audience Intelligence for Effective Content
You’ve set up across the street, hidden away from plain view. You’ve taken diligent notes on your target’s every move. You’ve even started to form a psychological profile of the person without ever meeting them. So, what are you supposed to do with all this detailed info? How exactly can you translate an understanding of your audience to written content? It all comes back to the marketing funnel and positioning your content.
If you’re looking at attracting that wide and varied audience in the top portion of your funnel, your content needs to do a fair amount of educating in your business’ space, but in different ways for different audiences at different parts of your funnel:
- This means things like blogs related to your industry that can be reached with an emphasis on SEO and keyword ranking, because that’s where your top-of-the-funnel audiences will be looking for you (even if they don’t know it yet).
- For the audience located in that important research phase in the middle of the funnel, you need to demonstrate different looks and elements of your brand. Instead of broad topic blogs, more specific information like case studies or engaging social media posts will help the audience to understand your unique brand.
- Lastly, for those who are actively interested in your services and offerings, your content should motivate them to take an action of some kind—maybe it’s to get in touch with you if you offer services, or to make a purchase if you sell products. This can be achieved with premium content like a whitepaper that requires a reader to provide contact information in order to download. Not only will the content educate them, but it will provide you with a brand-new lead.
Let’s take a look at several theoretical topics of each category, using the sporting goods store as an example business.
Awareness and Discovery (Top of the Funnel)
- A blog ranking the best tennis rackets (ideal for the individual buyer)
- A blog detailing the history of a local sports team (ideal for anyone into sports in your market)
- A short guide about how to create cost efficiencies in buying sports equipment for teams (for your coach or athletic director audiences)
Research (Middle of the Funnel)
- Case study about a high school football team you helped save big on pads (for that coach audience again)
- Social media posts that let staffers pick their favorite item in the shop (for all buyers)
Action (Bottom of the Funnel)
- A white paper targeted to a high school athletic director about how to keep kids safe (well, this one’s pretty obvious)
As you can see, each one of these suggested topics is positioned to speak to a respective audience, at a different stage in the funnel. There’s no blind shooting in the dark; you’re not sending 007 into a situation without vital information. By incorporating all of these ideas into each of your content campaign, you can be sure to target the right audience and keep your sneaky plans on track.