Questions, ideas and frameworks to help you define your audience

Hywel Curtis audience questions

To develop an audience that meets your goals, you need to define who you want to speak to in order to work out exactly how you are going to do it. It’s not an exact science and you’ll need to rely on your own knowledge of people in this area too – but here is a big list of questions and things to think about to help you get started.

Who is your ideal customer or your imaginary biggest fan? What do they like? What do they dislike?

How can you make a profile of who they are? Should you even bother?

Working out what makes these people tick is vital to creating content for them so that they stop and listen to what you have to say. And if you can get them to do that, hopefully you can them convince them to take action that will help you meet your goals – whether that is to buy something, sign up for a study, give you feedback or whatever else you need.

Working out who you want to talk to is the last part of my process for defining your target audience. But it isn’t an easy task. You can get into as much detail as you like, but the important thing is to only use the information you need.

Below I have included a variety of questions, frameworks and ideas that could be used to define who a target audience is – but if they aren’t relevant then they don’t need to be used. Just ignore them!

Remember this is for the ideal audience and these aren’t in any sort of order. You can also add to any question what the audience would like or dislike about the answer, or how they would react to it.

Factual questions – traditional demographics

For the most part, the questions in this section are on factual information about your target audience. There are only a limited number of answers and they are used in traditional audience segmenting.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful! The local shop selling luxury grooming goods for over-50s men will need to know these things. But the blogger discussing relationships, dreams, productivity and motivation probably won’t find them as useful. Have a read through and think about what’s relevant to you:

Age, gender, sexual orientation

  • How old are they? What stage of life are they in (e.g. teenager, middle-aged, etc.)?
  • What gender are they?
  • What sexual orientation are they?

Location

  • In what country/region/city do they live?
  • In what country/region/city do they work?
  • In what country/region/city do they go on holiday, relax or spend their leisure time?

Family

  • Do they have, or are they part of family?
  • Do they have a particularly large or small family?
  • Do they have a certain form of family unit?
  • Is family important to them?

Employment/work

  • What job do they have (what level in their organisation)?
  • What sort of organisation do they work for? What industry?
  • What’s their outlook on their job?
  • What’s their outlook on their industry? What do they like about it? What do they wish was different?

Hywel Curtis audience people

Politics

  • What political persuasion are they?
  • How politically active are they?
  • What groups, organisations or associations are they a part of?

Hobbies/Interests

  • What hobbies/interests do they have?
  • How much money do they spend on these hobbies/interests?
  • How much time do they dedicate to these hobbies/interests?
  • Do they belong to any groups, organisations or associations around these hobbies/interests?
  • What’s their outlook on their hobbies/interests?

Education

  • What level of education do they have?
  • How do they use their education?
  • What’s their outlook on education?

There are many more related questions in this area of demographics – but, as mentioned, the key is to consider the information you need and no more.

Subjective questions – new demographics

Using a term discussed in the peerless $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – the new demographics refers to categories of audiences that span borders and cross traditional forms of segmenting. It’s also called pyschographics.

Chris explains that we need to ask instead about people’s interests, passions, skills, beliefs and/or values. When you trade or communicate primarily on the web, where traditional demographics and categories mean very little, these are great ways of segmenting your audience. Try the following questions:

  • How would you describe your target audience? Are they cool, geeky, sophisticated, eager, accomplished, lazy, technical, informed, ignorant, charitable, angry, friendly etc.?
  • What one thing do they care the most about?
  • What do they discuss more than anything else?
  • What point have you previously made to them that was received very well? And what point have you made that was received very badly?

Questions like this are important. We are primarily emotional beings; making decisions based on emotion is usually much faster, and even more powerful, than logic or intellect (source).

When you start to consider the emotions that define and drive the activity of your audience you can build a much clearer picture of who they are, and so determine what you should say to them that they will respond to.

Hywel Curtis buyer profileThe buyer

If you are directly selling something then you need to consider both who the buyer is and how they will follow the buying process. One simple way of classifying a prospect is by using the acronym BANT:

  • Budget – can they afford it? Is it priced correctly?
  • Authority – are they allowed to buy? Do they have the authority to control the budget?
  • Need – do they actually need this product? Does it solve a problem they have? Is it something they aspire to own?
  • Timing – do they have time to go through the process right now? Is this a good time in the week, month or year to sell to them given their budget restraints, work commitments, holidays etc.?

Although a pretty basic overview – when selling something, using BANT to classify a prospect helps to ensure that you don’t waste your and their time.

How big business does it

Classifying and defining audiences in larger companies, particularly in the media industry, is a big deal. Most media companies make the bulk of their income from advertisers, and advertisers want to know if the people who see the advert are the ones they want to get their message to. So being able to classify, measure and describe their audiences is important to media companies.

Here are a few ways that they do it:

Young and Rubicam’s Four Consumers

The four consumers are: mainstreamers (who like security and belonging to a group), aspirers (who chase after status and reputation), succeeders (who have already achieved status) and reformers (who define themselves through self-esteem and fulfilment). Read more on Young and Rubicam’s site.

Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles (VALs)

There are more than 4 categories in the VALs approach – but the process is similar to Young and Rubicam’s. By looking at attitudes and other demographics, 8 different categories are set: innovators, thinkers, believers, achievers, strivers, experiencers, makers and survivorsRead more on Wikipedia.

LifeMatrix

This approach mixes details on values, beliefs and attitudes with more traditional demographic information. It defines 10 audience profiles that describe audience values and activity slightly differently – but I don’t think they are necessarily as useful as the other frameworks above. (I don’t have a good source link for this – if anyone finds one, please let me know).

So, what do you think?

I hope the questions, models and ideas above have given you plenty to think about in determining the defining characteristics of your own target audience. But I’d like to know your own thoughts on this.

  • Perhaps there as many different ways of classifying audiences as there are people in them?
  • Perhaps you think that we shouldn’t bother defining them at all – maybe if we just put our message out there, we can judge who it’s important to by seeing who responds to it?
  • Or maybe you think we need to do more, much more, to build products and messages that are really valued by our audience?

Let me know in the comments!

 

Remember, deciding who the people are that you’d like to speak to is just one part of the larger challenge of building an audience to meet your goals.

Thanks very much for reading! I'm developing a new guide to help small science and technology take their online success to the next level through more effective content strategy. If you think this might be interesting to you, click here now to find out more.