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Content Marketing Operating System Part 3: Understanding Target Audience

February 28, 2018

So now, we get to one of most critical (and misunderstood) aspects of content marketing: your audience. This Ann Handley quote is a great mindset for us to have when we think of our audience. “Will our audience thank us for the content that we are creating?

To be strong in our audience component, we need two things:

  • To intimately know who our audience is
  • And we need to know what their buyer journey looks like and what content they need at each stage of their journey

At the very core of content marketing, and what sets it apart from other marketing philosophies, is the intense focus on providing value to the people that your organization serves.

Creating useful content

When I think about who’s great at serving their audience, I think of a brand like REI. They were actually voted Content Marketer of the Year last year. The reason it resonates with me, whether it’s hunting or camping, I spend a lot of my free time in the outdoors and I love REI’s content.

Their videos, their blogs, their in-store events, they’re all focused on helping me get more out of my time outside. It’s awesome! I get great camp cooking tips, which my wife likes. I’ve learned how to triangulate my position using a map and compass.

While the subject matter is completely different, I often ask myself: Is the content that I am creating, is it as useful to my readers as REI’s content is to me?

So as you’re thinking about your own content marketing, I think it’s really helpful to have a touchstone, whatever that looks like for you, but like what REI looks like for me, to measure your own content against. It’s a helpful barometer.

Critical questions to help understand your audience

Often times, I think we think of audience just in terms of demographics. You can name them — job title, age, industry, budget, income, marital status, and the list goes on and on and on. But understanding who your audience is, I think goes so much deeper than that.

I think Ardath Albee said it best when she posed the question: Do we see our buyers the way they see themselves?

That’s the appropriate mindset when trying to answer critical questions about your audience:

  • How do they fit into their organization? How do they describe themselves and their role on LinkedIn?
  • What questions do they need answered?
  • What’s their decision-making process look like? Who else is involved in that process?
    • What made them start looking for a solution?
  • And the million-dollar question: How are we going to connect with them?
    • What content do they read regularly and why do they read it?
    • What search terms do they use?

[Organize your audience info and data with this free buyer persona template]

When you truly begin to think about your audience like this, you’ll have a much better understanding of how you can add value to their lives, and that’s a really powerful thing. It’s not about selling. It’s about providing information and solutions to make people’s lives better. Sales are a byproduct of providing that value.

Audience research

So audience research doesn’t have to be that complicated.

  • To get started, talk to your current clients. Take some of these questions and schedule a 15-minute phone conversation with any of your customers that are willing to talk to you.
  • If you can, reach out to some people who didn’t buy your product or service. Figure out what questions you didn’t answer well enough for them.
  • Sit down with your sales team once a quarter. They will love this! They will love to talk to you about questions that their prospects and buyers are asking them. They want to talk to you.

Then you can begin to turn to places like social media and industry research to round out who your buyers are and what they need. Your audience research will act as a foundation to your strategy.

And that’s what’s next.


The Content Marketing Operating System is a six-part actionable guide to help you build a foundational and systematic content marketing practice.

February 28, 2018

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