How to improve your marketing efforts with audience research

Everything from competitive benchmarking to media diet analysis (and much more in between) helps match your expertise and message with audience pain points and needs.

Have you ever sensed that your marketing efforts could be more effective? Maybe your audience engagement rates have slipped a bit over time, or you’re getting less feedback from customers than you used to?

Recent research reports that 50% of B2B content marketers flagged data management and analytics as a priority area for their organizations, yet only 36% of those marketers viewed “getting to know audiences better” as a key area of investment. So many marketing efforts are sunk by a campaign that isn’t rooted in true audience needs – that’s where upfront audience research is essential.

So what is audience research and why is it so important to successful content marketing?

At its best, audience research is helping organizations figure out what your audience wants, its pain points and challenges, and how your team can best serve them. There are any number of data points that organizations may point to that are actually dead ends for audience resonance, such as insights that are:

  • Only reflective of internal points of view (especially when its only reflective of your organization’s leadership)
  • Dated, and not reflective of recent audience experiences
  • Generalized, and not particularly focused on your target audience

When it comes to audience research, rigorous methods are key to developing strong insights that can serve as the foundation for your new content marketing strategy.

What are the pros and cons of audience research?

Using these methods as inputs for a new marketing effort sets the stage for effective and resonant messaging. It ensures that:

  • Content can answer the key questions audiences are asking
  • Messaging can be reflective of real audience language and habits
  • Distribution can reach audiences where they are in their normal browsing routines

And audience research as an investment upfront can actually save time and money down the road – avoiding costly campaign pivots and improving the impact of your marketing efforts overall. But on the other hand, as with any strategy, you need to decide whether the benefits are worth the investment.

  • Without rigorous research activities, there’s no guarantee that useful insights can be synthesized from anecdotal observations
  • You could find false leads when it comes to audience needs or preferences, having a negative impact on marketing resonance down the line
  • Time spent by your internal team on research can take away from other business-critical activities

We think the best marketers use both qualitative and quantitative research activities to ensure a rigorous audience research process and power the research that goes into a new content effort.

How we use primary and secondary audience research

The best marketers synthesize qualitative and quantitative sources to deliver useful insights (for taking action on), and this research falls into two categories: primary and secondary research.

Primary research: A method where our researchers use information from original sources. Primary research can help identify key stakeholder pain points, needs, and behaviors which inform and uncover specific opportunities organizations can pursue.

Methods we use:

  • Interviews: Discussing audience experiences, challenges, behaviors and more with willing participants in a one-on-one or small group session.
  • Netnography: Audiences are increasingly active online – constantly sharing valuable information about their opinions, experiences, and behaviors. We monitor the places your audiences engage online in a way that insights can be gleaned from already existing audience conversations.
  • Surveys: Unsure of what your audience wants? We’ll ask them. Conducting audience surveys can be a quick and effective way to broadly understand your audience’s needs. 

Secondary Research: A method where our researchers use information from existing sources. Secondary research can be helpful in understanding and evaluating the overall market landscape and space which an organization – and its target audience – operates.

Methods we use:

  • Literature review: Undertaking a review of already existing research and studies in a given industry or profession to get grounded in current trends. 
  • Competitive audit: Evaluating the content output and performance of an organization’s competitors – both traditional and emerging. In today’s media environment, mindshare competitors can often take novel forms, including individual influencers.
  • Data analysis: We leverage first- and third-party data from marketing platforms to learn audience preferences directly from their behavior online – from analytics platforms like Google Analytics to tools for search and social analysis.

There are pros and cons to each research method – but the synthesis of all of these research methods lead to stronger and more unique insights that can inform a new content strategy.

So, how can you get started with audience research?

For many marketers, internal resources (and budgets) can be a challenge. There are key questions you should be asking of yourself and your team:

  • How much do you know about your audience? Many organizations are collecting data all the time, but they haven’t yet put it to full use. Others have a large customer base or membership, but aren’t proactively asking the questions that could surface useful insights. Getting a sense of what you already know can help you figure out where the gaps are in your understanding of your audience.
  • What does success look like for your organization? The kinds of questions right for a membership or association are different from those of a startup. And the implications for the insights you obtain are different as well. It’s essential to map any research to answer the questions that will lead to success for your distinct situation.
  • Do you have the resources to do audience research well? Sure, there are low fidelity ways to infuse audience research methods into your marketing and communications planning. But a more holistic effort can be more effective at achieving your marketing goals.

Our team of data analysts helps marketers understand and act on audience demand. Get in touch with us for a free consultation on how we can help.


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