Authors

Brian Sun, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Autopilot

Jes Kirkwood, Content and Community Marketing Manager at Autopilot

Lesson 1: Research Your Audience

Get a clear picture of who’s searching for your solution, what they desire, and the hurdles they face.

As a marketer, it’s your job to design marketing campaigns and craft content that drive your business forward. Before you jump in, you’ll need to get to know your current and future customers better. After collecting and analyzing audience data, you’ll be able to deliver value at each step of your buyer’s journey.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to:

8 tools for researching your audience
In this article, we cover four strategies and eight tools for researching your audience
 

Collect audience data using online tools

There are a wealth of online tools that can teach you about your audience. What follows are eight tools that help you identify segments of your audience that share certain firmographic, demographic, and psychographic traits.

Google Analytics is the most popular, influential, and widely-used analytics platform on the web—and it’s 100% free to use. Perhaps for this reason, 58% percent of B2B marketers and 54% of B2C marketers make discoveries about their audiences by digging into their website analytics.

Google Analytics can provide you with powerful insights about your audience as well as their activity on your website. As you’re diving into the reports, pay special attention to:

  • Demographics. What’s your audience’s age range? How does your audience skew in terms of gender? Demographic data reveals who people are. It matters because it impacts how you address your audience. For example, how you communicate with a 48-year-old woman is incredibly different from how you talk to an 18-year-old college guy.

google analytics sessions age
Example of Google Analytics session data by age range
Source: Google Analytics

  • Technology. What browsers do your visitors use? What devices do they own? Understanding how your audience chooses to access your website will help you identify ways to improve your user experience. Let’s say 87% of your website visitors access your website from their iPhones, but your website isn’t formatted for mobile, making it difficult to view. Instead of losing countless potential customers, initiate a redesign that’s focused on making your website responsive.
  • Geography. Where do your visitors live? What languages do they speak? Geographic data can help you identify where to host your next event, which countries to target with social ads, and what languages to translate your content into. For example, if you discover a cluster of customers in Ashburn, Virginia who are absolutely crazy about your product, hosting an event there could help you solidify their loyalty.
Example of Google Analytics session data by geographic location
Source: Google Analytics
google analytics sessions country
  • Interests. Do your visitors like movies? Are they travel buffs? What industries do they work in? Your audience’s interests give insight into where they hang out and potentially the best places to advertise. For example, if many of your current customers are social media enthusiasts, ramping up your presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn may help generate new leads.

About 60% of B2B and B2C marketers review search terms on a weekly basis. They use tools like Google AdWords to discover how their audience searches for similar solutions.

Following in their footsteps will help you answer psychographic questions about your customers, like “What are their pain points?” and “What language do they use?” But it will also help you identify new keywords to use in future website content and AdWord campaigns, helping you show up both in organic and paid search results.

Simply go to your “Keywords” tab, then click on “Search terms” to see results. Doing so will generate a report of the actual Google searches that caused your ads to appear.

Example of a Keyword Search Term report in Google AdWords
Source: Google AdWords
google adwords search term report

If you’ve never run ad campaigns on Google Adwords, try using Google Keyword Planner (a tool within Google AdWords) or one of these keyword research tools instead.

Another way to gather intel about your audience is to conduct a survey. Surveys allow you to quickly get feedback from your customers at scale. Say you own a clothing store. If you conduct a survey and find out that 80% of your most loyal customers have children, you could consider adding a children’s clothing line to your inventory. You can easily create a survey in minutes with tools like SurveyMonkey or Typeform.

Example of a customer satisfaction survey using TypeForm
Source: TypeForm
typeform survey

When crafting your survey questions, keep these best practices in mind, and encourage survey completions by offering an incentive, such as a product discount or gift card, to thank them for their time and input.

With Autopilot, you can scale your research efforts by creating automated customer journeys that simultaneously collect feedback from all of your customers.

Say you’re growing a subscription-based business, like a SaaS company or membership-based organization. You could include a welcome email in your onboarding journey that asks one simple question: “Why did you sign up?”

Emails like these are powerful because they’re open-ended. In other words, they give very little direction and prompt your customers to answer in their own words.

Here are a few examples of companies already doing this:

1. Habit Nest transformed their company after using an automated interview request journey to set up interviews with nearly 100 users over 12 months.

Here’s how it works: Whenever a new user signed up for one of the company’s five “habit” streams, they were automatically added to the journey via Autopilot’s smart segment trigger.

They weren’t asked to be interviewed right away. Instead, the company added delays so they could interview users during different stages of the process of building a new habit.

Example email from Habit Nest's interview request journey
Source: Habit Nest
habit nest email example

Notice how they added a Calendly link in the email above? This is so that users could add themselves directly to Ariel’s calendar.

These types of journeys are beneficial because they remove the tedium from the process, helping you to set up 1:1 interviews at scale.

2. Autopilot uses an automated feedback journey to find out why some trialists don’t convert.

Here’s how it works: After a prospects’ trial has expired and they haven’t made a purchase, they receive an email asking for feedback via a two-question survey.

Email and survey from Autopilot's automated feedback journey
Source: Autopilot

Automated feedback journeys like this one are helpful in that they provide instant feedback about your product and customer experience. But they also provide insight into your customers’ day-to-day lives: What are their needs? How tech savvy are they? How tight are their budgets?

3. LiveChat got 123 best-in-class reviews and a 4.85 star rating on GetApp after investing just 30 minutes in setting up an automated review journey.

Here’s how it works: LiveChat’s customers are sent a Net Promoter Score® survey. Those who give LiveChat a score of eight or higher are automatically sent a follow-up email that prompts the customer to write a review on GetApp.

Review request email from LiveChat
Source: LiveChat
livechat review request email

These reviews are an excellent resource when researching your audience because they allow you to discover what people like and don’t like about your company—their pain points and challenges, how they differentiate your product from competitive products, the benefits the reap, etc.

Followerwonk helps you analyze audiences on Twitter (both those belonging to you and to your competitors). One feature allows you to analyze your own Twitter audience in quantitative terms—a great way to learn about your audience’s demographics.

followerwonk insights
Example of Followerwonk audience insights by location
Source: Followerwonk

A second tool allows you to create a wordcloud from the keywords located in the Twitter bios of the audience of your choice. This qualitative data can help you answer psychographic questions.

Example of Followerwonk wordcloud
Source: Followerwonk
followerwonk wordcloud

Keep in mind: When you analyze the audiences of your competitors, don’t do it with the intention of stealing them. Instead, aim to find a niche market that they’ve overlooked.

Twitter Analytics offers audience insights that can answer both demographic and psychographic questions. From age and gender to interests and purchasing habits, this platform offers a wealth of insightful data about Twitter audiences, including your own.

It can also provide insight into how your audience differs from other audiences. For example, this is how Autopilot’s Twitter audience differs from Twitter’s “business decision makers” audience:

How Autopilot's Twitter audience differs from Twitter's business decision makers audience
Source: Twitter Analytics
twitter analytics

After logging into your Twitter account, click on your account icon and select “analytics.” Once you’re inside, your next step depends on whether you’re an individual or a brand. If you’re an individual, the “audience insights” tab will be located in the navigation bar. If you’re managing an account on behalf of a brand, you’ll need to click “brand hub” first and then select “audience insights” from the pull-down menu.

Facebook’s Audience Insights offers demographic and psychographic data about its users.

Example of Facebook Audience Insights
Source: Facebook Audience Insights
facebook audience insights

It’s ideal for startups because you can design a custom audience based on the criteria of your choosing and then save it for viewing on a later date. You can also choose to analyze your own audience: Simply add your page to the “People connected to” field.

What if I don’t have an audience to analyze?
If you’re a B2C startup founder or marketer, you may not have customer data to analyze. If that’s the case, try identifying a suitable audience from websites like Prizm (a Canadian website that’s especially suitable for B2C marketers working on behalf of startups that are hoping to attract the attention of local residents) and/or Claritas (the American equivalent to Prizm). These platforms can give you a starting point to work with until you have customers of your own to analyze.

Sample audience
Source: Prizm
prizm sample audience

Uncover audience insights using qualitative methods

While online tools can be helpful in researching your audience, sometimes it’s better to go directly to the source: Your customers. What can they tell you in their own words?

Note: While researching your audience, you’ll want to answer these core firmographic, demographic, and psychographic questions. If you already have a good sense of what you need to know, feel free to move forward. But if you need for a quick refresher, click the link above.

Go directly to the source: Your customers. What can they tell you in their own words?

What follows are four strategies for finding in-depth answers to your most pressing questions.

1. Add open-ended fields to your forms
The forms on your website are a great opportunity to build customer profiles over time. Start basic by asking for core information, like their name and email address in addition to one to two custom fields relevant to your business. As you develop trust, you can progressively ask more questions, such as their company size, industry, role, or experience level. This technique is known as progressive profiling.

While the majority of the information you collect will be demographic data, you can also add an open-ended field to each form. For example, we ask trialists to let us know how they heard about us when they sign up for a free trial.

free trial form example
Example of open-ended data collection on Autopilot's free trial form
Source: Autopilot

Adding this simple open-ended field has the potential to reveal where your leads are coming from as well as the best places to market in the future. Plus, you’ll gain insights into psychographic data, like where they hang out online and where they get their information from. You might even get some funny responses that brighten your day!

2. Gather insights from your team
Nine times out of ten, the people around you can provide valuable insights about your audience. Perhap for this reason, 50% of B2B marketers and 45% of B2C marketers hit up their colleagues for customer insights.

Do yourself a favor: Avoid working in silos. Next time you’re looking for information, tap the shoulder of a colleague in sales, customer success, or customer support. Your team members can help answer essential questions about your prospects and customers, like:

  • What questions do prospects ask during their first sales call?
  • What do people like about our product?
  • What do people struggle to understand?
  • What causes the most frustration?

3. Practice online listening
When you are living and breathing your company’s messaging, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the real world. Monitoring blog comments, online communities, and social media is a great way to find out what people are saying about you, your competitors, and your space, which is one reason why 54% of B2C marketers and 44% of B2B marketers use this tactic to learn more about their audiences.

These online properties offer a treasure-trove of publicly available consumer opinion. People willingly share their likes and dislikes, desires and complaints, as well as what they had for breakfast on any given day.

54% of B2C marketers and 44% of B2B marketers practice social listening to learn about their audiences.

Conducting online audience research can have the added benefit of helping you discover which social networks they’re on as well as other properties where they’re engaged. Plus, it gives you a more casual environment for participating in conversations with your audience.

Here are a few tips for getting to know your audience: 

  • Be where your audience is. If they aren’t on Twitter, pay attention to Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Reddit, or Instagram.
  • Follow your customers! Don’t just follow industry influencers, listen to what customers say: What language do they use? What do they find funny? Do they ask support questions? Do they search for new products? Do they share interesting news?
  • Be relevant, add value, and ask questions. When participating in conversations, don’t just use it to create “buzz” for your company. For example, instead of “Hey, try my service now!!!” say “I thought this might be helpful for you.”

While online listening takes place across many platforms, you can use social media marketing management platforms like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to keep track of specific keywords and hashtags in a more organized manner. For example, Autopilot tracks “marketing automation”, “customer journey”, and “lifecycle marketing” to see what discussions take place around these keywords without having to scour the web.

4. Set up 1:1 calls with your customers
One of the best ways to get to know your customers is to hop on a call with them, which is why 50% of B2C marketers use this method to gather customer insights.

Interviewing your customers can help you answer both demographic and psychographic questions. Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  1. Before asking any questions, ask for their permission to record the call. That way, you’ll have something to refer back to when the time comes.
  2. Avoid asking leading questions. You want to hear what they have to say, not what you want them to say.
  3. After asking a question, let the customer answer fully. You can even use silence to your advantage. It’s a great way to encourage longer, more in-depth responses.

Make one person on your team accountable for proactively reaching out to people who have expressed interest in your product or service. By adding a 10-minute phone call to your lead qualification process, you gain the rare opportunity to actively listen to your customers, learn about their individual needs, offer personalized support, overcome any objections they might have, and make sure the person or company is a fit for your business.

Feel free to use this email script as is or modify it to suit your needs when asking customers to set up a quick call:

Subject Line: Quick call about [their company name]

Hi [insert name here],

I’m [your name], [company name]’s [your role]. I noticed that you recently signed up for a free trial. Our team values feedback, and we’d love the opportunity to find out if there are any ways we can make your life easier. With that said, are you available for a quick 10-minute call sometime this week?

On the call, I’ll ask you a few questions that will help us understand how we can craft a better experience for you.

If you’re interested, I’ll even throw in [insert incentive here] to sweeten the deal. Of course, no problem if now isn’t a good time.  Just let me know.

Thanks!

[Insert your name here]

To keep your phone conversations consistent, develop a standardized list of questions to ask on every call. When it comes time to analyze your responses, you’ll be happy that you can compare apples to apples.

Below are some questions that a B2B software company might ask: 

  • What is your title and role?
  • How did you hear about our company?
  • What are your highest-priority needs?
  • What tools do you currently use?
  • What is your impression of our company so far?
  • How can our company help make your life easier?
  • What others tools or solutions are you evaluating to solve this need?
  • Is there anything preventing you from moving forward?

After every call, document the responses in a centralized place—whether that’s in your CRM, marketing automation platform, or an excel spreadsheet. Set up a calendar reminder to review and analyze the responses regularly. At a minimum, plan to do this on a quarterly basis. The key here is to look for trends and patterns in the responses and document an action plan based off your findings.

Further resources

Want to learn more about your target audience? Check out these helpful resources:

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Lesson 2: Develop Target Personas

Target personas help teams create winning products, effective messages, and compelling customer journeys. Buyer personas sum up core segments of your target audience, helping your team to quickly grasp what ...

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