Know Your Audience Before You Make Content for Them—Here's How
June 6, 2019
To create compelling content for your brand, you need to know your audience. But what does “knowing your audience” really mean? Which audience? And how much do you need to know about them? As the president of Bleacher Report, Rory Brown, told Digiday, “You can reach so many more people [in this era], but the definition of audience is murkier than ever.”
And when it comes to endeavors like creating branded shows, a podcast, or even an ad campaign, your potential audience suddenly expands beyond those who are just interested in learning more about your product or service. This is great news, but it also brings us back to that tricky question — how do you know who you should actually be making content for in the first place?
“How do you know who you should actually be making content for in the first place?”
Determining your audience is a key part of the creative process that should happen before you even pick up a camera or jot down a script. So, let’s start narrowing down who makes up that nebulous audience of yours!
Start with your brand values
Whether you set out to make a video series, a documentary, or heck, even a docu-series, looking to your brand values for guidance is a great place to start. Your brand values define your company more broadly than your main product or service does, and ultimately guide your business' core purpose and personality. Chances are, you probably already have a consensus on what those values are, so dust off that internal document of yours that covers them in detail, because you’re going to want to reference this! Let these brand values be your starting point for understanding your audience and the types of content they might be interested in consuming.
Here at Wistia, for example, creativity is one of our core brand values. We try to be creative in the way we approach everything from developing products and producing videos to funding our business and delighting our customers. As a company who invests in creativity, we know that our customers rely on us to look at problems differently and solve them in ways they may not have thought of before.
So, when it came to deciding on a theme that would resonate with our audience for our first-ever docu-series, One, Ten, One Hundred, exploring the relationship between money and creativity seemed like the perfect fit. Leaning on this brand value helped us reach more people who are just as passionate as we are about being creative, regardless of your budget.
How to incorporate brand values into your content strategy:
Use your brand values as headers for lists of topics to brainstorm. These topics can start off pretty broad, i.e. under “Creativity” you could write down topics like “Freelancing” or “Photography.” Then, pressure-test your topics by simply polling your current customers, blog-readers, and social media followers. You can always send out a survey with a tool like SurveyMonkey, but nowadays you can do polls on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. Get a consensus around the areas your audience is most interested in. Later on, you’ll narrow these down and get even more specific about the execution of the content itself.
How this helps you grow your audience:
Ideating around your brand values is a safeguard against short-term thinking. By keeping your content ambitions in line with your company’s long term goals, you’re making sure that the content you create has legs that can last a lifetime. Plus, involving your current audience and customers at this stage will help reveal which values actually resonate with them the most.
“Ideating around your brand values is a safeguard against short-term thinking.”
Define your audience’s problems
From the Jobs to Be Done framework to simply asking “why” over and over again, understanding and solving your audience’s problems is a tried-and-true marketing tactic that helps you win fans for life.
As a business, you’re probably already very familiar with the problems your customers face because you know what problems your product solves. And while your content should share some of that utility, the greater focus should be placed on the problems your customers face in their daily lives and at work.
For example, Robinhood wants to “democratize the financial system” for millennials and younger generations through app-based stock trading — a mission that led to the company buying and taking over the MarketSnacks newsletter and podcast (which was rebranded as Robinhood Snacks).
Robinhood’s product solves the problem of making market investing less complicated, but the newsletter and daily podcast give their audience a look at the broader financial landscape in a way that’s more engaging and entertaining.
How to define audience problems:
When it comes to defining audience problems, we recommend using quantitative (demographics and behavior) and qualitative data (comments, feedback, customer interviews, and support queries) about your current customers to form hypotheses about audience pain points at work or at home.
Search online to see if anyone is discussing these pain points to validate your hypotheses, and then create a problem statement using the “people who + but” framework. A “people who + but” statement for Robinhood Snacks' audience might be:
“Young people who want to make intelligent investments, but don’t always have time to track the financial markets.”
Use the problem statement as the basis for solutions you’ll explore in your content, and as always, be sure to check what you land on against your brand values to ensure it’s still a good fit.
How this helps you grow your audience:
The “people who + but” framework works well for growing your audience because it focuses on identity. A New York Times study on the psychology of sharing found that 68% of people share content online because they want to “give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.” People who identify a certain way often face the same societal or cultural restraints that cause problems in their daily lives. If you can solve problems for people who identify in a certain way, or as part of a certain social group, your content is more likely to be shared around that group.
Create niche content
Narrowing your audience might sound like contradictory advice for growing it, but doing so actually helps you create better content. Niches allow you to come up with solutions that resonate deeply with the audience you’re targeting, and ultimately, create the kinds of relationships that lead to lasting brand loyalty and fandom.
MailChimp is a great example of this. They’ve stated on their About page that creating an “empowered and inspired community” is part of their company culture. Their video content brand, MailChimp Presents, is focused on telling stories about “the entrepreneurial spirit.” And each of the series they’ve created so far focuses on a specific niche of entrepreneurs. For instance, the series Wi-Finders is all about digital nomads changing the cultures of the cities they live in.
The “people who + but” statement for Wi-Finders' audience might be:
“Entrepreneurs and creatives who are considering a more adventurous lifestyle but feel limited by obligations at home or at work.”
The statement above articulates one clear problem these specific people face. What follows next, is a pitch that explains how you’ll address the problem with the execution of your content. Here’s what a pitch for Wi-Finders might look like:
“We’ll document the daily routines of digital nomads to show entrepreneurs the numerous ways they can make a life and live in cities around the world.”
How to create niche content:
Use your problem statement to zero in on an interest group or identity you want to focus on. Then, come up with a pitch for a branded show directed towards that audience. Start by testing out your ideas with smaller content first. Post a tweet thread or a blog post about the problems you’re observing, or create a short (2–5 minute) video exploring your idea.
Share your content out in the world and gauge interest based on the response you get. You know you’ll have found a good audience niche when it feels like you hit a nerve with a specific online community. With that confidence in your back pocket, start investing in bigger initiatives like a branded show directed towards that audience niche.
How this helps grow your audience:
Specific, concrete details are what make content watchable, and you can only provide these details by narrowing the scope of each project. If your subject matter is too broad, your content will be bland and unhelpful. With a specific niche, you can draw in a quality audience that identifies with and is passionate about your subject. And the more content you create, the more specific, unique audiences you can pull in.
When you’ve found the right ideas and the right people, a kind of magic happens. You can create original content that’s valuable to others, aligns with your brand values, and allows you to flex your curiosity and creativity.
“When you’ve found the right ideas and the right people, a kind of magic happens.”
Growing your brand and your audience
Without an audience for your content, you may as well be shouting into the void. Values, problems, and identity are all closely connected for getting to know your audience and then creating great content that engages them.
After all, the best content serves its audience in a way that speaks to what they already know about themselves, but also helps them change perspective and think about things in new ways. By grounding your content strategy in the knowledge of your audience, you can take more creative risks with confidence.