Do You Actually Know Your Audience?

Illustration of a group of people

Who is your audience?

It’s one of those questions you’re guaranteed to be asked by your marketing team. We must know. But you may be thinking that it’s an unfair question because your marketing team should absolutely know your audience. Right?

Yes and no. Audiences aren’t just demographics such as Male or Female, 18-24, with household incomes of whatever. So, every project has a slightly different audience and we need to define it to the characteristics of the individual. That’s not always possible. Ok, that’s always not possible. We’re individuals and unless we’re going door-to-door, we must define our audiences in specific buckets. Enter market research.
Market research identifies the most common personality criteria that will respond to the CTA like we want, then the research narrows that down to the people who own that criteria, and ultimately the best way to reach those people based on other similar consumption behaviors. As you can see, this gets complicated, and in this business complicated mean expensive. Big business has the money to profile an audience for every outreach effort, but small business can’t afford to pay for this insight.
That doesn’t mean small businesses can’t still know their audience. As a matter of fact, it might be argued that small business owners might know their audience better than market research. But I’ll wager that they’re just not thinking about it the right way.
I was conversing with a family-owned dry cleaner at some fundraising event, when I made the comment: “Your audience probably doesn’t care much about their clothes since clothing is cheap and disposable.” The client was offended. “Oh no,” they replied, put out. “Our customers care very much for their clothing and they expect us to take great care of it.”
While I am throwing them under the bus, I can’t blame them for thinking that way. To them, their existing customers do care about their clothing and that’s why they pay the professionals. But it revealed to me that they don’t really know who their audience is, only their customers. Customers do business with you. Your audience is who might or might not be a customer, but no matter what, should be.
In the case of the dry cleaners, I would argue that an audience includes people that don’t know why they should care about their garments. If their everyday attire doesn’t require more than Kenmore, then they’re probably not thinking about the cleaning of items that should be treated by a professional, such as coats, drapes, comforters and formal wear. The audience doesn’t care about their clothes because they don’t know they should. Clothing is disposable. It’s inexpensive. It’s replaceable. We don’t mend socks or patch jeans; nor do we even sew on buttons any longer. And if an audience isn’t trained, then they aren’t, and will never be, customers.
Customers are a good way to get a feel for what your audience looks like. They probably share many similarities in the demographic profile. Customers, at the same time, can be telling of who may not be showing up on your doorstep. Why aren’t you getting more wedding dresses to preserve? Is it because there is no market for it? Is it because the audience doesn’t understand? Or is it because you’re spending so much time on your customer that you neglect the hordes of audience members coming through the door once and never coming back? Are you, yourself, too involved in the process and assume you are a representative of your audience. I assure you, you’re not. You may consume the same way and fit a similar demo, but you already believe in the value of your product or service, and they do not.
Knowing your audience is possible for small business, but I might recommend you look beyond who patronizes your business, and more to those who are not…and ask yourself, why not, and what could I do to convince them that they should? If they can’t, they aren’t your audience and you should never expect them to be your customer.