Why Your Content Isn’t Connecting. Part II: Audience Mapping and Target Discovery.
Preface – The Change of Pace with Modern Marketing
Before we begin discussing the facets of researching and connecting with potential audiences, it may be worth reviewing the history and importance of marketing in our society and more notably the dramatic, contemporary shifts in this practice as a consequence of technology.
Our modern consumer culture is vastly complex, a continuous shift of relationships between objects and subjects, constantly effecting our collective identities through consumption practices (Lury, 2011). Thus, marketing has become an integral piece of consumer culture as it influences our decision-making and relationship with commodities. Marketing is also symbiotic to the humanities as it effects and even creates lifestyles (Kotler, 2012).
The history of marketing begins with the idea of persuasion, on the precipice of Aristotle: "Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" (350 B.C.E). Branching further into the middle ages and beyond, we can witness that markets and trade may have been present in cultures but not marketing. Marketing was first used as a term by economists, starting in sales departments in the late 19th century. Demands for consumer research, promotional materials, and sales-leads grew and eventually forged the creation of the marketing sector.
Today, define contemporary advertising as "brand-initiated communication intent on impacting people" (Dahlen & Rosengren, 2013) based on three dynamics: media and formats, consumer behaviors and the extended effects of advertising. We should make an effort in defining advertising by highlighting the vacancy for revision of the term itself. In the past, academics and professionals would define advertising as: "a paid, mediated form of communication from an identifiable source, designed to persuade the receiver to take some action, now or in the future" (Richards & Curran, 2002, pg. 74).
One of the major differences that has occurred in advertising is within its own objective, from selling to persuading (Ehrenberg, 2002). Another major difference lies with the Internet's impact on advertising. Unlike prior studied mediums, like television or print, the internet is neither static nor uniform and fragments the media and formats advertisers use in many different ways to engage consumers. The idea of advertising evolving with technology isn't specific to the internet alone, its advance interactivity and vast information available to consumers changed the possibilities for advertisers.
The internet allows advertisers to track consumer behavior to a degree that was never possible before. To that effect, consumer behavior has drastically changed as well. Technology has allowed consumers to have more control over advertising, moving away from passive receivers to active controllers. Additionally, past definitions and approaches to advertising express the need for paid models. Today, companies can use social media, websites and a host of applications to engage their audiences for a fraction of the price. However, the biggest change in marketing aside from operational practice and technological intervention has been an emphasis on creating value based relationships with consumers.
Successful marketing creates a "love affair", an affinity for a brand or product. Seemingly this notion of desire and lack are not just motivational forces at play in our lives but an explanation for the process and pleasure we participate in with consumerism. Moreover, as advertising blends into more noncommercial content (i.e. user-generated content and social media) the question of authenticity and information control comes to the foreground and with it a bend back towards authenticity and value that is readily embraced by consumers when appropriately applied. Strategy is further complicated for content creators who are fighting for connection in a media-saturated environment that is populated with consumers who are "utterly adept at circumventing advertising" (Einstein, 2016, pg. 12).
Why is forging a relationship with consumers a goal for content creators and strategists?
Because if you’re able to truly connect with consumers, they will embrace, share and advocate for the product, service or business themselves, becoming a living-breathing brand ambassador.
It’s through this lens we should begin to look at content creation and strategy.
How do we create content our audiences will value? How do we find an audience for our content? What can we do to cultivate and grow existing relationships with our target market?
Discovering an audience in an engagement economy
This entire article is based on the assumption that your business has a strong understanding of its products/services, mission and overall identity. Furthermore, that these attributes are unique and have worth in today’s market. Without this foundation, it would be extremely difficult and seemingly pointless to pair an audience or potential consumers with your content messaging and brand.
Before connecting with any audience, we must first identify who they are. This goes far beyond simple demographics and psychographics of model targets, it should include diligent research about appropriate platform and channel application. A safe starting point for content strategist begins with identifying ideal consumers. It’s common practice for content strategist and marketers to create a target definition or target client avatar. These can be created by surveying existing customers and highlighting commonalities among them or even by forging a model fictional persona.
Ascertain a target definition or create a target client avatar – Ideally, these methods aim to connect your primary demographic to your product or service who subscribe to your content’s mission. Using techniques like social listening to scan networks for mentions and specific activity is a quick and easy way of tracking users online. Here a focused effort is needed to truly understand what their activities can tell us in relation to our content. From here we can schedule discovery calls or qualitative surveys with active members of our audience or community helping to illuminate specific details and patterns. We can begin to visualize and determine our audience. Try and uncover what their motivations for interaction are? What are their pain points? What questions do they have? If we can manifest a better idea of our audience and their behavior we can begin tailoring our strategy and content to better suite their needs. There’s no shortcut for initially defining an audience, it demands close examination and qualitative surveying. Nonetheless, connecting with one existing consumer and learning from their input or even creating an ideal persona from scratch we can begin to generate a better understanding of who our audience should be and the constructive means of building a relationship.
Use analytics and insights – Algorithms be praised! We live in an era where incredibly complex user behaviors and matrices can be cross-examined and distilled instantaneously. Tools within Google, Facebook, Twitter, Email and nearly every user-centric online platform can be leveraged with specific factorization to highlight hidden dimensions within data sets, illuminating otherwise unseen relationships between these data points. These tools, when applied to consumer choices and behavior, help "sort, classify and hierarchize people, places, objects, and ideas, and also the habits of thought, conduct, and expression that arise in relationship to those processes” (Hallinan & Striphas, 2014, pg. 3). We can see these tools being programmed to push content through automated impressions to target consumers, but they can be applied for discovery in the same way. Analyze your existing traffic, your competitor’s content, principle user’s activity. From here you’ll be able to find important intersectionality, common keywords/phrases to monitor, link builds and search engine sensitivity and much more.
Find the influencers – Brands often partner with influencers in a community to manage authenticity and provide social proof. Likewise, we can invest in these active-users within our network to further foster and connect with audiences. It’s my personal belief that the goal of content strategists in today’s engagement economy is to forge valid, meaningful connections and relationships with their audiences. We can achieve this more readily by identifying early adopters or principle users within our existing network and underwrite their loyalty. Having users that are genuinely passionate about your product or service and readily share and interact with your content should be utilized in creative and interesting ways, like offering exposure, that will energize them and validate your content in their community and network, gaining credible (and low-cost) exposure. In and of itself, influencers should have a strong understanding of your content and messaging and therefore can also be utilized as pseudo-advisors for your virtual impressions.
Don’t aim for 10,000 likes, aim for 10 followers – Unless you’re listed on the Fortune 500, you should be prioritizing quality over quantity. Contemporary content marketing often loses focus with cheap engagement through programmatic and shoddy content, too concerned with trending or becoming viral. This is a lost cause. As value-first approaches, constructive relationships and social proof begin to define successful engagement online, businesses would be better suited focusing on a smaller number of engaged and devoted users.
Hallinan, B. & Striphas, T. (2016). Recommended for you: The Netflix Prize and the production of algorithmic culture. New Media & Society, 18(1), 117-137. Sage Publications.
Einstein, M. (2016, September 13). Black Ops Advertising: Native Ads, Content Marketing, and the Covert of the Digital Sell. OR Books.
Ehrenberg, A., Barnard, N., Kennedy, R., & Bloom, H. (2002). Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(4)
Lury, C. (1991, September 1). Consumption, Identity, and Style: Marketing, Meanings, and the Packaging of Pleasure. Contemporary Sociology.
Kotler, P. (2012, November 26). Marketing. Chicago Humanities Festival.
Richards, J., & Curran, C. (2002). Oracles on “advertising”: searching for a definition. Journal of Advertising, 31(2), 63.
Rosengren, S. (2013). Advances in Advertising Research (Vol. IV) The Changing Roles of Advertising. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.