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Do You Really Know Your Target Audience? Part I: Demographics

On a blustery day in March, my friend Julio overturned a flat rock on his property north of Lolo, Montana, and found a UFO below.

By UFO, I mean Unidentified Freaked-Out Organism. Julio quickly realized that his newfound pal wasn’t the snake he appeared to be, not with four tiny limbs poking out his sides. So maybe UFO was a lizard. Or a salamander.

He snapped a pic with his Droid to show me, knowing I’d studied Vertebrate Zoology during my checkered academic career. But I’ve forgotten more than I remember. Thinking politically, I threw out newt as a possibility.

Nope. A quick check online for blue-tailed reptilians in Montana and I knew the UFO’s identity. But I was reminded that often times I don’t know much more about my target audience than I do about quadruped reptiles.

And without an in-depth knowledge of the target’s characteristics and understanding of their behavior, your marketing communications will miss the mark.

So what if a client suddenly developed a product or service for UFOs? What do I need to know about these guys? And how would that apply to the warm-blooded creatures you’re likely targeting?

Demographics help you identify members of your target market.

Demographics (literally writing or data about people) tell you about the average or typical member of your target market. This is the information about who buys your products and services. Just a quick glance and you can figure out many demographic traits, such as age and gender. When you’re preparing an outbound marketing campaign, these traits will tell you who you should focus on.

Age: This one is easy: The UFO’s bright blue tail gives away her age. This species reaches sexual maturity around two; by then, the tail fades to gray. So our UFO is definitely a youngster, although she could live to be as old as 10.

Takeaway: Age matters, to a point. Yes, everyone is on Facebook now, but even if you use the same channel to sell the same product to a tween and a tween’s grandparent, your messaging and visuals will almost certainly differ.  Often the best way to segment your audience isn’t by age at all, but by the driving force in their lives—whether that’s a family, a career, a cause or fun fun fun.

Location: We know our UFO lives in western Montana, but where can we find others like him? From southern British Columbia to the tip of Baja, California, and from central Utah to the islands off the California coast. The UFO loves open space, especially in grasslands and forests.

Takeaway:  To truly understand how location impacts a member of your target audience, it’s not enough just to know he lives in the West or any other region of the country. In Montana, where I live, you wouldn’t want to confuse a liberal from Missoula with a libertarian from Helena. Remember, you can always provide different content for different locations if you filter first with the right questions. On the Fedex Web site, for example,  you can’t ship a thing without first letting Fedex know where in the world you are.

Gender: Hard to tell. Breeding male UFOs often have an orange tinge on their chin and sides of their heads, but March isn’t breeding season in Montana. And both sexes have shiny, scaly skin and brown and cream lengthwise stripes. So I don’t know whether our pal is a he or a she.

Takeaway: If you sell consumer goods like clothing, cosmetics and magazines, you know you need to develop marketing communications specifically for one gender or the other. But often products that seem like they should be gender-neutral aren’t. We all appreciate great stereo sound (I think), but men dominate audio equipment decisions and purchases. Are XY chromosomes really needed to choose speakers? Maybe not but, to sell them to women, you’ll need an appeal geared specifically to them.

Income: The UFO makes his or her living by foraging through leaf litter and dense vegetation. So his income usually consists of spiders, sow bugs, crickets, beetles, moths, grasshoppers and other insects. These insects are crunchier than most: Looks like the UFO is a non-vegetarian member of the middle class.

Takeaway: Income is the factor that most influences whether or not a consumer purchases a product or service. In the recent recession, the shrinking of the middle class made consumer income look like an hourglass. That forced consumer marketers to aim low or high and sharpen their focus on necessities or luxuries.

Education: Either UFOs know what they need to know at birth to survive or they don’t—survive, that is. Other UFOs don’t provide a lot of coaching, so a UFO’s alma mater will likely be the school of hard knocks.

Takeaway: With the shift from salesy to educational marketing, knowing your target audience’s education level becomes even more critical. Today you have the chance to reach your prospects and customers by giving them information and advice that’s truly valuable—and that will work far better than the usual sales pitch. Collateral can range from games and videos to white papers and Webinars. The key is to adjust your message for the stage of the marketing cycle you’re in (from awareness to preference to loyalty) and the people you want to reach.

Marital or family status: Our UFO isn’t thinking about settling down or raising kids just yet, but that will change—and gender will make all the difference afterward.

If she’s a female, think working Mom with no support. Her main concerns: children, security and time management. She’ll breed in Spring, construct a nest chamber and lay two to six eggs in June or July. She’ll guard those eggs until the late-summer hatch. Then she’ll stay with her hatchlings, fiercely protecting them until they’re old enough to leave the burrow.

If he’s a male, think deadbeat Dad. His main concern: himself. He’ll breed in Spring and be done with it. His life is free and easy, with no family responsibilities.

Takeaway: Figure out what role the members of your target audience play—but remember, they may not be traditional. Plenty of human Dads are the major caretaker for children (as Huggies discovered after major backlash on a diaper commercial). Plenty of Moms are the major breadwinner in their households. So be careful with gender stereotypes: Your audience may relate to some and resent others.

Occupation: If you were hiring a UFO, the ad might read like this: Foraging, breeding and predator avoidance skills required. Bonus given for demonstrated ability to maximize efficiency while minimizing risk. Work hours morning and evening daily, with a siesta during the midday heat. Seasonal work only, leaving time to prepare for fall-to-spring hibernation.

Takeaway: Given that we spend 22% of our lives working, on average, our occupations are often what come to mind first when we’re asked to describe ourselves. (I’ve given up saying “copywriter,” however; most people hear “copyrighter” and think I spend my days putting ©©© everywhere.) Especially in business marketing, it’s critical to understand the challenges your targets face. It’s not enough to know your prospect works in big pharma: A research scientist, production engineer and lab technician have vastly different responsibilities—and your marketing communications need to reflect that.

Ethnic background: UFOs are tolerant of their reptile kin and will den down with others of their species, as well as alligator lizards, rubber boas and even rattlesnakes. Whatever it takes to stay warm all winter, they’ll do. The only downside: If their den mates wake up hungry, the UFO could be breakfast.

Takeaway: Be sensitive to the characteristics that set segments of your target audience apart. All reptiles are not created equal, which you’ll notice immediately if you turn over a rock and find a rattlesnake instead of our blue-tailed buddy. Likewise if you choose to market to people based on factors such as race, religion or national origin, you’ll want to be certain you’ve drawn a fine enough line. The more interactive you make your marketing communications, the more likely you are to gather the data needed to personalize your offers for specific targets and give them the products and services they want most.

PS—So what species is our UFO? Not so fast. First we need to talk about Psychographics, which will be upcoming in next Friday’s bonus Blog post/email. According to recent research, targeting for Psychographics is an even more effective way to go. And then I’ll finally identify our blue-tailed friend.