The Power of Knowing Your Audience*

Written by: Zach Pearson on Monday, December 19, 2011 | Leave a Comment 

(Don’t read this post if you don’t want to feel old)

As if I didn’t feel old enough, three years out of college with 2012 just around the corner, yesterday I received an email from a high school friend: “40 Things That Will Make You Feel Old.” I was hooked by the very first item on the list: A screen shot of Microsoft Word with an arrow pointing to the floppy disc; the caption read, “Most students click this to save their papers and they have no idea what it is.” Incredible.  And the list went on and on. Did you know that all three mmmboppin’ Hanson brothers are married with multiple kids? That if they aged, Bart Simpson would be 31 this year and all of the Rugrats would legally be able to drink?

As I scrolled through the list, I had many jaw-dropping moments, followed by a lot searching on the Internet to confirm these outrageous statements (they all turned out to be true).  When it was all said and done I came to an interesting conclusion; this list was written for me. It had to have been. Every single item on the list evoked some sort of emotion, and many evoked one of the strongest emotions there is: Nostalgia. As I began to see this list shared throughout the day on Facebook and other digital channels, it became clear who else this list was written for: my best friend, my brother, my high school classmates and my college friends. It was written for anyone currently in their 20s.

The list is a prime example of identifying a very specific group of people, knowing what makes them tick and creating content that evokes raw emotion. As I began to share the list with my peers, an overwhelming sense of community came over me; a weird sense of pride emerged and I loved the idea of being able to share something that anyone my age could relate to, laugh about, remember.

Not surprisingly, the list was put together by my peer: A 24-year-old blogger. If I’ve learned anything in my career so far it’s that in marketing, PR and advertising you can’t be successful at communicating without knowing your target audience to a T. Furthermore, you must know what makes them happy, stressed, productive, satisfied and so on, what will stir up passion, emotions or sentiment. Although this list is a much lighter, less serious journalistic example, the concept carries over to any marketing campaign. This 24-year-old blogger knew who he was writing for and knew his target audience because he is the target audience.

The question is, as a marketer, how do get to you know your target audience when you yourself are not a part of it? How do you evoke raw emotion—or connect with your audience’s pain, desire, dreams or hopes—and get them to listen to your message and buy your product when you don’t have any first-hand experience in their world? It may be hard, but by no means is it impossible. Today we have a variety of tools at our disposal to help, from traditional focus groups to cutting-edge social media monitoring platforms. In fact, in today’s world, there really is no excuse not to know your target audience. I believe the most important way to understand your audience is to engage:  Ask questions, then listen and listen closely. Never assume anything. Take advantage of the powerful tools and resources available. Know your target audience better than you know yourself and you’re on your way to both truly connecting with them and convincing them you have the answers.

By the way, did you know the Macarena dance is 16 years old? Now I bet you feel really old.

Jessica Boardman is a content consultant for Greenough. Send her an email at or follow her on Twitter @J_Boardman