The only way a marketing or advertising agency can run successful campaigns is by learning as much as they can about their clients’ audiences first. While some agency clients may come armed with plenty of demographic and even psychographic information about their existing customers and prospects, others come seeking guidance to better understand their own customer base.
To help agency professionals better inform their clients’ goals and identify the ripest opportunities for reaching them, 14 members of Forbes Agency Council shared unusual and sometimes surprising ways of learning more about a client’s audience. See their intriguing ideas below.
1. Hybridize A Human Workshop With Software Audit Tools
Defining an audience’s guidelines can be a tricky and time-consuming process, but it can also be fun! The best starting point is a comprehensive workshop where you leave no stone unturned. Using third-party competitor analysis tools is great, but you will still need a real human to do a manual audit. Software audit tools are good to use but very impersonal. Taking a hybrid approach will do. – Peter Belbita, Noble House Media
2. Reframe The Definition Of The Audience As ‘Customers’
Most often, the “surprising” part starts with reframing how a client defines their audience—flipping a set of anonymous data points, purchasing behaviors and demographics into a bull’s-eye, aspirational mindset. We focus on what brings a group of human beings together (their ideas, motivations, dreams, fears and more), defining their shared mindset and values. We don’t lead by defining them as “customers.” – Catherine Clark, clarkmcdowall
3. Let Customers And Prospects Speak For Themselves
Ask. We often find that clients don’t know their audience as well as they should. They may not understand their exact job titles, the budget considerations, the competitor set and so on. We often find the best insights by surveying the customer and prospect base directly and giving them the opportunity to speak for themselves. It can be especially insightful for future product development as well. – Sandra Fathi, Affect, Inc.
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4. Talk To Nontraditional Marketing Stakeholders
Talk to nontraditional marketing stakeholders such as sales and customer success. In a B2B scenario, the founder and marketing lead can provide insight, but sales has the pulse on timely conversations with prospects regarding why they buy and, equally as important, why they don’t. And the customer success lead can provide insight on where the best customers are seeing value in the product or service. – Lindsey Groepper, BLASTmedia
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5. Engage With Potential Customers In Online Forums
Go to online forums where the most passionate potential customers are and involve them. We’ve had clients who run online classes for race car mechanics. So, they went to Reddit and other forums to talk to people who would be potential students and showed them various options in terms of colors, logos, classes and more. – Danny Star, Website Depot
6. Analyze Audience Sentiment Using Social Listening
Powered by meaningful improvements in text-based analytics, one way to understand a client’s audience is via sentiment analysis using social listening. Understanding the experiences and emotions of current customers and prospects can guide how you think about engaging them (and where). Further, you can become informed about the actual language they use when choosing so that you can tailor your words. – Justin Wartell, Monigle
7. Build Robust Customer Profiles To ‘Face’ As You Plan
Get a list of current and past customers, then build out profiles of a few customers based on social activity, actual brand engagements and photos of the customers. Surround a room or fill a screen with the customer profiles, then conduct your brainstorm or strategy meetings while looking at these customers. When you “face” their customers, it keeps their wants and needs at the center of all planning. – Katie Schibler Conn, KSA Marketing
8. Become A Part Of The Client’s Audience
One of the best ways to learn about a client’s audience is to find a way to become a part of the audience. That can mean being a customer of the client or simply interacting with their ads and communications to see how they flow to conversion while thinking from the mindset of the consumer. – Stefan Pollack, The Pollack Group
9. Consider Forming An Advisory Board Or Council
We helped a client do this, and we all learned a lot from the experience. A good council is made up of 75% clients and people who fit the profile of current clients. Having quarterly sessions with the council can give you real-time answers to complex questions that quantitative market research simply couldn’t replicate. – Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group
10. Turn To Data In Innovative Ways
Turn to data in innovative ways, using strategies such as audience mirroring to identify prospects who share look-alike characteristics with your current customers, identity graphs such as LiveRamp to scale your audience building accuracy and reach, and intent data to find organizations that are in-market for your solutions now. – Paula Chiocchi, Outward Media, Inc.
11. Look To Your Client’s Support Team For Guidance
Support organizations hear customer issues, including the latest challenges. Hearing about these issues can provide insight for product positioning or new products, services or features. Speaking with your client’s support team can guide you to the problems that the client can solve for customers. Customers care about the issues they face. These issues are effective topics for blog content creation or advertising. – Jim Caruso, M1PR, Inc. d/b/a MediaFirst PR – Atlanta
12. See Who’s Engaging With The Client’s Social Media Posts
We often read the comments on a business’ social media posts to learn more about the true audience. This allows us to see the type of people who are actually responding and engaging with the business, and it’s a great way to get ideas for audience targeting that you can validate through Google Analytics or by A/B testing ads. – Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint
13. Achieve Dual Objectives With Social Media Polls
Using social media polls to gain audience insights for your client and provide engaging content for their followers. Win-win! A lot of agencies default to using tools such as BuzzSumo or Semrush (don’t get me wrong, we use and love them), but it’s also a good idea to go straight to the source. Who knows—you may learn something else from your client’s audience that these other tools aren’t telling you. – Bernard May, National Positions
14. Secret Shop The Sales Process
Secret shopping works best for clients that are offering a service. Find out how their service is being demoed and sold. This will lead you to better understand the feelings and reactions of customers. Perhaps the information is hard to understand, the sales team is unresponsive or the offering is not clear. Then, take that intel and build your campaign around fixing these issues. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency
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Author: Expert Panel®, Forbes Councils Member