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Targeting Your Audience on Their Terms

The exercise of building audiences is going to be different for every business. But the steps you need to take will remain relatively the same.

Mike Mardis
Mike Mardis

Feb 08, 2023

The Evolution of Audiences in Digital Marketing

Audiences are the core of digital marketing. In the old days of SEO an audience consisted of anybody you could get to your website. And that's what SEO started as – the more people you get to the website, the better. The main worry was about getting traffic numbers up. It's evolved a lot since then.



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As the market evolved, SEO got more mature and started to touch more parts of the the business. Technologies become more mature and businesses realized the value of their websites and having a digital presence. The question became, "What good is traffic if it never does what you want it to do: convert?"

We need visitors to make a purchase. We need them to buy something. So, when you you think about things like old black hat SEO tactics – things like bots, clickbait, link buying, etc – these are all tactics to just get more traffic. But the traffic wasn't valuable.

We need to think about not just getting traffic to your website. Just about anybody can do that nowadays. Now it's about getting valuable traffic to your website – people who are going to convert.

Take a movie theater as an example. At a movie theater there's an audience that's watching a movie. But inside of that audience there are people who possibly passed by the theater, had a couple of hours, and decided to go watch a movie. That's great. But it's really hard to target people like that. It's hard to guess when they randomly want to watch a movie. What you should really focus on are the people that we call cinephiles – people who constantly go to watch movies. They plan in advance, they buy tickets before the movie even comes out, and then they go to the opening. That's a much more valuable audience to actually think about and target if you are a movie theater.

In short, audiences have a purpose, a reason to convert. They aren't window shopping.

So, as digital marketers, we've moved away from volume and started looking at quality.

How to Get Started Building eCommerce Audiences

The exercise of building audiences is going to be different for every business. But the steps you need to take will remain relatively the same. To get to valuable audiences, you need to start thinking about segmentation. Basically, you have a bid audience of people who might be interested in buying your products, now you need to narrow it down and find the people who are most likely to buy.

Audience Segmentation Categories to Consider:

  • Demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, income, etc.)
  • Location (country, region, state, city)
  • Interests (Psychographics)
  • Intent (search terms, ad clicks, email opens/click, cart abandonment)

Demographics are going to include age, gender, ethnicity, income – things about individual people that you can use to group them.

Location information is always important as well. Do you sell products globally? Do you have the infrastructure to sell globally? Or can you only sell in one country or one region due to your distribution model? You don't want to be marketing to and wasting money on people who physically can't buy your products because you can't get it to them.

Interests or psychographics help you think about what your audience may be interested in outside of just buying your products. For example, let's say you sell furniture. What else might your audience be interested in? What's important to them? Maybe they will also shop for or look for other things online. What are they? Maybe some of them are first-time home buyers or renters moving into larger spaces. Maybe they are renting out properties themselves and are going to need furniture more often. You can see how knowing these things about your audience can help you find them and talk to them online in ways that matter to them.

Intent signals are a little trickier to nail down, but they are essentially triggers that tell you that people are ready to purchase or they're starting to research things in your category.

Intent Signals to Consider Tracking:

  • Search terms with action words (buy, sale, deals, etc.)
  • Ad clicks
  • Email opens/clicks
  • Cart abandonment

This segmentation information is going to end up being really important for you down the road. Getting it documented is going to be where you want to start.

Turning Audience Segmentation Data into eCommerce Personas

Personas are going to be essential once you get all of the segmentation information gathered. You're going to start building out personas that fit into as many of the segmentation categories as possible. Essentially, what you're trying to get to is, "What does the average customer of my product look like?"

If you only sell one or two products, that could be a pretty simple, straightforward exercise. But if you sell lots of products in lots of categories, you should have personas for every single one of them. Not only that, but some of them will overlap because your product categories are going to overlap. You'll want to document how and why they overlap in this process.

Start with a brainstorming session. And don't do this alone. Bring in as many people as you can to help build a comprehensive list of who might buy your products. You can always narrow down later. Do you have a success team? Do you have a sales organization? Working with an agency? Bring everyone into this conversation to get as many ideas about who the ideal customers actually are.

Example time: let's say you sell sportswear. Well, who buy sportswear? Active adults who are into hiking or skiing, or biking, or whatever activity. Maybe they play in recreational sports leagues in the city where they live. Maybe there are people who don't really participate very much in sports or working out, but are into athleisure. Maybe there's a whole different set of people who are parents looking to buy sports gear for their children.

These are all personas for your business. You'll want to list them out, the apply those segmentation categories to them. What are the demographics, locations, interests, and intent of each of these different personas?


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Getting to the "Why" of Your Personas

If you can get to the point where you have your most valuable and relevant personas listed out, and you're comfortable with them, you can start to understand the "why" – the problem that is being solved for them by buying your product.

Going back to the sportswear example – the "why" for a parent is to keep their children happy doing the things that they love. That's wildly different from why a 20-something who's into athleisure. This is just the kind of cloths they wear on a day to day basis. It's less emotional. That insight should produce a very different messaging strategy to each of those personas.

Campaign ideas will start to naturally flow from understanding the "why".

Also, because you know the "why" for the parents, you can use the segmentation data to serve them ads and target them during the correct time of the year with the right products. Youth baseball season is going to start in a couple of months in the Midwest, better start my promotions to the parents. And because you know they are parents, they probably work during the day and pick their kids up from practice after work, so don't waste money on ads during those times. Instead, serve ads on the Open Web so they see them in the evening on their streaming services.

Using Audiences to Measure What's Important for eCommerce Growth

We've said it in several podcasts and blog posts before, the days of blindly throwing money into the the the ad market casino and getting a ROI on the other end (it used to be that easy) doesn't work anymore. These audience exercises are meant to help you spend more intelligently and start to be confident that you're marketing to the right people in the right places at the right time.

We're not out there just talking to everybody anymore. We can only afford to spend money and time and effort on the ones that we think we understand and, thus, can have a strategy for.

This strategy isn't just going to save you money on wasted ad spend, it's going to increase all of the important metrics that you want to look at to sustain growth.

Saving money is great. But, at the end of the day, you're not in business to save money. You're in business to make money.

We want to make sure that your business is healthy and can grow in a consistent way. It's kind of like the stock market. If you're a day trader, you're riding these spikes, these ups and downs of the market every day. Whereas if you're a long-term options trader or you invest in long-term portfolios, you're not worried about that day-to-day stuff. You check on the market weekly or monthly, not daily or hourly. That's what we want to get towith your eCommerce marketing. You want to be confident that, yeah, we may have a down day or two during the week, but overall we're growing at a steady clip.

Now we're getting to where we can start focusing on metrics like Marketing Efficiency Ratio (MER), which is basically your total marketing spend divided by your total revenue. This is where we start to get to some of the more important business metrics that aren't just riding ups and downs of crazy traffic spikes from from a successful ad or something like that.

The Most Important Audience: Your Customers

What we're doing here is building a big feedback engine. The more you target the right people, get them onto your website, and get them to convert, the more relevant personas you add to your existing customer base. This turns your existing customer base into a really good data set for you to delve into to learn more about your personas.

Your customer base gives you something that the larger market, persona-building, and audience segmentation can't give you; the ability to communicate with them directly. This is really powerful.

You're post-purchase confirmation emails are a great place to stick in things like customer surveys or feedback forms? Ask them why they picked you over a competitors. Or what initially brought them here? Was it just that you had the lowest price? Or because we had the specific product you were looking for?

You can see how this can actually inform how you run your business and what products you surface on your homepage; what categories you need to get onto your website to make sure that people are more easily able to find the things, etc.

Using Audience Data to Make Business Decisions

If you do all of this correctly, you can use audience tools like Sparktoro to mine information about your audience preferences and opinions. You can segment your audiences by lots of different things with these tools: social media profiles, keywords, hashtags, topics, etc.

One last example. Let's say you sell workout supplements. Well, you can go and find an audience inside of Sparktoro (or whatever tool you're using) who works out a lot. People who work out a lot are obviously going to use workout supplements. Now you can segment that down into people who talk a lot about a specific supplement, let's say, pre-workout (this is the stuff you drink before you work out to help get through the workout). Great. Now you have a group of people who talk specifically about that stuff
within that segment. You can then segment that even deeper by the most mentioned flavor of pre-workout in positive and negative terms. Do you have the most popular flavors in your shop? If not, you should probably look into getting those and then marketing it to those people who are talking about it being the best flavor.

Once you've gone through the steps of identifying your audiences and building your personas, you know a lot about them. Well, you can go use tools online to find more people like them and see what they're talking about, even see how they respond to your brand and the products you sell. Then you can then use that to inform future activity.

Mike Mardis

Mike is the Director of Marketing at Finch and brings 15+ years of digital marketing experience and a fondness for storytelling. Mike is an expert at building and executing marketing strategies that increase customer engagement and drive growth.

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