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Finding your target audience; the tools to use

Posted by Hamish Grant on 6th August 2009

Increasing media fragmentation and the challenges this creates in getting the right message to the right people means that knowing your audience and what is happening in their world has become even more critical to delivering effective communications, and generating positive ROI.

Massive shifts in media consumption habits and changes in lifestyle amongst both consumers and business audiences mean many of the established assumptions no longer hold true.

In fact, many household brand names are finding that established models don’t work anymore, and that the difference between what their audience actually thinks and what they assume they think is growing, putting pressure on business results.

To address this, smart businesses and agencies are turning to in-depth audience research to get back under the skin of their audiences.

At Wildfire, we’ve been banging this drum for some time now and running a number of enlightening research projects for clients across a broad range of audiences and business problems. These projects have ranged from the quick and simple, through to more complex techniques – with very useful insights being developed, establishing clear new PR messaging and media recommendations.

But what are the different tools and techniques?  We’ve put together some of the most common research tools and an explanation of what they entail and the value they can deliver.

Vox pops

A simple technique to get the opinions of the ‘person on the street’ by simply stopping and asking a selection of people for their views (often recorded). Vox pops are a great way to understand the thoughts of consumers about every day issues. Whilst this method isn’t necessarily quantitative, it will give quick pointers as to general opinions that can then be explored further.


This desk research technique involves thinking about the different types of customers for your product or service and where it fits into their lives. This can also be useful for thinking about the best ways of reaching them. Personas are usually the desired outcome of any audience research exercise and can be used to inform marketing, product development and sales teams.

A day in the life

This is an extension of personas and can be executed using multiple techniques, or through desk research. It involves delving deeply into the life of the target customer, and identifying their daily habits and challenges.

Online surveys

Surveys are a great way to get relatively quick answers to simple, closed questions. Recruitment is generally from existing email data, with good reporting capabilities, however completion rates tend to be low, so a large list is required for statistically valid responses. There are of course many market research companies that can help you do this, but the costs can vary depending on who you are trying to reach.

Focus groups

Focus groups are a very effective technique to help you understand the challenges and thoughts of particular audiences.  Focus groups provide a forum to understand customer opinions on propositions, messages and creative options. The challenge, particularly in B2B, is getting the right mix of people to attend, however with sufficient preparation and help [link to interview with Dom], this can be overcome.

In-depth interviews

To gain a deeper insight into the opinions, pressures and day to day life of a target audience, in-depth interviews can be a great vehicle to understand more about their pain-points and motivations.  The interviews are best conducted with several individuals, in order to identify common themes as well as any significant differences. Recruitment can often be easier than for focus groups, however the timeline for completion of the project can be a little longer.

Testing strategies

While research into audiences before you execute any work is key to ensure that your targeting, insights and messages are relevant, it is just as important to observe behaviour either during or after a campaign. The simple technique of split testing (also known as A/B tests) is particularly useful in establishing the impact of changes to messages, targeting or creative. To be statistically robust, 400 responses is ideal, however smaller numbers of responses can give you an indication of the trend, or at least flag up potential issues for further investigation.

Of course, it goes without saying that if any of the above sound of interest, you should get in touch!

image credit

Hamish Grant