The audience’s journey – Part I: The difference between a target group and an audience

You probably have a perfectly written description of your target group. Maybe even developed into personas. Now stop there for a while. There is a huge difference between a target group and an audience. When you are working with content, you want to convey your story in text, video and sound. To do that you need readers, viewers and listeners. In short: you must have an audience. And an audience manages itself. Unlike a target group, an audience decides for itself it wants to be your audience.

When you come to think of it, focusing on a target group is a rather selfish approach. The brand determines what its target group is, regardless of whether that target group agrees. Wouldn’t you prefer a loyal and engaged audience instead of reach within your target group? That’s why I always start with the translation of a target group, persona or whatever model used, into the description of an audience.

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Now you don’t have to throw away all your data about your target groups. You’ll need it again for your distribution strategy and, of course, for research. But for content you need to translate your target group into a description of your audience. What is it that you, as a brand, can logically talk about and is of interest and relevance for your audience?

What added value do you offer to your audience? Why are you relevant to them? Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, calls this common ground between your raison d’être as a brand and the issues or passions of your audience the sweet spot for content marketing. It provides the answer to the question:

“What can you talk about with your audience in such a way that it is believable and it offers them added value?”

That common ground is the basis for the development of your content. And this is a more relevant approach for content marketing then you would have with the usual demographics.

How to describe your audience

How do you best describe your audience? That is a tricky question, especially because we hate to limit ourselves to a single description. Many brands target both a young and an older crowd, for example, and those different age groups call for a different approach to communication, and the same message but in a different format. What’s more, we don’t usually find them on the same channels, and we’d like to differentiate between them.

Also, the fragmentation of channels will not decrease. On the contrary, it will only become more pronounced. Reaching your target groups will therefore become more time-consuming and expensive… and, eventually, unaffordable and unfeasible. So, we need to make the right choices in good time. They must be choices to attract the right audience and build a long-term relationship with them.

The audience description already contains a relevant piece of information from the sender. It’s similar to the content marketing sweet spot, but in an active form:

“What is the mindset of your audience, or what is it doing when you as a brand are not yet relevant, but you could be?”

That’s what we call your audience’s ‘ordinary world.’

Your audience’s ordinary world

The key question is: what is your audience doing at a time when you are not yet relevant, but you could be? In what situation does your audience find itself, and how would you be able to help? How can you become relevant with content and – sometimes immediately, and sometimes later on – with a product or service?

We’re not necessarily talking about your audience’s features, stages of life, age or household composition, but purely about what it is experiencing just before you become relevant. An example of this is: “I love cooking with fresh ingredients.” This could be the ‘audience’s world’ for a brand like HelloFresh, the meal-box service that provides all the fresh ingredients you need for a healthy meal, delivered to your door. There is no action yet. It’s just a situation or a mindset that assumes nothing, but it is an area where HelloFresh can be relevant. There are no prejudices, and it hasn’t been determined whether we’re talking about a family or an empty nester, an exuberant yellow or subdued aqua character, a Hans or an Ellen, a social climber or a convenience-oriented person. All different examples from different models.

It is very difficult to describe the audience’s ordinary world (or worlds). Even if it’s just one sentence, it has to cover the full spectrum of your entire audience and it shouldn’t contain any action. It’s situational. A pitfall to avoid in describing such a world is the inclusion of a requirement. Remember the following example: ‘I’m looking for easy recipes with fresh ingredients.’ Requirements, expressed as ‘I’m looking for’ in this case, should be tackled at a later stage. The audience’s ordinary world purely sketches the area in which you can showcase your added value.

DIY: Describe your audience’s ordinary world

Now it’s time to translate your target group into your audience’s ordinary world. Make sure it’s a description without a trigger. That means there’s nothing that makes your audience move yet. This is the stage where your audience is just living its life, doing what it’s doing and there is no need or urge to change anything.

This description should give an idea of the domain your brand is operating in, and it should focus on the shared interests of your brand and your audience. 

This is not an easy task, but once you’ve found the right audience description it will give you the perfect start of the audience’s journey. To help you get started, here is another example of stripping your target group to a description into your audience’s ordinary world.

An example:

Target group for meal boxes:
Highly educated women with a good job and a busy social life, age 25 to 45. They think sports and eating healthy are important. They love cooking and good food but have too little time to be creative every day of the week.

Or in terms of a persona:
This is Sascha. Sasha is married to Eric and they have two daughters. Lisa, who is 13 years old, and Anna, who is 9. Sasha is communications manager at a health insurance company and works 4 days a week in quite a hectic environment. On Tuesday evening and Sunday morning she runs with a running club. Sports is very important to her and her family members. She wants to cook healthy, preferably biological, meals, but with all the different schedules of her family members she finds it hard to be creative every day of the week. 

All very useful information, but we have to strip it to the essence of the mindset of the audience. It doesn’t matter what age, what family or job your audience has. In terms of content it is only important what interests your brand and your audiences share. After all, we want to attract our audience with content. 

Remember: I am a target group to many, but an audience to only a few. And maybe even to brands who didn’t even expect it.

Audience description:
Despite my busy schedule I find it important to cook healthy and varied meals.

Don’t worry it has so little information. By using the audience’s journey, all the relevant subjects will come to light.

Your description can start with ‘my audience…’ if it helps you to find the right mindset and domain. Afterwards you have to translate it into a mindset written in the first person: “I…”. That is the start of your audience’s journey.

Stay tuned for the next episode: The Audience’s Journey – Part II


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