Ever feel like you might be barking up the wrong tree? Fishing in the wrong pond? Looking for love in all the wrong places?

Marketing to the wrong audience is a bit like that.

Even when you do everything right, it always comes out all wrong. You never quite get the results you’re looking for.

Because the first rule of marketing is “know your audience.” It was the law of marketing back when the wheel was the hot new thing, and it will be the law of marketing on the spaceship to Mars.

And as long as there’s marketing to be done, the trusty audience profile will be there to help you reach the right audience.

What is an audience profile?

An audience profile is a fictitious character you model after a member of your target audience.

Anyone can list attributes of their audience in a Google Doc, or write them out in a creative brief. But if you’re really trying to get a hold on who you’re marketing to, you need to create a well-rounded representation of a real person.

You might also hear audience profiles referred to as audience persona, or as a target audience profile. Both are correct.

Target market, on the other hand, would be wrong. A target market is broader than your target audience profile. It contains many audience personas.

Buyer persona would also be wrong. A buyer persona is a fictional representation of a buyer, like so:

It’s an important distinction because your audience is bigger than just buyers. You have many readers who can influence buyers. Sometimes the path to lead generation starts with them.

This is particularly true in B2B markets. It can be difficult to get the ear of a busy decision-maker. In some cases, getting the attention of an influencer who already has a decision-maker’s ear may be your only path to purchase.

Consumers are a little easier to directly target, but you still need audience profiles in B2C markets. Even if the same person you’re selling to is the same person you’re marketing to, the art of sales and marketing are very different. A bank, for instance, would approach a potential mortgage customer differently prior to the point of sale than during or after it.

The steps to creating an audience profile

Audience profiling is crucial for crafting a successful marketing campaign. If you know who you’re talking to and what they care about, you can build messaging around their interests and pain points.

But how, exactly, do you get to know your audience? Let’s look at the key steps involved in developing audience profiles:

1. Collect data about your target audience

Start with quantitative data. The two most valuable sources of insight into your target audience are:

  • Google Analytics: Audience analysis is easy with Google Analytics. You can obtain demographic information about website visitors, including their approximate location, age, gender, interests and type of device. You can also dig deeper and start to understand which demographics engage with which segments of your site, at what rate they convert and on which pages. You can even figure out which channels specific audience segments arrived through – social media, search, paid advertising, email, etc.
  • Your CRM: A CRM tool is much more than just a way to manage your customer base; it’s also a living record of the interactions that led up to a sale. The data in your CRM sharpens your sense of what industries convert at the highest rate, how leads first approach your company and other clues about how to attract the ideal customer. This information can help shape your audience profiles.

Google Analytics makes it easy to drill down into user data and create a demographic profile of your target audience.

Then there’s the qualitative research. This is a combination of your instincts and insights from your sales and marketing teams.

2. Identify needs and pain points

Once you know your target demographics, their location, the content types they prefer and the industries they’re in, you’re ready to start drilling down into their needs and pain points.

Again, your CRM can be incredibly helpful in identifying the reasons your existing customers approached your brand.

  • What problems were they trying to solve?
  • What pain points did they encounter with other solutions they tried?
  • What did they find most useful about your product or service?

Another valuable source of data is keyword research. You can use a tool like Ahrefs, Moz or SEMrush to figure out which search queries your market rivals are ranking for. This is a very data-driven way to discover topics, issues, needs and pain points that your potential audience cares about that weren’t even on your radar yet.

3. Round out likes and dislikes

Any data about a person’s interests, values, likes, dislikes, attitudes and personality traits falls under the umbrella (bumbershoot if you’re British) of psychographics.

It’s really important to know how to package the messaging you send out into the world – what type of language you use, what values you espouse, what sort of imagery you use, and so on.

All of these are important elements of branding, but they’re also key aspects of your audience profile.

One of the great things about developing audience profiles is that you can start to get a sense of where your company’s branding may be getting stale or out of touch with your audience.

A word to the wise: Do not deprioritize psychographics. They can have a direct impact on how relevant your content feels to your audience. They can also have a direct impact on the bottom line. For example: Studies have repeatedly found that more than half of all consumers would pay more for sustainable products or services – particularly millennials.

Psychographic data is a little harder to put your finger on and will likely require some qualitative research. Start by figuring out who the influencers are in your target industries. What do they care about? Also, look at what blogs or magazines the audiences in your most prevalent demographics and industries flock to. Evaluate the general culture, preferences and attitude of your existing customers.

You can use hard numbers collected through customer surveys, web analytics, Google Trends and keyword research to supplement and support your efforts.

4. Put it all together

Once you’ve done your research, you can start putting together some audience profiles.

Here’s an approximate template we’ve used in the past, followed by some examples:

Key demographics

  • Age range:
  • Gender:
  • Common job title(s):

Key psychographics

  • Likes …
  • Dislikes …
  • Strives for …
  • Values …

Challenges

[Try to list 3 to 5.]

Preferred channels

  • For content consumption:
  • For first contact:
  • For browsing:

Preferred content types

[List as many as are applicable.]

B2B examples of audience profiles

target audience examples - example 1 target audience examples - example 2 target audience examples - example 3

B2C examples of audience profiles

target audience examples -example 4 target audience examples - example 5 target audience examples - example 6

5. Make changes as needed

At long last, we arrive at the final step in creating audience profiles.

Depending on how frequently your market changes, you may have to update your audience personas often or very rarely.

Rapidly evolving, heavily disrupted industries may see frequent shifts in customer expectations based on what technologies or service models become available.

Even in industries that don’t change too frequently, it’s important to be mindful of how the audience changes. Mindsets shift as time passes, and as the world changes. Clinging to old representations of customers will at best leave you looking a bit out of touch, and at worst, create some serious marketing mea culpas (like that time Pepsi thought it understood what millennials stand for).

At a minimum, we would recommend reevaluating your audience personas once a year – along with your buyer personas – to make sure they’re still relevant.

Key takeaway: Figure out who you’re talking to before you open your mouth

Content marketing – and most other forms of digital marketing – is all about giving something of value to your target audience. If you can do that on a continual basis, they’ll start to look to your brand as a trusted and reliable source of information.

But before you can achieve any of that, you need to know who “they” are.

Take an interest in who your audience is, and they’ll be much more likely to take an interest in what you have to say.

Otherwise, you’ll forever be barking up the wrong tree – always searching, never finding.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.