Finding your target audience and conducting audience research
Gain confidence by finding out what kind of content your audience will love. In Chapter 5, you’ll learn how to identify who you’re creating content for, what content matters to them, and how to turn that knowledge into reliable content ideas.
When you first start building your audience, it's tempting to jump right into making content. That's the fun stuff! It's why you got into being a creator. But if you spend some time learning about your audience before you jump into making content, you can set yourself up for success in the future.
“My original audience was women. That really narrows it down, doesn’t it? To half the world. I took that 8 billion and decided to make it 4 billion. That was really specific, right? But I didn’t know. I knew that I wanted to do coaching and I wanted to help women.
What I have finally discovered is that I need to meet people where they are and not where I want them to be. It’s going to take practice and saying, ‘I like this. I don’t like this. People respond to this. They don’t respond to that.’ You tweak and change and grow until you finally get to the place where you say, ‘Oh my gosh! I think I’ve hit the mark.’”
When you talk to successful creators and ask what they wish they’d done sooner, building a strong understanding of their target audience tops the list. When you’re getting started, making content feels like the most important step toward building an audience.
But as soon as your work starts getting noticed, you’ll run into other questions.
How do I keep growing?
What products should I sell?
How do I get sponsors?
Which sponsors are a good fit for my work?
Some creators spend months and months building premium, high-quality, high-price-point products that nobody buys.
That’s why Chapter 5 is about discovering your target audience. You don't have to figure this out overnight, but starting with this makes it easier to understand who you’re creating content for, what content matters to them, and how to listen to your target audience so you know exactly what to say. This approach can ultimately turn your content into a business that brings in more people and more revenue.
A few hours of work here can save you literally hundreds of hours of wasted effort later. Plus, it’s fun! When you work on audience research, you’ll hear real, emotional stories from the people you want to help.
You’ll have “aha” moment after “aha” moment, and a lot of fear and doubt goes away because you build confidence that what you’re saying is what people need (and want) to hear.
To find your target audience, start with an educated guess then go out into the wild
Where do you start your research? First, you put together your best guess. Right now, who do you think is the best fit for your content? This can be an educated guess based on observations you make about your audience.
Then you go out into the wild and look at what real people have to say so that you can test your ideas and get more information from exactly the people you want to reach.
If you’ve already started to publish, the easiest way to start doing research is by looking at who gravitates to you. Podia creator Valeria Hernández noticed there was an audience she was naturally attracting.
“I noticed a trend that a lot of my clients were women of color and they were experiencing very similar issues. That’s when I realized that this could be a really cool subset of people that I serve. And me being Latina, I understand what they’re going through and I also can speak to specific things that they would be struggling with that maybe other people wouldn’t.
Even though I say I’m a health coach for women of color, I still serve white women, and I still serve men too. So it’s not that I’m ever pushing anyone away, but I had a business coach who encouraged me and let me know that it’s important to speak to my group because not a lot of other people are speaking specifically to them."
You may also be creating content that inherently appeals to a specific group of people, which makes the job of audience research a lot easier. Podia creator Asha Downes identifies with her audience based on a common struggle.
“When I was 12 years old, I had my hair chemically relaxed for the first time. It was almost like a rite of passage. When I was a child, I wanted to have long hair and I was told, ‘Oh, you can’t grow long hair because Afro hair doesn’t grow long.’
I came across a comment under a YouTube tutorial that was saying, ‘Well, look at this woman Rustic Beauty. She’s got really long Afro-textured hair. You actually can grow long, healthy Afro hair.’
And I just thought, ‘What? You can?’ I had no idea. I checked her out. Turns out she had hair that was very similar in texture to mine and it was really long and lush. So I began to unlearn and relearn how to take care of natural hair and that’s what I was documenting on my YouTube channel.”
Here’s one last step you can take before you go out into the wild. If you had to answer right now, what would you say to these three questions:
What problem or struggle do you solve?
What specific groups of people experience that problem or struggle?
What specific groups are most similar to your former self?
Write down a few sentences for each, and then let’s get out into the world.
Find examples of specific people dealing with the problems you solve
If you want to build an audience — and especially if you want to build a business — you’ll need to hear about your audience’s struggles in their own words.
Podia creator Joseph D’Amico is a classical piano instructor who was creating content for both students and other teachers. He used what he learned during podcast interviews to discover an audience in his niche that wasn’t being served:
“I’ve been on multiple podcasts with all kinds of different teachers and content creators that are serving teachers. I just feel like teachers are so well served. I feel like I would have to make so much new, unique stuff to top what already exists.
Yet on the student’s side, no one’s doing what I’m doing at all. It’s almost an untapped market. The people that I’m competing against don’t serve classical musicians at all. They just serve four-chord songs and minimally complicated, popular songs without really focusing very heavily on written music. I’m going to give you a real piano education and save you thousands of dollars.”
Casey Richardson learned a ton about her audience through five-minute one on one calls:
“I went to all of my social media platforms and I said, ‘Hey, I’m building a course to help black women understand business management. If I can talk to you for five minutes to ask questions, let me know.’ Now, I figured that anybody that set up a call with me, they were my target audience.
So I had those five-minute calls and asked them things like what keeps them up at night, what are their biggest fears, and where they want to be in one year. And I would just repeat back to them exactly what they said and they felt like I was reading their minds.
80% of the women Casey spoke to on those initial calls eventually converted to customers. That’s huge!
What do these stories have in common? Real conversations with real people. When you give people the space to share their struggles in their own words, it becomes possible to make content that leaves people saying “Oh my gosh, you’re reading my mind.”
It can feel intimidating to strike up conversations, especially if they’re with people you don’t know. While you’re working up to that, there is another way you can hear from real people.
Pay attention to what your target customers are already doing online
Your audience is leaving comments, having discussions, writing book reviews, and generally talking to each other online in ways that are easy for you to drop in on. Some of the easiest ways to pull exactly the words your audience uses to describe their problems are:
Look for other creators who serve similar audiences and see the types of comments people leave on their work.
Visit forums (like Reddit) and online communities to look for questions and people venting.
Look up popular books on your topic and read the reviews on Amazon. You’ll be surprised at how descriptive people are about how the books helped them and what other information they wish the book had included, which is a great source of ideas for new content.
Let’s say you make content for people who want to become writers. You can go to Amazon and look up a book on writing like Stephen King’s “On Writing” and check out the reviews. Some of the best ones to look at are the three or four-star reviews, because they’re generally positive, but can also include ways the book fell short.
Take this review, for example:
This review tells you that there’s an opportunity for writing content that offers “new, specific, detailed advice on how to be a better writer.”
Or check out this one:
This tells you there’s an opportunity to make content around where good story ideas come from, a specific aspect of writing that isn’t covered in King’s book. This might lead you to research other books, like the acclaimed “The Artist's Way” by Julia Cameron.
Here’s an enlightening review:
This is a great content opportunity if you’re someone who likes to get straight to the point.
It takes time to find your biggest fans
Even after doing this research and gaining a better understanding of who you’re trying to reach, it can still take time to find your biggest fans, and that’s normal. Check out this encouraging metaphor from Becky Mollenkamp :
“When you go to the eye doctor and they’re like, ‘Is this one clearer or is this clearer?’ And you keep doing that, and then eventually you’re like, ‘I think this is the prescription. I can finally see clearly.’ That’s what it has felt like for me. And that takes time. As much as I wanted in the beginning for it to not take time.
I had this noise coming at me from the online space that this shouldn’t take time but I think it has to take time for most people. And guess what, I’m here saying I think I finally hit the bullseye. A year from now, I’ll probably be like, ‘I can’t believe I thought I had hit the bullseye.’ It will probably continue to change. That’s what it looks like.”
By now you may be feeling ready to get out there, experiment, and have conversations. But before you pick up that phone or start drafting those direct messages, let’s explore exactly what to listen for so you’ll know what to say to make your audience feel like you’re reading their minds.
How to say exactly what your audience wants to hear without being a mind-reader
Audience research gives you great info, but it can also be a lot. That's why having a system for organizing what you're hearing from your audience is so important. It tells you which content ideas are worth pursuing and helps you find ways to make your content really resonate.
“We used to do this in my nutrition coaching. You said you were going to eat a salad every day, but you haven’t been able to do it, which is okay, but what do you think it is? What’s so hard about doing it? Because I can come up with like five different ways for you to try to add that salad to your day, but it’s not my life and I’m not the one holding you back. And it’s like, you just sit there and wait and listen.”
When you talk to your audience, you’re going to uncover incredible stories, hard challenges, and patterns that they experience in their everyday life.
You’re also going to get a ton of information and making sense of it can feel like trying to chart a road trip on a map with no labels. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you could end up lost in a place like Miracle Whip, Florida. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? I guess it depends on whether or not you like Miracle Whip.
To know where you’re going, you need those map labels. When you go through your audience research and look through your notes, you’re looking for four types of information:
A problem that lots of people in your audience experience
How they feel about that problem
What they’ve tried to do to solve that problem in the past (including trying to ignore it)
A list of problems that you — with your expertise and approach to content — can solve for people
Categorizing your research like this is useful because it gives you a clear sense of the most valuable things to focus on. You may uncover a problem you can solve, but if only a handful of people experience that problem, you’re not likely to build a business by solving it.
Similarly, you might discover a problem that’s extremely common, but if it’s not important enough to the people who have it, they aren’t going to take the steps to solve it.
You’ll want to take notes and keep a record of common phrases, common problems, and the exact words your audience is using to describe them. Once you have those notes together it’s relatively straightforward to sort them into these four categories.
By the end of the research process, you should have a list of common problems, how people feel about them, and what they’ve tried to do to solve them. Then you can choose which ones you as a creator want to focus on.
4 types of information you should look for when doing audience research
Let’s take these four types of information and get more specific about things you can be on the lookout for with each one.
#1 A problem that lots of people in your audience experience
This one is pretty straightforward. The question to ask here is “Do a lot of people mention this problem?” Seeing the problem talked about specifically or hearing it come up often in conversations can signal that this is a common problem. Other clues might be in the way comments or reviews are phrased.
Earlier, we shared an example of audience research where we looked at Amazon reviews for Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. One of the reviews we looked at included the phrase, “I agree with other reviewers.” Other reviews said things like “echoing what many others have said” or “as other reviewers have stated.”
This can be powerful because not only does that indicate a common problem, but also that people are aware that it’s a common problem. When people see themselves as a part of a group struggling with a problem, they tend to be more vocal about it and motivated to seek solutions.
#2 How they feel about that problem
This one can be a bit trickier, but it mostly comes down to words and phrases that express emotion. As you’re talking with people, take note of any “feeling” words you hear and also pay attention to tone, volume, and body language. People may use the actual word for whatever emotion they’re feeling, or they may describe their feelings in other ways like “I was desperate” or “I feel like I’m drowning.”
It may also be that they don’t directly express a feeling, but they’re talking about something that people tend to have strong feelings about. Podia creator Tamkara Adun shares a great example of this from conversations she’s had with some of her Instagram followers:
“A lot of times, people tell you what they’re looking for. And when I find that something I’m looking for or you’re looking for is not readily available in the way and manner in which we want it to be, I always feel compelled to try to create that offering. The language school was really people asking, you know, ‘I want to learn an African language.’ Especially our brothers and sisters in the diaspora whose ancestors were taken away during the African Maafa and had their language stripped away.
A lot of them were reaching out saying, ‘I’ve done a DNA ancestry test. I know where my ancestors came from. I wanna connect with the culture. I wanna connect with the language.’”
Not only did those conversations center around a dark historical period with a profound impact on people in her audience, but they also touched on themes like ancestry and a connection to one’s culture and language, themes with high emotional impact.
Let’s pause here for a moment for an exercise that will help you visualize the info you’ve collected so far.
You can download the worksheet that corresponds with this activity in Module 2 of Get Noticed! Register for free.
On a blank sheet of paper, draw a line in the center from top to bottom with “strong feelings” at the top and “no feelings” at the bottom, and another in the center from left to right with “not common” on the left and “very common” on the right.
Look back at the notes you’ve taken and the problems you’ve identified so far and mark their position on this matrix. For example, a problem that a lot of people talk about but that few express strong feelings about would go in the lower right quadrant. A problem that a lot of people talk about and have strong feelings about would belong in the upper right.
The problems in the upper right quadrant have the most potential for attracting an audience and eventually customers, because a lot of people are experiencing the problem and, because of their strong feelings, are more motivated to respond to a solution.
You are well on your way to identifying topics and language with massive appeal to your audience, but we’re not done yet.
#3 What they’ve tried to do to solve that problem in the past
We can really sweeten the deal when we know what solutions folks have already tried and why they fell short. These are often found after desire statements like “I wish” or “I would have loved it if (fill in the blank).” This harkens back to the example of the book review for “On Writing”:
“I wish he would have explained more about where he gets his ideas, and what makes for a good story idea in the first place.”
The problem: Wanting to improve writing skills
The tried solution: Reading “On Writing” by Stephen King
How that solution fell short: Not enough explanation about where ideas come from and what makes a good story idea.
You may also catch someone outright complaining about something they tried. Like another example book review for “The Artist’s Way” where the reviewer said:
“The author is very long-winded, often using five examples to explain one simple point.”
The problem: Feeling creatively stuck
The tried solution: Reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron
How that solution fell short: Too long-winded
When you identify what people have tried and how that solution fell short, you identify potential opportunities to provide better solutions. Where these opportunities match your background, your expertise, or your unique approach to sharing content, you’ll find what you’ll include in the last category.
#4 Make a list of problems that you — with your expertise and approach to content — can solve for people
This is the final destination on your road trip. You’ve discovered common problems that people feel strongly about and learned about the solutions they’ve tried and where those solutions fell short. The problems you are uniquely positioned to solve are great candidates for topics that lead to audience growth.
For the people who read “On Writing” and wished he’d said more about what makes a good story idea, if you have a process for coming up with great story ideas, you could have the solution they’re longing for.
Or for the people who read “The Artist’s Way” and thought it was too long-winded, if you like to help creative people get unstuck and you have a straightforward and to-the-point communication style, your content might be just what they’re looking for.
And because you’ve been taking notes and writing down the exact words people use to describe their struggle, you’ll have tons to draw from when you make your content. You’ll have real statements and questions from real people in your titles, subject lines, descriptions, thumbnails, and even in the content itself, which will leave people feeling like you’re reading their minds.
If you just stopped here and started making content right away, you’d have a recipe for some of the most impactful content on the internet. In the next chapter, you’ll hear even more insights and examples from other creators on how to make your content irresistible.