Creating content for a digital audience often feels like running a restaurant, complete with screaming people, flying dishes and weird smells. For content creators and restaurateurs alike, it’s absolutely vital to understand what a target market wants right now, and to develop the kind of relationship with those people that allows you to gather that information. To illustrate the importance of detailed audience analysis in online content creation, let’s explore the online content / restaurant analogy a little more… Mostly because it’s fun.
For the sake of this piece, let’s imagine two restaurants. One is a trendy Mexican dive called Nacho Mama, the other is a French fine-dining establishment, called Le Paye Alote. Each restaurant understands that people will be coming through their doors with certain expectations.
Nacho Mama’s patrons will be looking forward to spicy food, good tequila and a festive atmosphere. Le Paye Alote will be expected to deliver elegant, well-balanced dishes with fine wine parings, on tablecloths of the purest white cotton.
Beyond the Basics
A good restaurateur understands that these are just the most basic of his customers’ expectations though. To be successful, he needs to develop an intimate understanding of the more complex factors that make dining at his restaurant extraordinary.
How should waiters interact with customers? Should they be excited and friendly, or diligent and unobtrusive. Should menus be bold wooden boards, or ornately decorated leather binders? Will he offer classic, popular dishes with a unique twist, or try to serve something completely new?
The situation is remarkably similar in the case of good content creators. It’s far too easy to become so concerned with getting the food out on time, that we entirely lose touch with what our customers actually want. How can we be sure that we’re serving what people want to eat, unless we’re out of the kitchen, listening to chatter around the tables, talking to our customers and asking questions?
Go Deeper than Demographics
When profiling our target audience before writing a piece, demographics are usually a starting point, and unfortunately, often an end point. Demographics help us understand only the most basic, general facts about our audience as a group and essentially ignore variances like values, beliefs and attitudes. Demographics help us decide what dishes should be on the menu, but psychographics help us decide what ingredients to use.
Psychographics takes variables like values, opinions and attitudes into account, in an attempt to create a current, detailed profile of an individual, which is representative of a group. Understanding these variables and plugging them into your content creation process will not only help you to connect with your audience on a deeper level, it also informs a number of practical factors such as tone, style and language.
Understand the Undertones
Imagine if Le Paye Alot served great classic French dishes, but decided to use a compilation of 90’s rap-rock as background music. Not only would its customers leave sooner, they would also leave feeling that Le Paye Alot simply doesn’t understand what they want, or what they enjoy. A trust will have been broken, which will take considerable work to regain.
So how do we gain a deeper understanding of the people we’re creating content for? Simple; take out a second mortgage to fund a countrywide survey in which you question each individual in your target audience about their needs and beliefs… just kidding. Fortunately for us, our medium is one gigantic, multibillion-headed source of psychographic information.
Intelligence Through Infiltration
Writing for software developers? Sign up for every dev forum you can find and genuinely interact with the communities who live on them. Start to build a genuine understanding of the people behind the demographics. Which posts do they engage most with? Which posts do they love or hate? What opinions, beliefs and values can you identify by watching the community interact? When you feel like you can write a post on a specialist forum and not become a meme, then you know you’re ready to create content for that audience.
It’s a step that far too many content creators miss entirely, then scratch their heads wondering why people aren’t engaging with their content. Without a clear understanding of how your audience communicates, what’s important to them and what needs they have as people, you’re going to be serving nachos for desert to the sounds of Limp Bizkit.