Getting to Know the Target Customer When Your Client Has No Money for Research

"This feels like an 'organic lemonade' kind of a crowd, don't you think, Alex?"

“This feels like an ‘organic lemonade’ kind of a crowd, don’t you think, Alex?”

In our last blog, we talked about the often overlooked audience you really need to please with your copy: the one who’s paying your invoice. In this blog we’ll turn our attention to the audience they care about: the customer. Their customer.

Myth: At the start of any content project, a client will give you a complete set of highly insightful buyer personas

These personas are based on a series of exhaustive interviews with each key segment of the client’s audience. You will not only know the education and income level of these buyers, but the kind of humor they respond to. Their hopes and dreams. Their very reason for being.

The insight you gain from these personas will help you craft the kind of inspired copy that makes a true and lasting connection with these customers.

Reality check: The client will tell you that since everyone eats yogurt, their audience is everyone. You accept that you’ll have to do your own research.

If you’re smart enough to know that you can’t write to “everyone,” you’re smart enough to figure out who you should be writing to. Yes, even with no budget and minimal help from the client. In this age of online reviews and social media, it can be much easier than you think.

Here are a few tips to help you along.

Tip #1: Start with the assumption that the client knows more than they think they do.

Most clients will have at least a fairly accurate idea — and some data to back it up — about who is loving, hating, returning and/or recommending their products/services. So don’t be afraid to ask them to look deep within their soul (and recent Amazon sales) to figure out who’s buying what they’re selling.

Women? Great. Now you’ve at least limited your potential audience by about 50%. Moms? Okay, keep going. Millennial moms? Yes! College educated, professionally employed millennial moms who live within a 10-mile radius of a major urban center? Now we’re getting somewhere. But don’t take their word for it …

Tip #2: Ask to see any testimonials they’ve received.

If someone takes the time to write to a company, they either love or hate the product/service. See what these fans/haters have to say.

But this might surprise you: The most important information isn’t what they say, it’s how they say it. Look at the grammar. A lot of misplaced modifiers and misspellings? Maybe it’s not the most educated crowd. (No judgment. Dummies like yogurt, too. Just kidding!) Do they use the kind of abbreviations you find in text messages? Probably not selling to grandmas.

Tip #3: Read every online review you can find.

Unlike a letter/email to a company, reviews aren’t always so passionate, but they still tell you a lot. Bonus point: You can often see what else they buy based on other reviews they’ve written.

Tip #4: See if you can talk to some real customers.

And don’t limit this just to the fans. Here are five key questions we like to ask customers that will help you get beyond age/income/education. (Of course, you’ll want to know about those factors, too.)

  1. What does a typical day look like for you? How about your perfect day? This is a goldmine of a question, where you’ll learn not only all about their personal and work live, but also their disappointments and dreams.
  1. What are some daily struggles with X? The “X” here should be relevant to the product/service. For example, if you’re selling a new meal-replacement shake, the question could be framed as, “What are some daily struggles you have with making healthy food choices?”
  1. If the person who made Product/Service X were sitting right here, what would you like he/she to know? Really encourage them to share the good and the bad.
  1. What magazines or blogs do you read? What TV shows do you watch? Yes, this is a pretty standard question. However, it will tell you a lot about their cultural background and sensibility, and help you figure out what type of voice and sensibility will resonate with them.
  1. How did you decide to purchase Product/Service X? Ask them to describe the evaluation process, where they purchased it, if it was a recommendation from a friend, etc.

Tip #5: Don’t go by just what they tell you in their interview. Look them up.

Want to know more about Jenna Jones and Calvin Carter? Google them. You probably have enough information to find the right Jenna and Calvin based on your call. What do they talk about on Twitter? On Facebook? Who are they friends with? What kind of music, videos and photographs do they “like”?

Some Final Thoughts

Now I’ll confess, I rarely take the time to craft formal buyer personas. I’m certainly not against it, though, and if you have multiple audiences, it’s a great way to keep them all straight. So if you have the inclination, go for it. There are several free online templates you can use — like this one.

But remember: Whether or not you create a buyer persona, taking the time to really get to know your audience is always worth the extra work. The copy will be easier to write — and ultimately end up stronger.

Share this post
2 replies
  1. Wendy says:

    This article is so right on. On Wednesday, I polled a networking group of 40 small business owners and asked if they could tell me the age and income of their ideal client and where they hang out online – only 20% knew the answers. Whether it’s writing content, developing a website or a marketing plan, if you don’t want to waste time or money, getting to know your audience must be your first priority.

    • Anna Goldsmith says:

      Thanks for reading, Wendy — great stat. And not surprising — even big brands often have no clue who is really buying what they’re selling. And if they do know, they tend to group them into gigantic buckets like “Millennials.”

Comments are closed.