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The Importance Of Audience Research

Posted by Samantha Zikos on December 9, 2021 at 10:14 AM

Getting To Know You

While building an imaginary avatar can be an incredibly helpful exercise for many marketers, the power of research and data should not be overlooked. That being said, it's incredibly important to "know your audience," and know your audience well. What do they listen to? What do they read?  All of this information is incredibly helpful.

We recently sat down with an expert to chat about all the benefits of knowing your audience. In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses the importance of knowing your audience from the expertise of Rand Fishkin, who is the co-founder and CEO of SparkToro.


EP283 The Importance Of Audience Research


A Little More About Rand 

Rand Fishkin is the co-founder and CEO of SparkToro, a Seattle based tech startup that provides tools for audience intelligence and market research. His platform grants you extensive data about the online behaviors of any audience, so that you can better understand what they watch, read and listen to. Rand is also the co-founder and prior CEO of Moz. He's also the author of Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: Well, I am delighted to be chatting with you. And what I'd love to do is have you start off by sharing with our listeners, what got you to here today?

Answer: So if the question is, how did I become an entrepreneur the first time? The answer is very accidentally, with a long rambling story that involves dropping out of college. And then starting to work on a web design business with my mom that eventually turned into an SEO blog and then a consulting business, then the software business that became Moz. But if the question is the second time, that's maybe more straightforward answer where I'm sure you'll identify with this. I felt like I had a lot left to prove.


Question: But now you have a whole new endeavor with all things, audience insights. And I think that's probably an area that a lot of our listeners were like, "Audience insights? Like, why do I need to care about my audience insights? I'm telling them what they need to know about me, that's enough."

Answer: Thankfully, unlike SEO in my early days where a lot of people did have the, why should I care about how Google ranks things? And why should I care about that? Now, obviously, a lot of people care about how Google ranks web pages. But in the early years, that was not like this. The nice part about audience research is almost no one, no entrepreneur, no marketer says, "I don't need to know more about my customers and my audience." So thankfully, we have that going for us. I think that's actually really helped SparkToro get off the ground. There's not a lot of pushback when we say, "Oh, you should probably know more about the audience that you want to turn into customers." And marketers, entrepreneurs, CEOs are like, "Yes, yes, I do want that."

And the way that SparkToro goes about this is, I think the only thing that's quite different. Because historically, market research, audience research has been surveys and interviews.  Which I like. I like doing surveys and interviews, I think they can be very valuable, useful tools. I wouldn't tell anyone to stop doing them. I would just say there are a lot of questions that you cannot get great answers to from that process. So, Stacy, maybe you and I start a new product for interior designers. I don't know, we create a new lighting system for fancy rich people houses, you're in LA, right?...So we want to know more about interior designers and decorators and architects. We want to figure out primarily, as marketers, I want to know where can I reach them? And to what extent can I reach them there? Things like what podcasts they listen to, which YouTube channels they subscribe to, who and what do they follow on which social media platforms, what websites do they read and visit, what press do they pay attention to, what industry publications, what events do they go to, what email newsletter are they subscribed to? All those things are things where surveys and interviews will not get you very far.

So with SparkToro, we basically crawl the public social and websites, and then aggregate that data so that we can say, "Oh, okay, well you search for people whose bio includes interior designer in California. And we have, I don't know, 1,910 people in our database whose profile says interior designer, California." So what do they listen to? Watch? Read? Okay, 16% of them follow this account on social media and 19% read this publication. And 12% follow this social account on one or more of their social presence.

That's what SparkToro does. There's no AI, there's no machine learning, it's not very complicated. It's super simple division. The hardest part is just crawling and aggregating that data. And then the rest of it is just, "Oh, okay, well of 1,900 people, 320 followed this social account across one of the networks we can see. So we'll put that one in this position with that percentage number."


Question: You mentioned that 40% of your client base is typically marketing agencies. What do you see as like the rinse and repeat problems that come up frequently? Or challenges?

Answer: Yeah. I think one of the most severe ones, and I completely understand why it exists, I have deep empathy for why it exists, but it is [to] throw 95% of [your] budget at Facebook and Google Ads, let them sort out all the targeting, [and investing] very little in content, social, organic, PR, co-marketing, one-on-one sponsorships-


Question: And so what are other mistakes on approaches that people make when it comes to audience analytics and trying to actually understand who you are targeting and who is actually buying?

Answer: Yeah. One that I kind of hate, I'm sure are lots of marketing agency owners will resonate with this one, is what I would call like the Wall Street Journal problem. I wrote about this a little while back, but the idea is that you go, you pitch the directors at the company that you want to sign up. And the CEO is like, "Okay, this sounds pretty good. I want you to get me a piece in the Wall Street Journal." And the marketers all look at each other, like, the Wall Street Journal? "Why? Do interior designers read the Wall Street Journal?" And the CEO's like, "I golf with our customers every Sunday, and I know they read the Wall Street Journal." And everybody in the room kind of eye rolls because [for] the CEO, it doesn't have to be the Wall Street Journal. It's just whichever prestigious publication the CEO thinks [of] or the CMO or the director of marketing—whoever you're pitching.

Unfortunately, for better or worse, I think this problem of prestige publication over high ROI publication is a constant challenge, not just in the PR world, but in advertising and sponsorship. It's a huge problem in influencer marketing world...No matter what you're doing in marketing, this prestige problem is pervasive.

I think you can solve it with audience data. You can say, "Okay, you want to be in the Wall Street Journal, we can do it. The Wall Street Journal reaches 7% of interior designers in California, Dezeen Magazine online reaches 47% of interior designers in California. The Wall Street Journal is prestigious, it could lead to other business avenues that aren't directly our customers. Is it 10 times more valuable to you? Because I'll tell you right now, it's 10 times more work and 10 times more costly to get in there." And then you let them make the call. You let the CEO tell you, "Oh yeah, I want you to spend 10 times the effort in dollars getting us into this publication that's primarily for prestige reasons rather than customer ones."


Question: And so what else are average common potential mistakes that people will make?

Answer: Oh, man. I mean, I think there's a bias in a lot of marketing to doing things you've seen your competition do as opposed to innovating on tactics and channels that are not as well understood, not as well invested in. And that bias can be a dangerous one, too....The truth is somewhere in the middle problem of, you don't want to go all the way to we do nothing that anybody else in our field does, and you don't want to be the we're lemmings and we follow exactly what the competition does and just copy them. You want this healthy balance between, we innovate in some areas in ways that we are good at, that match with our brand ethos and our skill set, and also we research what the competition is doing and we look for opportunities that other people are executing on as well.


Check Out The Podcast!

Rand has so much great information about audience research. Check out the podcast below to learn more about it!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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