How to find & define your target audience: the topic-to-audience approach
Finding your target audience requires work, know-how and the right tools. It also requires marketers to accept that their target audience is not a monolith.
The Internet is not a mass medium, and each online audience is made up of many communities, each with its own interests, behaviors, influencers, movitivations, media preferences, cultural codes and context, and of course their own textual and visual language. Most importantly, target audiences are dynamic: they shift and evolve over time.
Your target audience will of course also spend time and engage differently in many different online spaces: from Instagram to TikTok, Reddit, to online forums, review sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitch.
While there are many ways to approach the definition of a target audience, one of Pulsar’s signature approaches starts at the topic level.
Different communities will congregate around topics for different reasons, talking about that same topic differently. Understanding the trends, behaviors, influencers, codes, and different sub-topics in your core topic will enable you to zoom in on the different communities in your target audience.
Understanding and defining your target audience will allow you to personalize your marketing strategy for each of the communities that comprise it, maximizing its effectiveness: both in terms of content and message, and in terms of reach and delivery.
With this approach, you will be able to create better messages, adopting key language and cultural references which will enable you to have your message resonate with them. It will also enable you to reach and connect with them more effectively across different social networks, media outlets and influencers who they are most likely to interact with.
Through a series of studies and examples, in this guide, we’ll cover:
- A definition and our overall topic-focused approach to finding your target audience(s)
- An overview of the different uses of target audiences in marketing
- Case Study 1: finding the target audiences for sunscreen products
- Case Study 2: zooming in on the target audience for Apple products
- Case Study 3: identifying and cross-examining audiences with HelloFresh research
- Why we find and define our audiences
Hold on to your seat, because we’re about to dive in.
What is a target audience? Definition & Approach
A target audience is the group of people who have the potential to be interested in your product, content, or service.
Your target audience is not a monolith: online audiences are made up of many different sub-communities with different interests and different ways of approaching and viewing the world, your product, content, or services.
Because online audiences are dynamic, ever-changing and often complex to define in a top-down approach, one of the more stable and consistently effective approaches we’ve found at Pulsar has been that of taking a topic-focused approach.
By defining and tracking the public conversation around a topic, you’re then able to seamlessly define the target audience that’s participating in that conversation. Not just that: you are able to see each of the main communities which are making up that audience and participating in that conversation. Zooming in on each one of those will allow you to better understand the language they use, their affinities and interest, the influencers and media outlet they engage with, as well as how they are relating to the topic of interest.
Target audience in marketing
Once you define your target audience and understand the different sub-communities composing it, what can you do with this information? Here’s just a few of the ways in which marketers, publishers or comms professionals can do better
Content strategy & planning:
Based on what your target audience is consuming and engaging with, finding your target audience can help you inform your content decisions. From based on topics and sub-topics, types of content (infographics, in-depth articles, or YouTube videos) to different dimensions of the topic, to different channels and mediums.
Product & innovation strategy:
Each community will have different reasons for caring about different aspects of your product or service. Certain communities can effectively become always-on focus groups made up of power-users or consumers of your product, ready to alert you early to problems or new ways of using what you’re making.
Understand the language each community tends to use when engaging with your topic, and tailor the language you use in your campaigns and activations so that it’s more likely to resonate with your target audience.
Cultural codes & context:
Each community in your target audience has developed a set of beliefs, cultural and aesthetic preferences they adopt and gravitate towards when communicating. Understanding this context is a key in developing
Influencer & Media strategy:
Different communities engage with different influencers and consume different types of media. Running a network analysis of those communities will allow you to understand which influencers and media you should partner with in order to reach your target audience.
Which brings us to a few case studies on how we found and analyzed different target audiences for different topics.
How to identify different geographic audiences: Sunscreen case study
Interest in sunscreen keeps growing every year, and online audiences around the world discuss the top brands, how to apply it, as well as what types of benefits (or sometimes even dangers) applying sunscreen might bring.
In order to understand how a sunscreen maker might look at this large conversation, we examined audiences in the USA, UK and Australia who talk about sunscreen online to see what regional variation sunscreen conversation brings. Each segmentation is powered by artificial intelligence, with users grouped by their interconnectedness and shared interests. The larger the node, the more connected that segment is to the wider audience. The more nodes there are in a segment, the larger it is. From these groupings and affinities, we can gain deeper insights into these audience segments’ motivations, behaviors and online lives.
By clustering the communities taking part in the sunscreen conversation according to their shared online behaviors and affinities, we see Australia emerge as an outlier compared to the USA and UK. Beauty Gurus and Black Sunscreen Advocates reflect the nation’s concerns with beauty, darker skin and health. In Australia, by contrast, the conversation is more politicized, and dominated by mainstream news aficionados and political advocates, expressing concerns about cancer, product recalls and carcinogens.
Each of these communities is highly interested in sunscreen, but has different priorities, concerns and preferences when discussing it. For example, Beauty Gurus, mainly seen in the US, have a deep understanding of sunscreen and its interactions with other beauty products – they’re also keenly into conversation around ‘dupe’ products.
Both US and UK present Health Pros are concerned with #Heatwave, sharing information about hot weather and discussing a hypothetical sunscreen mandate that mirrors mask mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic. Australia’s key audience, Mainstream News Aficionados, shows an affinity for mainstream TV outlets in the country, leading them to discuss recall issues with carcinogenic sunscreen ingredients, whilst also advocating for the daily use of sunscreen – showing that sunscreen application has become fully mainstream in Australia.
How to define and target sub-audiences: Apple products
Defining the target audience for Apple products can seem like a gargantuan task. Apple sells hundreds of millions of products every year, and has an enormous base of fans, commentators, and critics.
Overall, its customers are some of the most eager to talk about its products, encouraged by enthusiastic media coverage, influencers, journalists and publication who specialize in scrutinizing every company move and breaking down every minimal detail of its products for insider-hungry audiences.
With its products, Apple also has a habit of creating and defining entire new classes of behaviors: from early Mac computers, to iPods, iPhones and accessories like Airpods or Airtags. We’ve studied the conversations and audiences around a number of Apple products, starting with Airpods.
By pulling in (using Pulsar TRAC) public mentions of the word Airpod across Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, News, Online Forums, Tumblr (and more) over a period of time, we captured a snapshot of the entire online public conversion around the topic. We then went on to segment the target audience, breaking it down into several different communities participating in that conversation.
Breaking down the AirPod audience shows us subgroups such as African American College Grads, who make up 17.3% of the US AirPods conversation, often link up the Instagram and Twitter accounts and tend to reside in Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore and Texas and identify strongly with their alma maters. Liberal Technofiles make up 18.6% of this group and tend to live in US coastal cities, are majority male in the 24 – 35 age bracket, are big fans of big tech personalities like Tim Cook and Bill Gates and read news outlets like the NYT and WSJ.
Of course this kind of target audience breakdown can happen with any other product with substantial conversation around it, and enables you to drill down into more specific topics. Take for instance, the target audience engaging with topic of MacBook performance.
Overall this could be the target audience for a campaign by Apple around MacBook’s powerful processors, or one by a specialized MacBook reseller to highlight a sale of its inventory of Apple products.
This type of target audience breakdown is particularly effective because Pulsar TRAC allows you to seamlessly port over this audience segmentation onto your analysis of the conversation itself. This kind of “back and forth” between conversational analysis and audience segmentation allows you to uncover how different communities in your target audience are using different language to describe the performance of MacBooks (which you might want to use in your marketing), or how people are talking about performance in relation to different goals and “jobs” they are trying to achieve with their MacBook.
In this study we not only broke down the entire audience MacBook performance into its main communities, but we then mapped that segmentation to different professional or leisure purposes users are talking about: from Graphic and Web Design to Video and Photo Editing, to watching movies, Writing, Programming or Gaming.
Here’s what that looks like:
As you can see, the target audience for MacBook performance is definitely not a monolith. While from a distance it might seem that the audience is one big group of techies and creatives, when examining the breakdown we can see that there are more nuanced ways to reach your target audience. For example, though Gaming is similarly popular across all subsections, content around Video/Photo Editing is going to resonate much more with African-American Creatives than it does Web Developers.
How to identify and cross-examine audiences: HelloFresh research
Attempting to understand the affinities and behavior of your target audience can appear overwhelming once we move on from the easy certainties of demographic data. Searching through the entirety of the internet to find where your brand intersects with other audiences can feel like scrambling for a needle in the billowing haystack that is social media.
When we saw that HelloFresh is the most mentioned brand in podcasting, we wanted to research their approach to advertising and just what makes them so successful. We used Pulsar TRAC to see where their target audience is hanging out online, and what podcasts they may be listening to. Below we identified where HelloFresh’s audience intersects with that of My Favorite Murder, a hugely popular true crime podcast. The blue circles indicate audience segments where ‘mom’ is most regularly used in user bio descriptions.
Filtering the audience by bio keywords, we can see HelloFresh’s target audience and break it down even further – after all there isn’t just one way to ‘Mom’. As with MacBooks, engaging Pop, Beauty & ATWWD Moms is going to ask for different content than reaching Liberal Journalism-Reading Moms.
Clearly, HelloFresh have discovered a medium and audience that’s aligned to their existing audience – and target audience. This approach speaks to a focus on efficiency. Rather than splashing out on universal advertising, intelligent brands and marketers buy targeted ads that communicate their product or service to their ideal customer.
Why find & define your target audience
These case studies show how unique approaches to audience insight can help products or services to reach their target market and specific audience. This analysis can be applied to all areas of marketing campaigns, from targeted advertising to tailored long-form content.
It’s crucial that all companies operating with a social media presence harness the power of audience listening and insight to streamline marketing efforts and increase conversion rates through targeting the ideal customer right out the gate.