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02-02-2011, 01:02 AM
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There's three basic approaches to using demographics to communicate (be it for print, broadcast or websites), and I've been privvy to all three of them over time. Using some quick examples from first-hand experience, I'll briefly discuss how demographics (i.e., your target audience) affect your communication, and a quick overview of methods to study the audience(s). Read on...

Note: The originally started out as a private email to a client, but I decided that the info would make for an excellent forum post! However, because some of the names of companies are private information, I've redacted them (i.e., AAAAA, BBBBB, etc). Not pertinent to understand the conversation/topic anyway! Also, I expanded the original email a bit, too, for more general-reader information (things this client already knew).

1. Target a new demographic.

When I was at AAAAA corporate, this is what AAAAA did quite often. The org would pick who they wanted to attract for business, and then create communication to target those audiences. And it worked VERY WELL, too! Of course, they had a huge in-house staff, which worked with a mega-large agency, so that's to be expected.

I think you'll need to do this on some fronts (i.e., your new product lines) -- but that's where my knowledge somewhat ends (not being in your exact industry, and having not done a study on it). The decision on who to target is completely up to you (based on your existing in-house market research data), or its up to the outcome of a paid market research study. I have no idea what they cost, but NPD advertised here for a year (Nov 2009-2010), to get backlinks and (what I guess was) to garner awareness among the small business audience we attract. A market research firm may be a good idea, either for purchase of existing info ($), or creation of a new study ($$$$!). It's nearly impossible to target a new demo when information is unknown/limited, and guessing at it can be costly long-term. You'll also want qualitative data -- not quantitative. It's better to know who, how and why -- not simply how many. That's a whole 'nother topic that I can't get into right this minute. Sometimes wikipedia has good info, and this is one of those times -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marketing_research

Having grown up in a small business environment last century, and worked in several of these fields in varying capacities, I've been able to avoid paid market research for years now, based on a huge collection of personal knowledge and accumulated data. But the day when I have to "suck it up" and pay for help is looming, should we hope to expand and grow even more to new audiences.

Generally speaking, targeting a new audience may require a serious overall to your current site, or even the creation of secondary sites that specifically target that audience. Some of this is heavily related to the brand management and use of sub-sites discussed some months ago (read more: Online Brand Identity). It may involve "landing pages" -- which are NOT the same type of come-on "landing pages" used by affiliate sploggers. Sometimes it's achieved with "hub pages." For example, colleges tend to have three hubs (for three main audiences): Alumni, Current Students, Future Students, where a homepage is a basic menu that takes you to the hub for that group. Banks do it for Individual or Business account holders. Targeting a new audience may even involve using unique social media campaigns, using new/unique Facebook pages or Youtube channels. It really depends on the audience, as well as your own organization/audience size.

Note that such changes can come at the risk of upsetting your current audience, as I'll discuss in the next section. That makes it even more important to have quality market research, to know if the risk is "worth it" (large untapped new target demographic ripe for marketing to), as well as maintaining good relations with your current demo.

Sometimes networking with the right people will let you sidestep the need for market research, but don't count on that.

2. Target the current known demographic.

This is what BBBBB proposed to you, in their discussion of how they'd like to interview some of your existing clients and mine them for data and milk them information. This is an excellent idea.

(Note: Don't confuse this with simply accruing testimonials, which many make the mistake of doing. Happy compliments in a letter don't generally give the kinds of insight needed to understand who they are, and why they chose you -- and what you do that they don't like.)

Short-term, this lets you sell more product/services (including new product/services) to the existing audience, as well as work on building relationships with that audience. From there, you can work to attract more of those sames kinds of customers ...

... assuming you want to work with them. For example, if you tend to attract somewhat shady clients, you may need to divest yourself of whatever image it is that you've created for yourself. (That's a slight tangent from topic, but it needed to be mentioned somewhere here. It's related.) Back on topic...

Sometimes your niche service/product only realistically has one demographic. Other times, the demo you're targeting is letting you prosper quite well, and if "ain't broke" so there's no reason to "fix it" with targeting a new demo. That's largely a reflection of your bottom line, and decision on if you're happy with current income levels. It also assumes you have enough safety net should there be a downturn in sales, or some other gutting of your demographic (example: dial-up internet service gutted by cable/DSL providers). It's an issue of sustainability and growth.

In general, staying with the same audience involves sticking to what works -- meaning your site won't really change much. It needs to grow and stay with the times, but vast changes to content could come at the cost of divestiture of the audience you had been attracting -- that's not good. (And yes, I purposely use the financial term "divest" because loss of audience is essentially a loss of your assets!!) Known-working communication should be tweaked and augmented to better suit the audience, not radically changed for the sake of change.

3. No demographic targeting.

On its face, this is the head-in-sand (head-up-ass) approach. And when I worked at XXXXX, this is precisely what we were ordered to do by the president of the org (a completely clueless b!tch if ever I knew one). And it was honestly one of the most miserable experiences I ever had. Admittedly, that was an issue slightly caused by budget, which was due to shareholders, the executive board, and its chairman. But still, it was mismanaged at all levels of higher management, and it trickled down (like a stream of pee) on the rest of us.

Money was spent on meaningless mailing campaigns when that demographic was shown to not use mail as a source of information (mailbox to trash, without being read). On the flipside, online social media was completely ignored, which cut us out of an incredibly important 15-25 demographic we needed.

Commercials were put onto TV and radio stations that the demographics are known to NOT view in any way (public access, PBS, the local network news hour). These were things that the org was "talked into" by hack-quality companies/freelancers looking to make a quick buck from their shoddy services.

"Consultants" were paid to analyze our quality of work to the tune of $80K -- while at the same time, market research data for $10K was a "waste of limited funds". (My only viable thought here is a string of profanity. I could have made better used of those extra $70k by merely converting it into $1 bills, and burning them in a trashcan to keep the offices warmer than the 55 degree [F] temperature that was stuck on the thermostat during winter -- also done to "save funds".)

Their website is a trainwreck of information, with design flaws, dead pages (404s), and content that doesn't appeal to primary demographics. For example, it heavily targets donors, which only represents maybe ~10% of annual revenue, but basically ignores the audiences that partake in services and generate the other ~75% of funds. (Yes, that number does not equal 100%, as those other funds are from private/federal grants, and attained without use of marketing communication.) Most of the available information is barfed online without gatekeepers to provide oversight, and is put there in a reactionary method. For example, changing company policies, and then putting that info online only after it's created a backlash of angry phone calls for a solid week.

It comes as no surprise that this organization continues to lose ground, both in revenue and in image, both internally and externally (I got the hell out as quick as I could!), as their idea of marketing is to randomly send out information. It's no way to run a successful business. The only reason that org has survived is because it is somewhat monopolistic and has a level of guaranteed funding via donors/grants. But still, it could be a thriving operation, instead of one that just barely performs.

This is one of several main reasons that businesses fail.


On a closing note, I'd mentioned that UX (user experience) is also researched as part of marketing research that identify your demographics and your market segment. What do these users need and expect, when using your site and/or products and services? While UX was generally something only for software and machine operation, it's now included in general communication because of how tech has completely entwined itself in our lives, including most modern marketing/PR communication.

I hope this insight is helpful to you (my client)...

... as well as any other readers that may stop by.
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