Live from Confab: Understanding your audience

Understanding your audience, by Robert Mills

confab logoAudience research should become embedded into your work. This talk will include quick win suggestions and easy ways to incorporate research into projects as an individual, as opposed to the bigger projects with tons of resources.

Three steps:

  • The difference between knowing and understanding
  • How to actually gain the understanding
  • How to apply the learning to content strategy

Knowing vs. Understanding

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” -Albert Einstein

To know your audience is to know the top numbers – 21k subscribers, 52% in-house, etc. To understand them is to look beneath data and get to goal, motivations, and behaviors of customers and users. Those understandings let us make informed decisions around the content we produce.

Why strive to understand?

  1. Business benefits
    • Position marketing and content to reach the audience
    • Form a vocabulary that resonates
    • Create meaningful content
    • Allows you to create an authentic voice and tone
  2. Customer benefits
    • Helps them achieve their goals
    • Helps them get content when and where they need it

What do we mean by audience?

  • Customers
  • Prospects
  • Client’s customers
  • Previous users/customers
  • NOT just “everyone” – we can’t hit everyone

What can you do to figure out who your audience is?

  • Write a (1 sentence or 1 paragraph) audience summary to focus on who you think your audience is
  • List all segments, industries, groups, people, etc


  • Some organizations believe that their audience is everyone – this sets us up for failure. MUST prioritize
  • Lots of different segments – prioritize them!
  • No resources
  • Lots of information from different sources – how do you put it all together?

Take action:

  • Identify the challenges
  • Consider possible solutions, and check in from time to time
  • Focus on little steps and quick wins

How to Gain Understanding

There are lots of things we can understand. For example:

  • Content pains
  • The process
  • Who is involved
  • Obstacles
  • Experience of using us
  • Thoughts on frequency of publishing

Treat research like a small, independent project:

  • Write a brief
  • Consider the resources you’ll need
  • Get stakeholders on board
  • Put a timeline in place
  • Outline a post-research plan for how to disseminate and use the information

Write research statements:

  • I want to know…
  • So that I can understand…
  • Example:
    • I want to know how people describe their content production process
    • So that I can understand the vocabulary they’re using and process they’re familiar with
  • Make a list of key elements you want to understand for the business, and the audience
  • Write purposeful statements for your objectives

How will you get the data?

  • Identify what information already exists
  • Figure out what you need to know
  • Audit your tools
    • What tools will collect what data?
    • Who is responsible for gathering the data, and how often?
    • What’s the cost?
  • Remember, research is more than just interviews.
    • What people do you need as well?
    • What research method is appropriate?
    • Use focus groups, social media, surveys, analytics tools, or interviews, depending on what fits.

What is it that we can ALL do to get onto the path of understanding our audiences? Talk to them.

Talk to your customers…

  • Current, prospective, and past
  • Keep it simple – email or call with a purpose
  • Capture the information
  • Look for themes and insights
  • Do it fairly frequently


  • Not enough data
  • Personal bias
  • People speaking in the ideal, rather than honestly identifying what they do
  • The struggle of connecting the dots to appropriately interpret

Then piece it together:

  • Give yourself time to review and study the data
  • Map data to customer journeys
  • Talk through the data with others

4 outcomes from research:

  • Confirm what you already understood
  • Turn assumptions into knowledge
  • Disprove assumptions
  • Gain new insights


  • Get the information to the people who need it
  • Deliver it in a way that makes sense to them, such as a meeting, or a group review
  • Make sure to connect the information to ways we can use it
    • Include only relevant information for specific people
    • Follow up to learn what’s missing and what else would be helpful

How to Apply Learning to Content Strategy

Audience research can be applied in 4 areas of business:

  • Marketing
  • Product
  • Customer Success
  • Business and Growth

Create a framework and identify how the research feeds into the objective(s) and ultimately into the full mission.


  • Notes on objectives
  • Creating customer profiles
  • Mapping personas to the core components of the business
  • It can inform future product development, help us understand common audience needs, and feed their information into the product roadmap
  • Create content decisions based on what audience needs/wants/does
  • It informs the language we should use – we should mirror audience language

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, where she helps healthcare, finance, and educational organizations communicate with their audiences. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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