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How to know what your audience really wants

Your audience does not want your content.

Your audience probably does not want to hear from you at all.

If you think that because your website looks great that people will want to visit it … think again.

What do they really want?

Your audience and potential customers know who they are and probably have a very good idea of their goals. At the very least they know their immediate needs.

They are looking for answers to questions, advice, and resources that help people like them get the stuff people like them want.

When someone seeks out and clicks on your content it is only as a means to that end (even if that need is 10 minutes coffee break entertainment).

While we talk about “our audiences” we have to remember these are people with their own wants, needs, biases, motivations, and attention spans. You have surprisingly little influence on their behaviour.

What does all this mean?

Previously I wrote about finding and communicating your unique value. If you manage to cut through the noise and present what you offer in a way that speaks to your target audience then you will succeed far more than being about “good content”. It’s about being highly useful and relevant, it’s about serving that particular audience.

But how do you know when you have the right answer?

I spoke about how your brand is making a promise, but how do you know what the right promise is to that audience?

This is the situation Matthew Setter was in with his Maltblue site when he contacted me for some advice. He wanted a critique to know if he was on the right track. His site is about PHP programming – a hugely competitive niche.

PHP is not a new topic. Since the late-1990′s there have been thousands and thousands of great resources produced for anyone wanting to learn the programming language. Standing out in the face of all this noise is a challenge to say the last.

Matthew has done a good job of setting up a nice looking site and building up some useful resources. He also made a start toward narrowing down his offerings to appeal to a certain subset of the overall group, which is a smart move.

The problem is, like many of us, it still comes across as too generic.

If you look at Matthews site you can see it has some signs it will be valuable, but nothing jumps out as obviously beneficial in a specific way. It’s an “Education Portal” for “PHP Professionals”. Is this a promise nobody else can make or is making? Why visit this PHP education portal?

We need a plan to get from “one of the crowd” to “go-to resource”.

You can’t get there in one leap and one of the most fundamental solutions is to research and test.

How to approach standing out in your market

  1. Do as much research as you can to determine who your existing audience is – their wants, needs, desires, biases and habits.
  2. Work out who you WANT as your audience – who can you most help, who do you want to help?
  3. Drill down the research – What groups do they identify with? How do they describe their tribe? What are they looking for and WHY? Where do these people want to go?
  4. Determine what you have to offer that intersects with what they want – more on this in a moment.
  5. Get visible – put your content and ideas in front of these people in as large quantities as you can – public speaking, guest posting, forum posting.

Matthew worked out one of the valuable things he has to offer is his deep knowledge of specific tools and techniques that can help a professional PHP developer in their career, to be more productive and professional.

The next step is to see if that solution matches a problem your target audience actually has. Are there people looking for this? Would they recognise the value if they happened across it?

Testing your positioning

Anyone who has been through Authority Blogger, Make More Progress or listened to my Third Tribe and Teaching Sells seminars will know that I have a problem with “Analysis Paralysis” – I tend to over-think things unless I take some small actions that get me moving.

Therefore I am a person who does a LOT of testing!

I recommend testing not just because it gets you out of being stuck in theory, but also because when it is done right it gives you answers rather than guess work and assumptions.

First test with your free content on your own blog.

You can start by writing a variety of topics around the concepts you think work with what you have to offer, your unique hook, and the people you want to attract.

What do your readers like the most? Your existing audience will tell you via stats, shares in social media, page views, and so on. Matthew has a list of the most popular content right in his sidebar. Of course, some of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy because your audience might not match who you want, plus they can only choose from what you offer and promote, which leads us to …

Interact!

You need to engage the audience you are attracting to see if they are growing to be a closer fit to who you want and if you are serving them. Also dig down under the surface to find out the deeper issues and desires.

Find real flesh and blood human beings and talk to them. On the phone/skype, in forums, in social media, Google+ hangouts, twitter chats, IRC, and at conferences/workshops/meetups/user groups.

Get a bigger spotlight

Especially in the beginning you won’t have a big enough audience to do all the testing. You need to borrow someone else’s.

Creating a free resource, webinar, teleseminar, live conference session, local user group presentation, and so on can help you get noticed but also give you enough visibility for your ideas to glean conclusions. Of course you have to match the venue to where your target audience is going to be.

The ultimate test

Ultimately you have to get people to vote with their cash, not with their words and clicks. Work up from free to paid. If the signs with free are encouraging then you can move to investing in creating something for sale.

The great news is the work you have done so far will help you be more confident but will also help in attracting potential partners and customers. For example, the free resources and guest posting will have built your list up, and also testing your ideas in front of live audiences works a lot like a stand-up comic testing material before selling a DVD.

A lot of product and service models actually provide insight and feedback right into the process, such as coaching/consulting and offering Q&A. They will tell you what they are stuck on and what they need more of.

You can start small, create a Minimum Viable Product (the 20% of the packaging and content that gets 80% of the results, enough to cover what you know they need but with flexibility to course-correct as people consume the material), so you don’t put in too much up-front work and so that you know what you are producing is exactly what your target customer wants and needs. Do a test launch, get feedback, improve, then put it out again.

Conclusion

If you are at a stage where you think you are on the edge of something, just like Matthew, put it to the test.

Start with articles, move to a series, a free report, some videos, and so on. If you can get a couple of hundred people onto a webinar or teleseminar then you probably have a worthwhile subject and audience to pursue!

Get your ideas together and maybe pitch the next conference or local user group. Do a 10 minute version of a talk. If it gets accepted then that is the first sign, and the audience will give you feedback. If you get a line of people asking questions at the end then all the better.

The main thing is to remember it is impossible to fail. You might find out some of your experiments did not give you the results you hoped for but that is a very different thing from failure because at least you will have learned something valuable without betting everything on the outcome!

Please check out Matthews site and give him some feedback (or encouragement) in the comments below, because he and I would appreciate it :)

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Comments

  1. Thanks Chris for the insight. I am trying to absorb everything I can to make my site better.

    Nate

  2. Chris,
    You are absolutely right on target with this article. It is said that “One has to first know where he is going before he can ever get there.”

    Very informative article.

  3. Thanks Cris!

    This tips are really helpfull. I tried it and its working!

    With pleasure – Vilhelmas

  4. It does help to be more specific on the target market for your sites. It would make the preparations more accurate. Great reminders here. Thanks for sharing!

  5. That is so true, Chris. Our customers are just like us with their own wants and needs and we most certainly have less or no control at all on their behavior. We often tend to forget that thing. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is that it is always good to start with engaging customers with what creates value for them.

    • Correct Daniel! Engaging the customers/audiences is the key here, if you are able to do that you have a winner in your hands! I know it is a daunting task cannot be managed easily, but this is the key to marketing now-a-days. Whole strategies and plans are more or less focused on that!

      Great article Chris!

  6. Hi – I like the Malt Blue site generally – good looks, mostly easy to navigate. The three main suggestions I’d make for improvement are:
    1. New tag line – the existing isn’t even good English, hard to parse, doesn’t have a benefit, and doesn’t roll off the tongue.
    2. I found the nav bar confusing – when I click on something like “Zend Framework” I expect to find information about the Zend Framework. Turns out the first couple of NAV buttons after home are blog entry collections. Better if there were in a sub menu or another page.
    3. I know I’m probably running against a trend here, but I think the home page ought to have some major “why am I here?” static copy, not just the blog. With a better tagline, and maybe some info above the Nav bar, this might be less important.
    Best regards,
    Michael

  7. It’s really that , this great article will help a lot of people like me
    Thanks Chris

  8. If you don’t have a going-in-plan, winging it will not capture the audience, market, or interest we seek. Good post, enjoyed it.