In the 1930s, surveys became a standard tool for empirical research in social sciences, marketing, and official statistics.
Since then, we’ve seen the application of surveys evolve into traditional paper-and-pencil interviewing (PAPI) to computer-assisted interviewing (CAI).
Today, face-to-face surveys (CAPI), telephone surveys (CATI), and mail surveys (CASI, CSAQ) are increasingly replaced by online surveys.
We have popular survey tools such as Survey Monkey, Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo.
These survey tools are cool.
But do you really need them to better understand your target audience?
They are better ways you can learn about your target audience.
While running a survey isn’t a bad thing, they can be misleading at times.
It’s a little bit risky to apply what you’ve learned from a survey.
Let me give you a well-known example.
Coca-Cola spent $4 million and 2 years creating the “New Coke” but the research was a complete failure.
It appeared that consumers weren’t ready to try the “New Coke” even though the survey showed they liked it.
Money wasted. Time wasted.
People Don’t Know What They Want…
Steve Jobs is regarded as the greatest CEO of all time.
He took a company that was on the brink of bankruptcy to become the world’s most valuable company. That is Apple, of course.
Here’s a popular quote from the man who revolutionized 6 industries.
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” ~ Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was right. People don’t really know what they want.
But I’ll like to make an important point.
The above Steve Jobs’ quote has been wrongly interpreted many times.
When I say customers don’t really know what they want until you show it to them, I don’t mean you should spend months or years creating a product, believing that your customers might like it. That’s a guessing game.
You can’t win in the competitive business world if you’re only guessing.
I’ve seen many businesses make this terrible mistake:
They spend a lot of time and resources creating a product only to later find out that nobody wanted their product.
I’ll like to introduce you to the Lean Startup Methodology.
The lean startup methodology is all about doing little tests to see if customers are really interested in buying your product.
For example, let’s assume you want to write a book. You could email 100 people who are your audience and ask them to pre-order your book before the release date (even though you haven’t written a single page of the book).
If 20 to 30 people pre-ordered your book, it shows there’s a strong demand for it.
Let’s also assume that your product is a web app. You could email 100 people who are your audience and ask them to buy the beta version of your app.
If 20 to 30 people buy, it shows a strong demand for your web app.
This idea is better than writing the full book or creating the finished version of your web app only to discover that no one is interested in buying it.
6 Resources That Help You Understand Your Target Audience
At least, you have to start from somewhere to learn about your target audience to see what they would like to buy before applying the lean startup methodology.
Here are the 6 resources you need:
1. Online Forums
Internet forums offer you direct one-on-one communication with your target audience. You get better feedback than through surveys.
Join any online forum that is related to your industry.
Develop a good profile there so participants know who you are.
Make yourself approachable.
Introduce yourself to the forum members.
Make valuable contributions to the forum so members can remember you.
Note that you’re not there to sell your product or promote your website. You’re there to learn about your target audience and see what challenges they face.
For example, if you’re in the internet marketing niche, the Warrior Forum is a great place to see the challenges many new internet marketers are facing today.
If forum members keep writing about a particular challenge or problem, it means there’s a demand for a solution.
Now, you can come up with a solution using the lean startup methodology I told you above.
2. Competitor’s Blog Comments
If you’re just starting out in your niche, chances are your blog isn’t receiving enough comments yet.
Comments are a great way to learn about your target audience.
Instead of waiting for your blog to start receiving enough comments, why not visit a competitor’s blog and see what people are writing in their comment section.
Since you’re both in the same niche and you are targeting the same audience, you can definitely leverage your competitor’s blog to know what challenges your ideal customers are currently facing.
When you listen to conversations within blog comments, you’ll hear people saying “this is a huge problem for me and I need help!”
For example, I found this comment while reading Neil Patel’s blog post on Quick Sprout.
This comment could be turned into a wonderful case study, or an article, or even a service.
3. Keyword Research And Google Trends
Search engines remain the best way to get hundreds of thousands of visitors to your website on a monthly basis.
Keyword research tells you exactly what your target audience is searching for on search engines.
In fact, keyword research offers you a better insight of your ideal customers.
If a lot of people are searching for a particular keyword, it indicates there’s a demand for something related to that keyword.
For example, the keyword “SEO services” receives 27,100 average monthly searches according to Google Keyword Planner.
This number shows that a lot of individuals and businesses are in need of SEO services.
But don’t stop there.
You need Google Trends to confirm how strong your target audience is interested in SEO services.
Looking at the data provided by Google Trends, you’ll see that the keyword “SEO services” started to gain strong interest back in 2006.
The interest peaked in 2010 and it has been steadily dropping since then.
Google Trends show that your prospects are becoming less interested in SEO services. If you’re in the internet marketing niche, this is an important information you may not get from conducting online surveys.
Okay, let’s take a look at another example that will help you better understand your target audience when you combine data from both Google Keyword Planner with Google Trends.
Google Keyword Planner shows that the keyword “content marketing” receives 60,500 average monthly searches.
Now let’s see how the interest in this keyword looks like on Google Trends.
Google Trends show that interest in “content marketing” started to rise in 2012 and it has remained stable at the same level since 2015.
Evaluating the data from both Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends, you’ll see that businesses are more interested in content marketing more than SEO services.
The information you’ll get from Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends will help you create the right offer your website visitors would be interested in buying.
4. Social Networks
Social networks are a great place to find and connect with your target audience.
Social networks give you the opportunity to learn about your target audience and know what they care about.
Most of your target audience is on social networks.
First, you need to recognize which social networks your target audience are hanging out.
If your target audience is women between 18 – 29-year olds, Instagram would be the perfect place to reach them.
If your target audience is professionals, LinkedIn would be the perfect place to connect with them.
Facebook and Twitter are great social networks to connect with people of different demographics.
You should follow your authority competitors on these social networks.
Let’s use Twitter as an example.
See what your competitors are tweeting to their followers who are also your target audience.
Get to see which of their updates are getting the most retweets and why?
For example, if a tweet from your competitor gets a lot of retweets, it shows that your target audience likes updates like that.
For example, Larry Kim is a top internet marketer and an authority competitor of mine.
Looking at his tweet history for the past 24 hours at the time of writing, the tweet in the image below got more retweets and favorites than other tweets within the same period.
This tells me that my target audience cares a lot about their CTA buttons.
It indicates they would be interested if I created a similar, better content or product around the topic.
This is another thing I wouldn’t have learned about my target audience if I run online surveys.
5. E-commerce Reviews
E-commerce sites are great places to learn about your target audience.
Amazon is my favorite e-commerce site because it’s the most popular and it also has a very strict review policy.
Most of the reviews on Amazon are genuine and you can confirm if they are coming from verified buyers.
You want to know why those buyers like the product. Most of them will give their reasons in the review section.
For example, I went to the book section on Amazon and landed on a marketing book that has managed to get a lot of reviews.
Below is a screenshot of two wonderful reviews that help me learn more about my target audience.
Note: I have highlighted the parts that help me learn more about my target audience.
The reviews on this page let me know that my target audience wants to improve their conversation skills so that they can better communicate with potential partners, connectors, and customers. These are things surveys might not tell me.
As you can see, you don’t need to waste time and money conducting surveys.
You already have in your possession powerful resources that will tell you everything you need to know about your target customers.