Know your audience – in all its digital dimensions

by | May 2, 2023

How well do you really know your target audience?

As a digital leader, this question should dominate your thinking. It should be a key consideration when assessing your strategic vision, down to prioritizing your daily operations.  Answering this question, after all, is why it’s so important to build a data-driven enterprise.

But let’s also be realistic. You can never fully know every customer’s needs, preferences and pain points. Think too rigidly or become too certain of expected behaviors and human nature will surprise you. It’s the marketing version of the Heisenberg principle: The more you learn about where a customer sits in your business plan, the less you feel you know about where they’re going.

To fundamentally understand your audience, therefore, requires building an ever-evolving and adaptable base of knowledge, one in which assumptions are constantly tested, new learnings are accepted and irrelevant past conclusions are retired. The keys are to accept change, be flexible and, ultimately, stay curious.

Most of us are comfortable thinking of growth through knowledge as a linear, progressive path. Instead, we recommend mapping your audience segments as a series of concentric rings, then adding data-driven dimensions to better understand your customers’ needs and preferences.

Get a better understanding of your audience

Start your audience, or market, map at the center. Ask some fundamental questions to get the ball rolling. Why are you in business? What do you really sell? Who buys your products? Who benefits from your services? Be truthful and you will quickly see who in your audience is at the center engaging and buying directly from you.

The next rings represent audience segments that either indirectly benefit from the activities in the core ring or could or should benefit, directly or indirectly. These would include not only secondary markets (such as consumers in a business-to-business enterprise), but also your competitors, vendors, professional associations – the entire ecosystem of your business. This approach of creating concentric rings to understand your market ecosystem will challenge you to identify what you already think you know about your market. Those things you don’t know should be viewed as growth opportunities, the new frontiers of your enterprise.

Role-shifting in the consumer-product continuum

Keep in mind that audience segments can represent different roles and perspectives along the customer-to-product spectrum. Consider the media industry.

Who are the customers of a mainstream consumer media company? The reflexive answer might be the reader, the viewer, the listener. The correct answer is the advertiser. The reader, the viewer, and the listener are the product the advertiser is purchasing. The media produced is the fuel that feeds and attracts the audience that is sold to the advertiser. The common path in which content starts out free (advertising model) and then converts to paid (subscription model) is an example of how a reader can shift from being the product to the customer. Which of your audience segments are your true customers, and which represent pathways to them? 

When you know your audience your audience knows

It’s important to analyze data that extends beyond demographics and general metrics. The next dimension on your map is to understand your users’ behaviors. Transactional data, along with the right analytics tools like Google Analytics, will help you identify how your most valued current customers or users interact with your offerings.

Beyond the transaction itself, you need to spend a certain amount of time understanding your customer’s purchase decision-making:

  • What was their behavior leading up to that transaction or consumption of your different types of content, products, services or experiences? 
  • Was it a direct transaction, in which they knew your product, came to your website and purchased it?  
  • Was it a thoughtful, analyzed purchase where a product was reviewed, placed in a digital cart, revisited over days and followed by exits and returns via referrals to/from competitors? 
  • Perhaps the transaction was a direct result of a promotion or deal you offered?

As you map these behaviors from your customer journey and look at sub-groups or valuations of customers, you can then develop a picture of what drove your key customers or audience members to act (keeping in mind these are just moments in time and not hard conclusions). By levering your behavioral data, you can develop marketing journeys to audience members with similar behaviors to increase value and/or engagement for your ideal customers.

The final dimension involves using that behavioral data to move specific audience segments closer to the center of your market map, toward becoming purchasing, revenue-producing customers. Your knowledge of behaviors will allow you to develop journeys that can identify an audience member’s location on your map and then define points of engagement, stages and the next actionable steps to progress their engagement with your brand.

Know how not to leverage your data

Behavior tracking and personalization for marketing strategy and advertising often get a bad reputation as a nuisance or invasive. Without question, annoying your users by exploiting your knowledge of their digital behaviors will only damage your company’s reputation and drive away business. Done well, however, the practice of using data to better know and engage with your customers can grow your revenue, elevate your brand and delight your audience.

Now more than ever, considering the power of audience opinions in social media, it is critical to grow your audience incrementally through deliberate, thoughtful interaction.

Time to start mapping your current customers

Hopefully the steps outlined above will inspire you to map the dimensions of your business and fully embrace the power of data to meet customer needs and grow your market with the right audience

The above definitions of your dimensions are for illustration only. How many rings, dimensions or groups you define – and what you call them – is up to you. What’s important is that you organize your thoughts about your audience and, using your data, understand what drive beneficial outcomes. Also, keep in mind that change is the only constant and continuous refinement is necessary.

If you need help mapping or navigating the ecosystem of your enterprise, reach out to us at Mod Op Strategic Consulting. We are all former business operators with years of experience to share.

Author Spotlight

Kipp Wright


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