Identifying the target audience and its information needs

Knowing your audience

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bizmac/16192758385" target="_new">Image by Shunsuke Kobayashi</a> released via <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">Creative Commons CC BY 2.0</a>
Image by Shunsuke Kobayashi released via Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

As set out in the first module in this series, “Strengthening a media business – the four essential steps”, the first step in setting up a media business is to identify the audience groups you plan to serve in order to achieve your goal.

You need to know about their information needs, their aspirations, their lifestyles, how they consume news, whether they share it or not, and why they rely on you for their news.

You can do this by hiring an expensive market research team, or you can do this yourselves by carrying out local audience surveys and talking to your audience. My preference is the latter.

In my experience this works well, and the exercise can be carried out in less than a day. Here is how.

Involve senior managers

Gather your senior team from editorial, sales & marketing and business development.

  • Obtain some existing market data; it’s likely that the local audience segments have already been identified. If not, it’s not difficult to work them out.
  • Focus on three or four of your target audience segments and aim to meet most if not all of their information needs.
  • Try to imagine one character that best represents each group.
  • Download pictures from the internet of people who fit the character profiles you have identified.
  • Give these people a name, imagine them as real people; these characters will help you define your content strategy.

Ask the following questions:

  • What are their interests and what stories would they read?
  • What are their concerns? You need to find the answers they require.
  • What stories would they probably not be interested in?
  • What is their lifestyle, are they married, in a relationship, single, have they got children?
  • Are you catering for their personal and lifestyle interests?
  • What are they likely to buy and what are they unlikely to buy? Make sure you have the right adverts in your output.
  • How do they consume news? Do they watch TV, listen to radio, access news online, or use smartphones and tablets? Are you publishing on all of these devices?
  • Do they use social media to engage with content? If so, what platforms are they using?
  • Are you stimulating those conversations and engaging with your audience? If not, why not?

Audience profiles

Once you have finished these profiles, share them with your senior editors and production journalists and reporters so they know who they are creating content for.

Print out the pictures of these character profiles and attach them to the newsroom walls.

Make sure every story is written for these audience groups and uses the language that they understand.

Encourage the journalists to look at the images when they are writing their stories to ensure that every fact presented and every question asked are of value to the target audience groups your media organisation has decided to serve.

Do the same with the sales and marketing team so they know what adverts the audience would be interested in seeing. Advertising throughout all output areas should reflect your users’ interests and aspirations.

Focus groups

Consider setting up focus groups representing the different audience profiles you hope to serve. Invite members of these groups in for snacks and a chat. Talk to them about your output and editorial plans.

Consider inviting representatives to join an audience panel to offer you regular feedback about what worked and what didn’t work.

Try to find out what you did well and where you could have done better.

Ask them what stories helped them and what stories they found uninteresting.

Use this information to continually refresh your unique editorial proposition so that it is always focused on the latest feedback from your audience panel.

Identifying the target audience and its needs

Below is a PDF of a training module created by Media Helping Media for the former Mobile Community Zimbabwe. It shows the methods used in identifying the target audience and its information requirements.