Identify a Hungry Audience

In this chapter of my upcoming book "Get Out Of Marketing Debt", I show you how to find and listen to your audience, so you keep getting more and more people interested in your offer.


Step-by-step Towards an Audience
Step-by-step Towards an Audience

Welcome back, folks, to a new chapter of my upcoming book. Here, we talk about how to find the people whom you want to serve, learn how to help them, and automate the process so that you find more and more customers for your product without spending too much time on marketing.

Let's dive in. First, how do you find those people at all?

Find your Future Customers around their Watering Holes

Finding your future customers begins with research. In this chapter, you will learn how to find places on the internet where people give each other tips on how to get something done, or how to get a problem solved.

Tips and problem-solving are a clear indication that there is a real need for a product or service, so you will create something that people want in the first place.

Listening Enables You to Create Relevant Offers

Why listen to the people in your target audience, before you go out and create an offer for them?

Well, if you don't listen, you don't really know what your audience's problems are. That puts you at a risk: You will likely create a product or create marketing material that is irrelevant to them. They will simply ignore you. That's frustrating and is really something you should prevent from happening!

When you listen to them first, you learn what bothers them:

  • the problems they have
  • the pain they feel
  • the jobs they want to get done
  • the status they are seeking

When you listen to them first, you also learn their language. Not the national language, but the words they use to talk about their problems. When you talk to them later, they will feel like you understand them, and they will understand you and why their offer is relevant to them.

Where You Find the People You want to Listen to

So where can you find your target audience, the people you want to help and turn into raving fans? You need to visit their "watering holes", as Amy Hoy calls them in her Sales Safari method. Amy uses this Safari analogy:

  • A watering hole in the savannah is a place where the big animals gather to drink. You can watch them in their native environment there, with their natural behavior.
  • The alternative is to find them in a zoo. That is much easier, but it's an artificial environment where they don't show their natural behavior.

If you find your audience on the Net, at such watering holes, they ask questions and give tips to each other about the subject matter. Harder to find, but you learn much more from them than if you invite them to a customer interview session on video.

Instead, if you call them for a customer interview, you will see the "zoo version" of the lion, not the wild lion himself. Alex Hillman, Amy's colleague, has written a rant against the Lean Startup method: Validation is backwards. Within that article, you find this quote from Amy:

Before you launch, you'll interview people who may be potential customers, but have not yet given you money, and are ergo not customers. They've got no skin in the game, no frame of reference to build on. But even after you launch – and you begin to interview your customers – the technique is flawed.

When you're able to watch people talk about their problems in their natural place, without them feeling like they're being watched, it means you're getting a more genuine, a more natural, and in many cases, a much richer understanding of what their problems are.

Let's do this on the Internet.

Naive Googling Doesn't Help

You may think "let's google those watering holes!". Pretty good idea, but take care how you formulate the search query.

Problem is, Google search results include a lot of noise. The articles you find are most likely NOT written by your audience, but by your competitors, by consultants, by know-it-alls. This prevents you from learning directly from your audience.

And: Search results show answers, not questions and problems. While it is valuable to read an article on "How to make your ugly lawn more beautiful", it would have been way more interesting to find those people who actually have the ugly lawn, so you can help them with your lawn renovation service.

Lastly: Sifting through irrelevant search results will cost you precious time. You will spend hours and hours to find the members of your audience, the people who will care about what you have to offer.

Searching Indirectly for the Stuff They Use

Let's say you want to find people who have an ugly lawn. A good start is to assume they use a lawn mower and search for forums or communities of people who use lawn mowers.

Search for

  • lawn mower forum
  • lawn mower community
  • lawn mower mailing list

You will suddenly see places where those people hang out and discuss about the best ways to mow a lawn. Not bad as a start! Sign up and begin to analyze their conversations. Find their pain points with lawn mowing and begin to help them.

Other keywords like group, list, community, help, wiki, questions, meetup, list, resources, association, customers, tutorials, awards, user group, or blog can also help you to find more of those interesting watering holes for you.

Searching Directly for Their Problem

Another way to google this is to directly search for the name of the problem. But bear in mind: You want to find the people who have the problem, not the solution for it.

Try this on Google: "ugly lawn" after:2023-01-01

In 2023, Reddit is a very special social network. It's trustworthy, it's public, and best of all, Google indexes it! When you tell Google to search on Reddit, you have a fair chance to find people who discuss the problem.

With the query above, I found things like these in the sub-reddit /r/lawncare:

  • Is there a good way to convince my parents to replace their ugly lawn?
  • I destroyed my lawn with Glyphosate, now what?
  • Just moved into a house that has this existing yard -- need advice!
  • Best grass to seed with in MD - Sunny/No shade yard.

Hang Out Where They Hang Out

Join the social networks where your audience hangs out. Of course, Reddit is not the only place where you can find people and their conversations. In 2023, there were:

  • Mastodon instances
  • Lemmy instances
  • Stack Exchange
  • Quora
  • LinkedIn
  • and many more.

You can also visit online communities. There are directories that list these. A good example from 2023 is Hive Index.

And don't forget to look out for your competitors: Where do they meet and entertain their audience? Can you "steal" some of their followers to find more customers for your business?

Find out What Your Audience is Searching For

It's a superpower when you know what "your people" are truly looking for. Fortunately, there are tools to find this out!

Google Autocomplete : Start typing the problem or related keywords into the Google search bar. Google's autocomplete feature will suggest various search queries that people commonly use. These suggestions can give you a good idea of what people are searching for.

Google Related Searches : After performing a search on Google, scroll down to the bottom of the search results page. You'll find a section labeled "Searches related to <your query>." These related searches can offer you additional insights into what people are looking for.

Keyword Research Tools : Use keyword research tools such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Ubersuggest. These tools provide insights into popular search terms related to a specific problem.

Listen manually until you begin to understand

When you see people talk about how to solve a problem, analyze the conversation to find out what their pain is, what they already tried, and how you can help them with your product.

Transcribe a conversation, extracting the most important points. Yes, do it manually right now, so that you learn about your audience and your brain will make the necessary connections. Don't automate this just yet. It trains your marketing muscles. In the gym, you wouldn't put an engine on a workout bike, would you?

Here are a few categories for your notes that Amy Hoy recommended:

Metadata : Jot down the URL where you found the conversation, and the date when you made the transcript.

Pain : Note the pain that the people talk about. Record facts, feelings and the actions and behaviors that were triggered. Under facts, you can note the current situation of the person and the outcome they desire. Under actions, you can note what the person does until now, i.e. asking for help, procrastinating, hoping, looking for alternatives, just trying things, or taking shortcuts.

Jargon : Depending on the audience, they might use some specialty words, terms of art, or insider lingo (normal words that a community or tribe uses in an unusual way). Record this special jargon so you can use it later when you write something for them.

Recommendations : People in forums give advice, references, or product recommendations. Advice sounds like "do this, try this, did you try this, experience says, do NOT do this". References can sound like "read this, listen to this, check out this guy". Product recommendations sound like "buy this, don't buy this, I bought this and...".

Worldview : Take some notes about the worldview that people have. Does the person act like a business who buys value-based and thinks like a professional? Or does she act like a consumer who buys based on status, emotion, or fashion? It makes it easier to select people and to help them based on what they seek.

Pro Tip: Take a record of the prices they mention. This shows your audience's willingness to pay!

All this may sound a bit abstract. To see a really cool example for how to do this, I recommend you watch the classic YouTube video in which Amy Hoy herself demonstrates a note-taking session. Really enlightening!

Think you understand your audience better now? Okay, proceed to the next step!

Create an ideal customer profile

Why would you create an ideal customer profile, also known as a persona?

The reason is, you will write a lot of stories and messages to your later prospects and customers. When you do this, it's just too easy to forget whom you're writing for, and your message would become inconsistent or diluted. Your future customers will likely be confused. To stay consistent, it really helps to clearly write down their characteristics as an "ideal customer profile".

No, demographics alone like "Tatjana, 26 years old, female" won't give you any insights -- we use just one or two personal details that help to make the persona feel real. Demographics don't matter as much because for most jobs, getting them done is the same for a 26-year-old as for a 65-year-old.

A good persona is more about the job(s) that this certain "Tatjana" wants to get done, and about her current situation, as well as her current motivation. In this chapter, you will learn how to write such a short, concise customer profile that you can always refer to later.

Here are the sections I recommend you include in your persona:

Goals (and motivations) : What does this type of customer want? Achieve something? Get a certain job done? Become someone special? Relieve pain? Gain status? Save money, or save time?

Circumstances (situation, company, role, tools, work activities) : In what situation is this typical customer? Do they have a certain job, or role? Do they use certain tools to carry out certain work activities? Write down a few key things about what their world looks like.

Patterns of behavior : How does such a person behave? Are there typical things she does that might form patterns that are common for people like that?

Frustrations (or pain points) : In the goals section, you listed what this person wants to get or achieve. What obstacles are standing in her way? Why is she frustrated about what happens while she wants to get a certain job done?

Workarounds : What are some things she does to avoid the main job she wants to get done? List a few workarounds or shortcuts this type of person takes because she doesn't see a way to deal with her problem directly.

Background : List a few personal details to make the persona relatable. You can give her a name, and age, some labels, etc. but be clear about the fact that you're making this up! The previous points are based on your research, they are not made up.

See an example for such a persona here:

Sample persona
Sample persona

Make a list of their jobs and pains

Your future customer wants to get some job done, or they want to go from pain to pleasure. Make a list of those jobs and pains so that you'll be able to "speak to them" in your marketing messages, later.

First, focus on the main job. Then find out what the adjacent jobs are, like planning, preparation, cleanup, or management:

  • What does the person need in order to prepare for the main job, or to clean up after the main job is done?
  • What do they need to track or manage what they do over time?
  • What happens when they have to do it often? Do they have to keep any information and update it from time to time?

Let's take Tatjana, our sample persona, as an example. She loves to work in her café but she hates accounting and taxes. "Accounting" is a category for several jobs that she needs to get done. You can imagine jobs like these:

  • collect the sales of each day
  • put them in Tatjana's books
  • collect the expenses
  • put them in the books as well

"Taxes" is also a category. You can find several other jobs there:

  • run a profit/loss calculation
  • fill out the forms required by the tax administration
  • pay a tax on what Tatjana earned

As a creative "cakemaster", she struggles with certain pain points:

  • Her unwillingness to do proper accounting makes her neglect her sales data
  • Confusion and missing data make accounting time-consuming and error-prone
  • Using Excel as a tool for the job is not helpful because it is difficult to use
  • Tatjana fears that all this will become even worse once she hires personnel

Your marketing task here: Help Tatjana get out of this mess and get her jobs done! She will be totally happy when you provide a solution and won't consider your marketing as SPAM.

If you know and write down exactly what those jobs are, and which ones are painful, you are well prepared to Forge a Persuasive Narrative about Your Value (link to other book chapter) for Tatjana and other future customers of yours.

Build an automated listening outpost

When you stop listening to the market, you might run astray with what you create. But listening isn't fun, it becomes boring over time.

In this chapter, you learn how to automate listening so that you'll be alerted automatically when your future customers talk about something that is important for you and your product.

By now, you've got an initial understanding of your customer's jobs and pains. Now let's set up a kind of listening outpost for you on the Net that will alert you when a future customer of yours is in pain so you can rush to help them with your marketing.

Many forums support RSS feeds or similar technology. It allows you to find out when something new has been posted, but how do you know that the new message comes from a future customer?

Well, there are apps for that: You can consume a feed in an automated tool that can trigger on certain keywords. Whenever your favorite combination of keywords occurs in a conversation at a watering hole, you can have the tool send an alert to you.

Here's a proven example for you:

Let's say you want to help people with an ugly lawn. The Google search query we used [earlier][Searching Directly for Their Problem] showed us that they hang out on a subreddit called /r/lawncare to discuss these lawn problems.

Here is the query again that made us find them: "ugly lawn" after:2023-01-01

Now setup an automated tool that listens for new messages on a particular subreddit. Since 2023, I have been using CustomerPing that I made for customer discovery. It allows you to setup a so-called "customer radar station" that the following things, around the clock, even while I sleep:

  • it looks for new articles in an online forum
  • it distills the really interesting stuff that is relevant to your business
  • it pings you on your mobile phone whenever someone talks about the problems that you solve in your business.

CustomerPing uses an AI to pull this off. For example, an AI can find out whether the article contains an unanswered question or problem. This is important because you don't want to find answers ("how to fix an ugly lawn"), but you want to find people who ask questions about how they can fix their lawn.

Anyway: Since then, my phone alerts me with a "tweedle-di-dee" from time to time, and the app shows me the latest message that triggered the "radar station".

I would look at it, open the discussion on Reddit and read what the mentioned marketing problem was, ready to help you solve it.

Nice, huh?

Prepare to enter the conversation

Assuming that you have your [automated listening outpost up and running][Build an automated listening outpost], you will get an alert from time to time. Then it is important to know what to do, quickly and without thinking too much. If you're the first to answer, that gives you a head start.

In this chapter, you learn how to prepare so that you can enter the conversation almost any time.

To get new customers, this is what to do when your outpost alerts you:

  • When you feel you can truly help them, reply with a short tip, or a longer piece of text.
  • Describe what they should think or do to solve their problem.
  • When they thank you (i.e. you did something right) ...
  • Go home and create a medium-length piece of content, and...
  • Go back to the forum and reply again, this time with a link to your new piece.

To get customers, you answer their questions in the forum and have a conversation around them. When that resonates well, you write a blog post with a solution or with advice. Put that as a link into your next answer on the forum.

After a while, people will be excited and will want more. Then you can invite them to your email list. After they read some of those emails, they will trust you, and you can ask for a sale.

But before you offer your product to them and ask for a sale, let's make sure they will understand what's so awesome about it. You do this by positioning which we will discuss in the next chapter.

(to be continued in the book)

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