How to Understand Your Audience and Reach with Branded Content


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Knowing your audience is not only the cornerstone to successful marketing and media campaigns but also to successful businesses. It’s no surprise, and I’ve heard it before, the best companies and brands go to the extent of being ‘audience obsessed’. But what does it mean to ‘understand your audience’, and how to do it successfully?

For organizations focused on branded content, as an example, this is changing the way brands engage with consumers. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 86% of B2C marketers use content to speak to their audience. However, creating branded content is no easy feat. You first need to understand who your target audience is and discover the best avenues of engagement. With all the options out there, from social media to online publications to mobile apps to video channels, how do you find your audience and get them to respond?

Doritos Connects with GenZ

Doritos/Frito-Lay recently demonstrated the effects of having a strong, differentiated brand with the launch of their recent ‘Logo Goes Here’ campaign. While Doritos has the benefits of being a market leader and household name, they pushed the boundaries of storytelling to connect with the GenZ audience. With the insight that younger consumers are more likely to ‘reject traditional advertising’, Doritos’ campaign shared the product’s legacy in a relatable way, while also removing the actual brand name from all advertisements and products.

While the ad shares the story of Doritos and differentiates it from others in the category, the tactical placement also ensures it reaches the right audience in a consistent way that doesn’t feel false, shallow or irrelevant. This included launching the ad campaign during the 2019 MTV Music Awards, an Instagram page that featured relevant triangular shapes from pop culture instead of the Doritos themselves. Beyond that, it created a custom partnership with entertainment and popular culture news site UPROXX and even rebranded its URL to direct audiences to

Even without the Dorito name, the brand communicated their authentic story and message in a way that not only targeted a new, younger audience, but also grew their long-term brand affinity. 

It’s easier said than done. Understanding your audience is an ongoing process as you get to more intimately know the evolving patterns in audience behaviors, interests, concerns, and purchase/decision journey. These patterns are realized through both quantitative and qualitative data.

Quality Data At the Core

Whether you’re a B2C or B2B brand, you’re likely capturing first-party data that can inform a foundational understanding of your audience, including their demographics, location, purchase behavior, etc. You might also be gathering specific analytics on your ‘owned assets’ including engagement on your website, and tracking of activity across different content types. Common tools, like Google Analytics, Facebook, and Twitter’s Audience Insights are beneficial ways of gathering this information across your owned properties.

In the case where first-party data is unavailable, third-party data can be sourced from well-known providers such as Adobe, Oracle, Axiom, etc. There is no shortage of third-party data sets in today’s marketplace, and while it may come at a premium, it’s important to know the quality of the data that you may be applying, to understand and target your audience.

Additionally, it’s helpful to stay attuned to overarching trends on your target, their behavior, consumption patterns, and mindset through sources such as eMarketer, Forrester or WARC. In many cases, this foundational information and data mining is synthesized into a target persona, such as The Fashionista, an 18-34 female, with HHI of $X, working professional, who loves designer brands, is always on the hunt for a ‘deal’, etc. The trouble with personas is that they are often times over simplified and only scratch the surface of your full audience understanding. 

Always Be Listening

Data sources are extremely valuable, but to truly know your audience, there must be deeper insight into their attitudes, beliefs, understandings, and feelings. This is best done by talking to real people in your audience. As with any successful relationship, you must always be willing to listen.

Some of the best practices that allow you to consistently listen and be aware of your audience’s changing concerns, beliefs, and feelings, include:

  • Surveys: The quality of your solution is based on the quality of the questions you’re asking and this age-old tactic allows you to ask tailored questions to a specific group of respondents. With simple tools like Google Forms or Typeform, you can get candid feedback on their beliefs and may also inform the tone that they want to be spoken to in your messaging.
  • Review Mining: Through Forums, like Reddit, Facebook groups, or website like Quora, you can gather on-going insight into people’s natural conversations along with responses
  • Interviews/Focus Groups: What better way to understand your audience than speaking with them face-to-face. Whether it be 1:1 conversations or focus group discussions, this approach allows you to dig a layer deeper on audience responses and ask followup questions where surveys may have stopped you short.

Once you ‘know your audience’ and have a deep understanding of their concerns and feelings, your messaging should not only address those concerns but reach them when it’s most relevant and mirror their own tone of voice. So how do you know where to speak to them? This requires an understanding of the media properties, and their audience, where you’ll be distributing your message, content, or experience.

Using common syndicated tools like comScore or Nielsen you may be able to get a better understanding of which properties are able to reach your audience best, as media companies are experts on their consumers too. They can provide you with valuable data and, in many cases proprietary research, about their key targets. Tap into this expertise and knowledge to better understand how their audiences are consuming content, what resonates best, and how they’re able to target people, whether it be done contextually or with specific data sets. This will ensure there is alignment with the audience you are looking to reach.

It’s About an Ongoing Relationship

Being audience-centric requires making sure you have an on-going relationship with your target market, and that you are consistently leaning-in to qualified data, qualitative research, and strategic media partnerships to understand their changing needs, perceptions, background, etc. This comprehensive understanding will translate into a more strategic approach to your marketing and media investment, where messaging and experiences can be personalized and where targeting not only fosters an ongoing relationship with your brand, but results in a more efficient ROI.


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