Why you need to understand how your target audience makes decisions

How does your target audience make decisions? It might seem obvious, but this is a vital question that many marketers overlook.

With all the ideation frameworks out there, it can be tempting to jump head first into experimentation, but before you even try to gather ideas, you need to know your target audience’s decision making process inside out.

The importance of understanding your users is common knowledge to most marketers. After all, which channels you target, how you design your UX and what features you develop should always be based on a thorough understanding of your users’ personality, needs and goals.

However, it isn’t enough to just think about which channels your potential leads hang out on and what their psychographic profile may look like. You need to understand their thought process behind choosing and purchasing a product.

Going beyond user personas

User personas are an important part of many aspects of marketing. Every company should have them. However, there is a difference between understanding who your target user is and understanding how they make decisions.

For example, your target persona may be a 30 year old recruiter called Amy, who lives in Amsterdam, works for a corporate and loves Netflix, skiing and EDM. You can build upon this persona as much as you like, adding interests, personality traits, needs, goals and behaviours. All of this information can help inform your marketing decisions.

But does this information shed any light on how your target user makes decisions?

Maybe some, but probably not a lot. A well-detailed persona will give you some insight into their pain points, budget and preferences, but it doesn’t necessarily provide a clear idea of how they makes decisions.

Don’t get me wrong; a solid user persona is important. But it is equally, if not more important, to understand how your potential leads make decisions; especially in a B2B context, where your target user and decision maker could be different people.

Understanding the decision making process

One of the problems many companies have is that they do a lot of good things, but don’t have an overall strategy to tie it all together. The key to successful marketing is making sure the entire process of acquiring and retaining a new user is seamless, natural and based on creating value.

The difference between a coherent strategy and a random set of practices is the fact that a strategy ties everything together along certain lines of reasoning.

The broad strokes of marketing strategy are usually done along the lines of the customer journey, where you have different projects and experiments for driving awareness, converting traffic, activating users and making sure they retain, expand, upgrade and refer.

But what do you do within each of those stages?

Say you want to niche down and create a lead generation strategy. Chances are you are doing a number of things to drive and convert traffic. How these ‘things’ interact with one another and whether they flow organically is going to be key to your success. And the secret to achieving that, is understanding your target audience’s decision making process.

When I first started at Recruitee, I had a ton of ideas on how to generate more leads. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t. It wasn’t until I really dug into our users’ decision making process that I had a basis on which to ideate more coherently and successfully.

When I looked into the data, I found out that there were pretty much 3 ways that users would find us and decide to choose us:

  • They saw an ad that triggered their interest and decided to check out our product.
  • They were referred to us by a friend or colleague and decided to check out our product.
  • They took it upon themselves to research the best product and came across us and decided to check out our product.
How users find us

When we look at both quantitative and qualitative data, we see that in most cases there is a significant overlap between the 3 ways in which users find us, but one of them is always a ‘primary catalyst’ (the initial ‘awareness’) and the others serve as ‘follow up’ (conviction, followed by conversion).

In addition to this, we found out through research and user interviews that, depending on the type of company, the end user’s decision making influence varied a lot. In large corporates, there’s usually a finance person who needs to sign off on final purchase decisions. In medium-sized companies, some senior recruiters have the autonomy and budget to make the final decision on software use. At smaller startups, the CEO or another executive would sign off on the final decision.

Understanding the decision making process is key to prioritizing your resources and focusing on what is going to generate the best leads in both the short and long term.

A lot of this may seem obvious, but when you dig deeper and try to re-create your users’ decision making processes, you will find yourself going down avenues you would not have considered before.

For example, maybe you are not generating many leads directly through Facebook, but you find out that it is a vital step in your users’ research into choosing the right product. Knowing this, you would reconsider Facebook as a channel and develop more sophisticated ways to understand how it assists your conversions.

In brief, it is not enough to understand who your target audience is, where they hang out and what they want. You need to fully understand their context and the process through which they decide to subscribe to a product like yours. The better you understand that process, the more you will be able to prioritize, customize and optimize your lead generation tactics.

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