4 steps to finding a true human insight about your audience

Cenk Bulbul, Netta Gross October 2018 Content Marketing, UX & Design

A version of this tutorial originally appeared in the free Primer app.

Data is important. It can tell you a lot about your target audience, like demographics (18- to 24-year-old urbanites), habits (Gen Z uses social media an average of X times a day), and trends (mobile payments have risen X%).

However, there’s a side of your audience that data alone can’t tap into: what exactly makes human beings, well, human. People in your target audience have desires, wants, needs, fears, emotions, and ideas that can’t be measured with numbers and stats.

By exploring this side of your audience, you can discover a human insight, or a fundamental truth that’s motivating people’s behavior. This insight can help you create and market products and services that fulfill your audience’s needs and desires, and fit into their lives.

Here are four steps you can take to find a genuine human insight and shape your audience strategy.

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Step 1: Create an audience sample

Even the narrowest target audience can include different types of people, with each group having its own desires, needs, and emotions. And there’s simply no such thing as a one-size-fits-all human insight.

The first thing you should do is divide your audience into segments and choose one to focus on. For example, a laundry detergent brand could segment its customers into parents, college students, and single city-dwellers, and decide to focus on the parent segment first.

Find a selection of people who represent your segment, called a sample audience. This should include at least 15 people who cover a broad spectrum of your customer segment. The detergent brand might include parents of babies, pre-teens, and teenagers.

Add some “wild cards” in there, too (like a parent whose 30-year-old son has moved back home or a parent with 10 children). They might reveal new ways to use your product or tell you why they won’t use it.

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Step 2: Observe your audience

Watch how your sample audience uses your product in their natural environment. That could be at home, at work, or on their daily commute. This is an incredibly important research step, as it can reveal subconscious behaviors.

When you observe an emotion — even a subtle one, like a spark in their eyes, a passionate reaction, or a moment of slight disappointment — probe those. Ask very specific questions about what got someone excited or turned them off. The more specific you are, the more insightful their answers will be.

The detergent brand, for example, might notice a moment of excitement or warmth when a person doing the laundry opens the door of the dryer, taking in the fresh scent of clean laundry. By probing and asking pointed questions, the brand may unveil a deeper emotional connection to laundry that can shape its marketing approach.

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Step 3: Find the tension

Look for an issue or desire that your products haven’t fulfilled for your target audience — yet. Start by using your audience observations to discover what your customers care about, where your category factors in, and what role your product plays.

For example, the detergent brand’s audience might care about its families’ health and being good parents. The brand’s category of personal care also keeps families well-cared for. And the detergent brand’s product keeps clothing neat and clean.

Then look at the context in which your audience segment uses your product. What life stage, time of day, or time of year do they use it? Are there any specific activities, events, or other variables that coincide with or cause them to use it? How might your audience feel during these times and activities? Think about what they want your product to help them achieve and what emotions this might stir in them. That’s the tension.

The detergent brand might land on this tension: Parents want their kids to feel free to be themselves, run around, and enjoy their time on the playground without worrying about getting dirty, but feel annoyed that washing clothes is such a hassle.

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Step 4: Create and test hypotheses

Next, form hypotheses on how your product, service, or marketing can help ease this tension for your audience.

The detergent brand might realize its packaging is bulky and heavy. It also notes that its audience’s lives are hectic and filled with errands. The brand hypothesizes that changing its packaging to feature a smaller dispenser and a more compact design will give parents the impression that laundry day is easier and one of their less stressful chores.

Test and refine your hypotheses with focus groups, surveys, and other methods. Let’s say the detergent brand tested its more compact packaging. But it was surprised to hear focus groups become frustrated and say changing the design of the detergent bottle wouldn’t make that much of a difference. The brand discovers that parents’ annoyance with tasks like laundry has a deeper root: They often feel they have no control over their hectic lives. So, even the tiniest moment of control greatly boosts their mood. There’s your insight.

From this, the brand can zero in on a solution that might give parents that moment of organization and control: small, convenient detergent pods that they can quickly drop into a laundry load with no mess or hassle. They can also develop a marketing strategy that’s fundamentally about freeing up time for parents — reducing one element of their hectic lives.

By observing a sample audience, finding a source of tension, and testing your hypotheses, you can land on a true human insight.

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