How to Leverage Audience Research for Better Paid Ads Targeting

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Business Marketing, Paid Media Advertising, Social Media

Businesses are always looking for ways to get an edge in the increasingly competitive landscape that is digital marketing, and surprisingly, one of the most ignored yet effective methods is conducting quality audience research. To quote Dan Zarrella, “Marketing without market research is like driving with your eyes closed.” 

And yet, it turns out that just 42% of marketers know even basic demographic data about their target audience like their name, location, and age—and less than half of marketers have a solid idea of their audiences’ qualitative data like interests, hobbies, or attitudes. 

By harnessing robust and well-established audience research methods, you can open the floodgates to a wealth of data you can use to acquire a clearer and deeper understanding of your target audience. So strap in! In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into audience research, and walk you through ways you can use it to supercharge your ad targeting and improve your marketing strategy as a whole. 

Understanding audience research

Simply put, audience research is the gathering of data to gain insights into your target audience. With it, you can get context about your target audience’s underlying motivations, preferences, and behaviors that can inform your advertising and paid media efforts. At Intuitive Digital, it’s the foundation upon which all our successful ad targeting and marketing strategies are built. 

Let’s dive into three benefits of audience research below.

  1. Personalization — With audience research in hand, you can create highly personalized ads that are more relevant to your target audience and resonate with them at a more personal level, matching your messaging and creative with their needs and desires. A byproduct of this is higher engagement, increased click-through rates, and ultimately higher quality conversions. 
  2. More Bang for Your Buck — During a time when marketers are seeing cuts to budgets left and right, audience research can be your ace in the hole for delivering more cost-effective advertising. When you reach the right people with the right ads, you minimize the amount of spend that gets wasted on audiences that are unlikely to have any interest in what you offer, freeing up spend that can be reallocated. 
  3. Greater results — Lastly, audience research contributes to improved campaign performance. When your ads are tailored to your audience’s unique preferences and behaviors, they are more likely to take desired actions such as adding items to their cart, making purchases, sighing up for your newsletter, or downloading your app. 

What are good audience research methods?

There are two main types of audience research you can conduct: qualitative and quantitative. Let’s explore each in more detail.

Qualitative audience research

Qualitative audience research involves gathering in-depth insights about your audience’s preferences, attitudes, interests, hopes, and motivations. It’s all about getting to the “why” behind their actions. 

Some straightforward methods of getting qualitative data include: 

  • Individual interviews — Perhaps the most personal approach to qualitative audience research, interviews are perfect for asking targeted questions designed to give you insights in a more conversational medium. These don’t have to be just 1:1; you can have two or three people per interview. And these don’t have to be done in person as well—video and phone interviews are viable options. 
  • Focus groups — These can be done in person or online, but the participants should be from within your target audience. You should ask your participants how, what, and why questions around a specific topic. Formats for this method vary, but the important thing to keep in mind when doing a focus group is to limit the number of participants and moderate appropriately to give each person enough time to contribute their perspective. 
  • Surveys — This a low-cost method for getting answers to questions from a larger group of people. Surveys are typically used for getting quantitative data, but you can make them qualitative by asking open-ended questions that direct users to give thoughtful responses. They can be done in person, but the most common method is to send the survey out digitally. 

As you conduct your qualitative audience research, remember that the goal is to get a clearer and deeper understanding of your audiences’ emotions and underlying factors that influence their purchasing decisions, which you can then use to optimize your advertising and marketing efforts. 

Quantitative audience research 

Whereas qualitative audience research focuses on the trees, quantitative audience research takes a step back and looks at the forest. It involves collecting and analyzing larger-scale data to identify trends and patterns in your target audience and target market. 

This method is what you would use to gather insights into key demographics and measure general preferences and behaviors. What platforms does your audience frequent the most? How many of them resonated with this message vs another? These are the kinds of questions you can address with quantitative research. Large datasets allow for statistical analysis, giving you and your team the ability to make decisions that are driven by solid trends, rather than guesswork.

Since quantitative research requires so much data to be useful, the most common and effective method is to send out surveys or polls. The questions for this type of research should not be open-ended—they should point towards certain answers to limit the room for uncertainty.

How do you conduct effective audience research?

Effective audience research happens when you double down on two key things: identifying your target demographic data, and leveraging audience insights. It’s about understanding quantitative data like their age, social media preferences, and location, and then using qualitative data to craft a message that resonates with their interests, attitudes, and self-perceptions. 

Think about it. When you try to describe brands you like vs dislike, often it feels like describing different personalities. This applies to advertisements as well—not all people enjoy ads with humor, and not everyone wants their ads to be straightforward and fact-driven; it depends on your product, your market, and how you want to communicate your message to your audience. 

When you define your target audience, you must check all the boxes in identifying their: 

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income Level

And those are merely the basics. Depending on your market, it may be prudent to gather data on their family composition, whether or not they are married or in a relationship, details about their lifestyle, etc. 

The qualitative data that you should gather will depend on your product or service and the specific market you are aiming to perform in, but some standard insights you should use to inform messaging and creative include: 

  • Self-perceptions 
  • Values
  • Purchase drivers
  • Purchase influencers 
  • Motivations 

There are plenty of tools you can use to conduct audience research, but one that we’ve seen great success with at Intuitive Digital is Global Web Index (GWI). Not only do they have an expansive database of self-reported quantitative and qualitative data, but they also are always updating said data so that you and your team are always up to date with the latest trends and preferences. 

Aside from qualitative and quantitative audience research, it’s important to utilize data about your audience that you can grab from your website analytics tool, your business social media accounts, or even past campaign performance data. By analyzing how your audience interacts with these mediums, you can gain valuable insights into their behavior, preferences, and platform cadences. 

Tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and your customer relationship management system (CRM) can provide you with rich insights into how audiences engage with your content, how that correlates with their conversion rates, and give you a clear picture of their customer journeys. 

You want to be able to answer questions like, “What patterns of behavior tend to occur before a customer makes a purchase or subscribes to a newsletter?” and “What are their buying habits? Have there been any changes in them over time?” Answers to these will help you refine your ad targeting and marketing strategy to great effect.

Applying audience research to popular advertising platforms

At this stage, you should have the research. The next step is to apply it to your relevant advertising platforms. Let’s take a look at some popular ad platforms and dive into ways you can leverage audience research to enhance your ad targeting. 

Now that you’ve gathered valuable audience research, it’s time to put it into action on targeted advertising platforms. Let’s explore a few popular platforms and how you can leverage audience research to enhance your ad-targeting efforts there.

Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads offers a comprehensive suite of features and tools to reach your audience as they browse updates from their friends and brands on their feeds. With just a few clicks, you can filter your audience based on crucial factors such as demographics, user connections, age groups, languages, and locations. 

But with Facebook, there’s an additional feature that you don’t want to miss: you can effortlessly tap into the followers of your competitors! This strategic move lets you showcase your ads to a highly relevant audience, potentially exposing your brand to new customers who you know are interested in your business offerings. 

Twitter Ads

Twitter offers targeting options that provide various ways to narrow down your audience based on interests, demographics, and keywords. You can also target your ads based on conversations that are happening on Twitter, and also based on events that are happening around the globe. 

The more savvy you become with Twitter, the better you’ll become at engaging with your target market through relevant hashtags, influencers, or promoted tweets. You’ll want to be sure to monitor conversations and trends within your industry to stay up-to-date and refine your targeting accordingly. 

By actively participating in relevant discussions and providing valuable content, you can build a strong presence on Twitter which can also reinforce the effectiveness of your ads.

It should be noted that since Elon Musk acquired the company in late 2022, the platform hasn’t exactly been the same, especially for advertisers. The platform has seen a 54% drop in advertising spend from May 2022 to May 2023, and many of the top brands spending on that platform that left have yet to return. 

As such it’s important to mention some of the potential risks of spending ad dollars to promote your brand there. 

Due to the mass layoffs and resignations from the company, some cybersecurity professionals have warned that Twitter may come with security vulnerabilities that might lead to fraud and privacy violations. 

Twitter has also been scrutinized for its lax content moderation policies which enable the posting of content like hate speech, misinformation, and others that can damage the reputation of brands that show up beside such content in sponsored posts. This can damage the reputation of brands that advertise on Twitter, as their ads may be seen alongside this type of content.

This isn’t to say Twitter isn’t still worth a shot! The social media platform still has a significant user base and plenty of opportunities to engage with audiences, influencers, and even celebrities in unique ways. It’s ultimately up to you and your team to find the best way to leverage those opportunities in a way that protects your brand. 

Google Ads

With Google’s vast reach and diverse advertising options, you can create targeted campaigns that align with your audience’s search intent—which is the kicker here. People go on Facebook and Twitter and other platforms to engage with their feeds and stay updated, but people primarily use Google and other search engines to answer their questions and get information.

Here you can utilize keyword research tools to identify high-intent keywords that match your offerings. Leverage demographic targeting to hit specific groups that align with your target market, and combine that with interest-based ads that go after users who express interest in your products or services.

With Google Ads, you can also target advertising to specific websites or applications via the display network, which also allows you to target users based on specific topics related to your industry.

Additional Platforms

Beyond Facebook, Twitter, and Google, there are numerous other platforms where you can apply your audience research to enhance your advertising efforts. Platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and LinkedIn offer unique targeting options and provide immense opportunities to connect with your customers. Each platform has its strengths and features, allowing you to tailor your ad campaigns based on the platform’s user base and characteristics. By understanding your audience and leveraging the platform-specific targeting options, you can maximize the impact of your advertising on these platforms.

Keep in mind that, even with advanced targeting informed by rich audience research data, successful advertising campaigns require more than set-it-and-forget-it approaches. You’ll want to experiment with different variations in copy, imagery, and CTAs, and then monitor performance closely to ensure things stay on track—and if performance falls off track—make informed changes for correction. Experiment with different variations in ad copy, imagery, and call-to-actions, and then continue to monitor performance closely. 

Leverage audience research with digital-savvy experts

In the vast and ever-changing digital landscape, understanding your audience is the cornerstone of effective marketing. Audience research, when carried out correctly, not only gives you the edge over the competition but also ensures your marketing efforts resonate with your audience, yielding greater returns on your investment and supporting lasting relationships with your customers.

However, we get that the process may seem a little daunting. The task of gathering and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, applying them to your advertising strategies, and continuously testing and refining your campaigns, all while staying within budget, requires a lot of time and expertise that just might not be available between you and your team. 

That’s where we come in. 

As our name suggests, we excel in intuitively understanding your needs and goals. We always start by listening to our partners to get a good grasp of their goals, hopes, and dreams for digital marketing success. Then we dive deep into extensive market research, driven by a relentless curiosity to understand what makes your audience tick.

Our team, a blend of seasoned veterans and innovative thinkers, is fully equipped with the expertise to navigate the complexities of digital marketing. Most importantly, we understand that every dollar counts, which is why we work diligently to maximize your budget, ensuring every penny spent contributes to your goals.

In a world increasingly driven by data, we believe in the power of insights to transform businesses. We’re not just a digital marketing agency; we’re your partner in carving a path to success in the digital space.

So why wait? Reach out to Intuitive Digital today, and let’s unlock the full potential of your digital marketing efforts. Your success story is just a conversation away.

About the Author

Yitzchak Young

Hailing from the Buckeye State, Yitzchak cultivated a passion for hospitality before falling in love with the wondrous world of marketing—a love that eventually brought him to a digital marketing agency in San Francisco. Through trial by fire, he sharpened his eye for unearthing data-driven insights that result in better leads and more conversions.

He moved on to deliver freelance marketing services that more closely aligned with his values—a path that culminated in his becoming Brand Director of a non-profit. After stewarding this position for some time, the siren song of service beckoned him to his current role at Intuitive Digital.

When not at his desk doing right by our partners, you’ll most likely find Yitzchak reading at a cafe or on a hike getting lost for the fun of it.

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