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It’s Not About ‘What’s Trending,’ Find Out What Your Audience Actually Cares About

by Mark Bradley

As a marketing professional, your biggest concern is reaching your audience. The dream is for millions of people to like, share, and comment on a post you cooked up for your organization. In theory, the best way to make this fantasy a reality is to tap into some “trending” topics and capture everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, too many marketers make this rookie mistake, and they end up spending more time recovering from the fallout than engaging with consumers.

Attaching your brand to a pop culture topic leads to short-term results at best, as your message gets lost in the thousands of other tweets on the subject. And when the public shifts its focus to something else, your campaign becomes old news. At worst, customers will think the brand is trying to capitalize on an important social movement, and you’ll be left trying to convince them you’re not part of a heartless corporate machine.

The goal, then, is to narrow your focus to your most loyal supporters. More specifically, you should use social media to consider what those supporters care about rather than just who they are. There’s always some emotional thread running through your audience, and if you connect your brand to that thread instead of a fleeting fad, you can establish a long, lucrative relationship with your base.

Inhabiting a Culture Through Social Media

Discovering your audience’s passions is easier said than done. It’s difficult to zero in on what motivates your customers to get out of bed every day, and, frankly, they might not know either. And to make things more complicated, your ideal audience might not even be the consumer.

Just look at Minecraft. This game about building a virtual world is typically played by children, but they’re not the ones with the credit cards. Because the parents are the intended audience, the social conversation that draws them to the game is the promise that it will build their children’s logic and problem-solving skills. Therefore, the marketing of the game is not necessarily just entertainment; it’s about how Minecraft can strengthen children’s interest in science and architecture in a safe environment.

In cases such as these, you’re not just marketing to the person; you’re appealing to an idea that, unlike “trendy” topics, will exist for the long haul. When you examine your audience, you’ll likely find a similar passion that unites your consumers regardless of individual, demographic differences. See whether the following strategies can help you use social media to determine what makes those audience members tick and develop an effective marketing strategy.

1. Pay attention to psychology on social

Because there are probably several emotional interests across your audience, consider using those interests to divide up your consumers. Everyone knows audience segmentation is key, but grouping that audience based on psychological factors gives you a richer understanding of who you’re marketing toward.

Instead of creating a persona based on gender, age group, and other demographic information, pay closer attention to social media interactions. This is where consumers reveal their core passions you didn’t already know about. You might even find different layers of their personalities on different platforms. For example, women who fit the devoted mother persona might express their parenting goals by participating in multiple parenting groups on Facebook. However, Instagram could reveal a clustering of interests and motivators outside of parenting that Facebook would not.

Using multiple social media channels lets you understand consumers not as followers of trending topics but as multidimensional characters who interact with their own environments.

2. Avoid appearing salesy

Consumers know brands need to sell something. The trick, though, is to disguise that fact while remaining honest in your social media posts. Trying too hard to please customers can have them running to competitors.

Communicating your brand’s story is more important than saying what people want to hear. Churning out posts that just list your product’s benefits will appear forced. Instead, just like you’re trying to determine your customers’ passions, don’t be afraid to show them yours. Be upfront about your background, goals, and how your brand is more of a reflection of your organization than an efficient way to make money.

3. Embrace risk

Unfortunately, none of these steps are surefire successes. A plan that’s brilliant on paper can still fail miserably and force you to rethink your entire strategy. The real challenge, though, is to continue taking risks.

Gatorade, for instance, released a 2016 ad implying the sports drink is primarily for athletes who can afford the excess sugar. Non-athletic viewers who drink Gatorade for the taste alone might have found it offensive, as if the company was reserving its product solely for sports superstars. However, Gatorade’s risky strategy appealed to a specific passion from a specific subset of its audience. With this ad, the company proved that even when it’s not perfect, a daring message can keep your brand alive.

Social media can be your lab to test new material and see what connects to your audience. Consider trying out your new idea with a simple tweet or Facebook post. It might alienate parts of the audience, but as long as it’s accurate and you believe in it, chances are you’ll forge a stronger connection with a core audience.

These strategies might sound a bit more difficult than they’re worth. After all, it’d be easier to hijack the latest pop culture trend to gain the most traction from the most people. But that method does little to establish long-term brand loyalty among consumers. And if you use social media to better understand your audience’s interests, the trendiest topic on the internet will soon be your brand.

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