Researching your target audience

When you’re doing work for a client, how do you learn about their target audience to really understand them a bit deeper than basic demographics go.

Obviously you ask your client loads of questions about their customers, but do you ever do any additional research, and if so, what does that look like?

I usually ask 'Who do you want to impress?" It’s not just the target audience, but the people who might influence them (like magazine reviewers) and the client’s competitors.

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Depending on the client we may also ask them if there is another audience they want to reach out to and why. From there I’ve heard answers like
“We’d like to build a location in a new area so lets see if clients pick up from there”,
“My friend/family/colleague thinks its a good idea.”,
“I started to see an increase in customers from that audience but I’ve never actively advertised toward them.”

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It depends quite a bit on the nature of the client’s business.

If it’s a brick-and-mortar location where foot traffic constitutes the market, I spend time there observing, perhaps even engaging people who seem approachable. That gives me some sense of who is coming in, and conversely, who is not. I’ve had clients who were surprised by the findings of this exercise, simply because they never had or took the time to approach it analytically. From there, the messaging goal becomes reaching out to types who would benefit from coming in, but aren’t, and giving those who are coming in something to talk about (to those to aren’t).

In other scenarios where this hands-on approach isn’t possible, analysis of the competition’s messaging and customer experience, successful and failed, can offer valuable insight into the target (and un-targeted) market.

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Clients almost always have a good idea of who they what to reach. Common sense also plays a big role.

Digging deeper depends on the project and client budgets. Designers don’t typically get too involved in deep research at advertising or public relations agencies. The CD or AD for the project might sit in on some of the meetings but doesn’t typically do the research. On the other hand, clients don’t often hire freelance designers to do in-depth research.

More comprehensive research typically tries to find what the target audience thinks. For example, this might include their desires, price points, where they live, reservations, habits, income levels, etc. The goal is to uncover ways to target the audience with messaging that will resonate in ways that will prompt them to take the desired action.

There’s also preliminary research to determine whether or not a viable customer base exists for a proposed product or service, but this has little to do with design until a determination is made that a demand exists or can be created.

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While I’m sure you all are talking about marketing research, there is another aspect of design where the designer often sits in on the goal and focus meetings, usually working together with the content developer, if that role is a separate individual.
Educational museum design. Think science museum, aquarium, or historical site.
Quite often it is up to the designer and content manager to come up with the theme and overall story arch, with the client/curators’ views as well, coming up with a design that will engage the audience and act as a draw to the venue that will bring more people in through social media and word of mouth (as well as any external advertising the venue may do.)

Same goes for entertainment or even restaurant venues. Sorta what HB mentioned, though it would be rare for a graphic designer to be designing a venue fitout unless they have some serious CAD chops when it comes to fixtures etc.

Even museum exhibits tend to be CAD heavy, but a designer in that situation can hire someone to do the final construction drawings for them if they have a pretty good idea on paper (or computer screen) as to what they want.

But you still have to be able to engage the target audience, as well as a wider audience. If you are doing a children’s exhibit, you might want to think about keeping the adult caregivers engaged in some fashion as well, LOL.

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I didn’t read the other replies, so apologies if I’m duplicating another response. I usually look at the media the target market is consuming — blogs, magazines, TV shows, etc.

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These are some great ideas, thanks for taking the time to respond, am looking forward to trying them out!