How to Speak to Your Target Audience Through Content [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
September 1, 2020

“Content that speaks to everyone speaks to no one.”

 

Figuring out exactly who you want to reach with your content is the first step to effectively reaching your audience, building relationships, and ultimately selling your product or service.

Shondell Varcianna, CEO and founder of Varci Media, explains how to identify your target audience, meet them where they are, and provide value.

 

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to find your audience online
  • How to determine the content topics that appeal to those audiences
  • The importance of segmentation
  • How to build relationships with potential customers/clients

Relevant links/resources:

Transcription:

Amanda: This week on the show, we are going to tackle the topic of speaking to your target audience through content, and I'm very pleased to be joined by Shondell Varcianna, the CEO and founder of Varci Media. Welcome to the show Shondell.

Shondell: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Amanda: Absolutely. I really want to talk about this because it kind of permeates through all of content marketing, your target audience, how to find them, how to understand them, how to reach them, basically the fundamentals here that I think are extremely important, so, I'm looking forward to diving in. But to get started, can you talk a little bit about your experience?

Shondell: Yeah, so, I own a company Varci Media, as you mentioned, and we write content for financial institutions so, credit unions, banks, mortgage companies, that's our target market. And really the business just got started because my background is financial institutions, I started working for, I'm originally from Toronto, Canada and I started working for the oldest bank in Canada called Bank of Montreal when I was 18 and just work my way up. And then, I left there and moved to a company called Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, that's the same thing as PMI here. And while I was there, I had a house that I lived in as well as a rental property and I paid off both of those mortgages in a fairly short period of time and my girlfriend suggested that I give people advice on how to do that. So, she suggested that I, and I didn't know I thought, "Yeah, that's a great idea. Why not?", and she suggested that I start blogging. So, I figured out, I didn't even know what a blog was before she mentioned that. So, I just figured out how to blog, I created my own website and I started blogging and then my blogs started to get a bit popular and I was a part of that whole personal finance community and that just led to more opportunities; magazines started calling me, radio stations started calling me wanting to hear my story and that led to me working with a lady by the name of Gail Vaz-Oxlade, she's the Suze Orman but of Canada. And then, once I started working with her, companies started contacting me wanting me to write for them and I was still working at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation at the time so, I couldn't handle all the work that I was getting. So, my boyfriend Mike, who's my husband now, suggested that I just hire writers and I thought, "Well, that's a great idea because there's got to be people that could write better than me.", so, that's how the business really got started. And I just brought the business to Atlanta simply because I just thought, we love this place and that's really how the business was born just sort of me just, you know, trying to give people advice on how to pay off their mortgages. I wasn't planning to start the business, I just was wanting to you know, help people out and here we are today.

Amanda: I love that because it started from an organic place, the essence of why we should do content marketing is literally just to help people. 

Shondell: Yes, definitely.

Amanda: So, when we talk about the target audience, and in your case, you had been the target audience, right? Or, like you had been that person, and you were trying to help people but if you, if somebody hires a writer, like if the writers are listening to this, or content developers listening to this, they're aware that a lot of the time you're not going to be very intimate with the audience unless you work internally somewhere, then you will be but if you're new to a company, or you have a new client, and suddenly they're saying, "Okay, we want to target X, Y, Z people.", and you have to learn about them, that's a big undertaking. What do you think are the biggest points that you need to hit about a target audience in order to understand them?

Shondell: You have to be where they are, you have to know them, you have to be part of the conversation that they're having; that's the only way, you've got to build relationships with them, that's the only way you really get to know people because your target audience is people and you've got to get to know them, you've got to show up where they are, find out where they are, show up where they are, and be a part of the conversation that they're having, get to know what their questions are, what their issues are, what problems do they have. And then, you try to solve those problems with your product or service, through your content. So, you want to be-- first to find out who they are, where they are, be a part of that conversation, and then you're able to create content because you're part of the conversation, you're there so you know what questions they're asking, you know what problems they have. So, now you can start creating content to address those questions and address those problems that they have.

Amanda: I'd love to break that down because it's wonderful, but I want to see what your process is for each of those stages. So, when you say meet them where they are, what exactly does that look like and how do you find that out?

Shondell: Okay, so, our-- because we focus on financial institutions, most of them they've been around for so long, so most of them know who their audience is, but for the ones that don't, you should have some type of idea who you want to target in terms of, you know, whatever your product or service is that you're selling, who do you want to target? So, I'll give you an example because we work with financial institutions. You know, we may be working with, let's say, a smaller local bank and they want to target first time homebuyers, and maybe they don't know where the first-time homebuyers are. So, now, we need to figure out okay, you want to target people who are buying a home for the first time, where are those people? Where are they going to get information? Well, I can tell you, a lot of people are on Facebook looking for that information, there's Facebook groups that are a great place to find your target audience. For this example, that we're talking about, there are Facebook groups for first time homebuyers, there's Facebook groups for all kinds of different kinds of buyers. So, if you're wanting to focus on first time homebuyers, I would say join some of those free Facebook groups because in these Facebook groups, you've got thousands of people who are interested in buying a house so, these are all your target-- this is your target audience right there. So, get in there, answer questions that they have, be a part of that conversation, get to know them. Over time, you'll start to build relationships with these people and you'll see patterns of questions and issues that people have, there's going to be people talking about, you know, "I've been trying to get a house, but my credit score is not good enough. How much do I have to have saved? How much credit do I need?". So, there's so many questions that people have and over time, you'll start to see patterns and then what you do is you start creating content to answer those questions. And to take it a notch further, then what you can do is you could, because we specialize in blog posts, so what I would normally say to do, once you're in these groups, and you're finding out what they want, and you're seeing the patterns of questions and issues that people are having, now you start to look at keywords that people are also searching for on Google, on Yahoo and Bing, and then you take those keywords plus the questions and things that people are asking in those groups, and then you create content, adding those keywords. So, you tie in search engine optimization to it as well, you can create content on your website, share that on social media, so you're hitting them at different areas. So, it all comes together at the end but this is how I would start, is showing up where they are, answering their questions, building relationships, then creating content based on the information, the insight that you're getting, when you're part of the conversation. 

Amanda: How do you decide how to prioritize the questions that you're seeing the trends in? Does the search engine optimization side of it inform those decisions?

Shondell: So, what I would do is, you're going to have to be a part of these groups for some time to see the patterns and to see the common questions that people are asking and then Google has something called Keyword Planner so then you can go in there and put in those questions, put in those phrases, put in what people are asking in those groups, and then Google will tell you how competitive those keywords are. So, that's part of search engine optimization. And then, you can create content and add those keywords in there. There are a few other things you have to do for search engine optimization, for you know, people to pick up your blog when they search for Google, but this is just one aspect of it.

Amanda: Yeah, that makes total sense. I want to go back to something you mentioned where you said a lot of companies know who they're trying to target, I'd imagine there are times though, when even they don't realize that there's an additional audience that might be helpful for them that they haven't fully researched, or a persona that's not fully fleshed out, is it-- Have you seen it happen a lot where somebody has multiple audiences that would be beneficial to them? Or are they often targeting just like one very specific type of person?

Shondell: No, like, especially because we work with financial institutions, they're targeting multiple people just because of all the products that they have. And you know, they're targeting first time homebuyers are separate from, you know, repeat buyers and repeat buyers or repeat buyers, like people who want to buy, you know, vacation home, and those people are even different from people who just buy rental properties. So, you've got three different audiences just within the home buying, you know, target, so they definitely have different audiences and you do have to get to know each of them. Because how you talk to a first-time homebuyer would be completely different than how you would speak to a repeat buyer because a repeat buyer would already know things that a first time homebuyer would not know. So, you'd have to, it's two completely different audiences so, the message, the content, the questions, the issues would be completely different. So, you have to know each of your audiences extremely well in order, you almost have to know them like they're your friend. Just like how you have a good friend that you may have known for a few years, you know what they want, you know what their favorite food is, you know what they like to do, you almost have to know your audience that well, in order to serve them at the highest level. And that does take time, it does take time to get to know people, it's kind of like, when you meet someone for the first time, you know, you don't know everything about them; it's a relationship that's built over a period of time.

Amanda: Yeah, it's really interesting, because I think this is where a lot of people slip up. I think they stay a little too general with their audience research, and like you're saying every one of those segments can be totally different in terms of the types of questions that are being asked so, you're missing that really valuable information that you could be providing them. How can anybody who works in content, whether they're working with clients, or they're working internally, how can they convince their higher ups that this is the right route that, you can't just speak to the greater audience, that you have to really segment down?

Shondell: Well, you know, it's looking at the brands that are doing it well. I mean, I always say, you know, content that speaks to everyone is content that speaks to no one, you can't have general content and expect it to be effective. Because people have different needs and wants and people want, you know, people want different things. And the more you're able to speak to somebody directly, the better chance there is for you to get their business because if you are trying to speak to a general audience, then you're missing out on your target audience. And when you're missing out of your target audience, there's someone else out there who is speaking to them based on what they want and will get the business. So, I think it makes more sense to take the time to really, really get to know your audience, build relationships with them, and you know, it does take time but I think in the long run, you'll be so much further ahead. Rather than just kind of putting content out there and hoping that it sticks, take the time to get to know your audience, build relationships with them. I'll tell you what happened, I remember something that happened to me before I started my business was my wakeup call in terms of the importance of having a relationship. I used to work at a company called Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, it's the same thing as PMI here in the US, and one of my responsibilities was to work with financial institutions and, you know, get them to give their business to us, because we were a mortgage insurance company. And I was trying to get business from this particular client, and I could not figure out why he wasn't giving us his business. Like, I was working on this guy for probably about a year and our products and services were better than our competitors, and I would you know, I did everything I possibly could, in my opinion anyways, to try to get his business. And one day, we were having lunch and I said, "You know, why are you not giving us your business? Like, our products are better, our services are better, I'm visible with you guys, I'm constantly training you guys. You know, I'm here to answer questions, why is it that we're not getting your business?". And he said, "Because I'm friends with your competitor.", and that right there was like, he said, "You know, we go golfing together, our kids play together, you know, his wife knows my wife.". So, I couldn't even compete with that. First of all, I didn't even have kids then, I wasn't even married then, I didn't play golf. Like, we just didn't have a relationship at all, and the relationship that I thought we had was just so business; it wasn't personal at all. Like, I had never been to his house, like, you know, it was just a business relationship and I realized at that point, the importance of having a relationship with your ideal client and knowing them so well. So, even though our products and services were better, it didn't matter, the competitor had an in with him because of the personal relationship they had, they were friends. So, he would never come to us even though our products and services were better, it didn't matter.

Amanda: That's so powerful. That's something that I've heard said a lot and we talk about it all the time at Fractl, how important like personalization is and like remembering that everyone, you're talking to human beings. And it's something that Ann Hanley said, one of the conferences I saw her out where she said, like, it's not just about people trusting you, it's about people liking you. Yeah, I mean, you saw such a real example of that, and I think it's really speaks volumes. 

Shondell: Yeah. And I knew I was done. Like, when he said that, I knew I was done; I knew at that point, it didn't even make sense to continue to try to get as business because I would never be able to compete and I would, before we had that lunch, I've been trying to get his business for one year. For one year I was trying to get his business and I was just-- I kept feeling like I was just hitting my head against a brick wall. Because I was just looking at all of the technical aspects, I wasn't looking at the human aspect of it, right? I was just looking at, "Okay, we have this product, we have the service, this is what we can do for him.", I wasn't looking at him as a person, I was just looking at him as, you know, business, like a product-- like, just for him to give us business. And I realized that relationships are so powerful, they really are. And you know, it hit me, and I use that in my business because I learned that early on, and I realized that, you know, you have to have relationships with people, it's part of that know, like, and trust factor, it really is. And that comes with, people will begin to know, like and trust you, when you're consistent with your content and you're constantly answering their questions, you're constantly providing value, you're in front of, you're showing up where they are, and you're consistently providing value.

Amanda: So, I was going to ask if they if you had any tips on how, when we talk about making it more personal, how when it comes to content, you do that because it's harder when you don't have that face time, right? Like, you just can't sit down with somebody.

Shondell: Yeah, I think, you know, the more you are a part of the conversation that they're having, the easier it is to create content that they want, because you know what they want, because you're, in the conversation, they're asking questions there. So, this is where Facebook groups is so powerful and not just Facebook groups, forums are a great place as well. Also, what I also recommend is, if you've got it, you know, you've got your social media pages, when people are interacting in the comments, you know, engage with them, that's such a powerful place to find out what people want as well. Oftentimes, people will ask questions, especially with bigger brands, people will ask questions in the comments on social media, and sometimes I just see, they're just dead like nobody responds. But that's a great place to engage because people will see that, even if someone else comes in and a lot of people read the comments before they even comment and some people never comment, but they read all of the comments. So-- and they you know, there's people that may want to use your products and services but they're checking you out online, before they even, you know, contact you or before they engage with you. So, it's really important to, you know, publicly engage with people if they're engaged, if they're asking questions, and if they have comments, like their comments, you know, show them that you're there. So, little things like that will help to build relationships and help people to get to know you and get to trust you and like you. Or maybe they don't like you, which is fine, it just means they're not the right, you know, customer for you, which is okay. But that's what putting yourself out there does consistently, you know, it'll get people to like you, or it get people not to like you. And again, I always say that's okay, if people don't like you. Like, I started doing videos, because, you know, there's going to be people that don't like me, they didn't like the hairstyle I had, I don't know but that's okay. Like, it just means they're not the right customer for me, but I'll keep putting the content out there because the right people will come and you want the right people to come.

Amanda: Right, you're finding the ideal clients rather than just any.

Shondell: Exactly. So, it's definitely the consistency over time, but the main message is to find out where your target audience is and show up there consistently.

Amanda: And I do think when we talk about adding the personal touch, that social, and even email, and some of these other channels facilitate that better. The difference between putting this information on your website and I mean, on Facebook, I feel like everybody feels a very different way than they do elsewhere, it feels very personal to them.

Shondell: Yeah, absolutely. And it's definitely hitting them in different ways. So, if you've got a blog on your website, you should have an area for them to subscribe so that every time you publish one, they are able to, you know, get it. It's doing search engine optimization, it's doing social media so, it's hitting them in different areas where they are so that when they're ready, they'll raise their hand and say, "Hey, I'm interested.", and they'll reach out.

Amanda: So, I think you're already touching on those because I want to get into the promotion side where, okay, you've created the content now, how do you get it in front of the right audience? Presumably where you're doing your research, that's probably going to be one of those channels, but how does it all fit together? Like, when you're building that strategy. Like, you're mentioning the subscribe button, like how do you make it all very cohesive?

Shondell: So, depending on where you are in your business, if you don't know where your target audience is, but you know who they are, and the example that I gave, where I was saying, join the Facebook groups and find out what people are talking about, join a few of them, and find out what people are talking about, then create content based on what you're hearing in there, post that content that you create on your website. And then, as well, share that same content on social media. So, you can have one blog post and create several different social media posts from that, you can take snippets from it, and create social media posts from that. If they're on Facebook, create those posts and put them on Facebook, and then tie search engine optimization into that as well, find out what keywords that are in line with what people are asking and add those keywords into your blog post. So, you're sharing that as well, you're doing social media posts, people are subscribing to your blog so, you're getting in front of them. If you're posting, you know, once a week, they're getting something from you once a week, plus, they're seeing you on Facebook, if you become friends with them. So, after you, you know, established a relationship with people in these groups, you can, you know, connect with them as friends so, now they're starting to see your social media posts. You can also create Facebook ads to be extremely targeted with who you want your content to get in front of, and remember, if you're doing Facebook ads, it would be great after you found out what your target audience wants, because now you can create Facebook ads to target those people who are in those Facebook groups. So, it all comes together once you know who your target audience is and what they want and then you show up where they are.

Amanda: How are you measuring if you were successful, how are you knowing that, "Yes, I definitely targeted this target audience, I reached them, and it resonated."?

Shondell: So, okay, there's a few ways you can test it. Content on your website, you can test that through Google Analytics, you can see how long people stay on your page, you can see where they came from so, you can literally track if you ran, you know, Facebook ad or if somebody came to you from a social media site or another site, they came onto your page, they clicked your call to action, they downloaded your checklist, they contacted you, they, you know, they called you, they filled out a contact form. So, all of that can be tracked so, we can trail it back to, you know, this specific content that we wrote. And then, we know that it works based on tracking it through Google Analytics. If you're running Facebook ads, Facebook gives you detailed analytics on how well your ads are doing so, you can check that as well. You always have to be looking at the analytics to see if your content is actually working. Because then, if it's not, then you're going to naturally have to make tweaks to change it. So, it's all-- you have to test this stuff too, there's not really a, "Okay, do this and it will work.", you've got to test it with your audience to see what is working and what's not working and continuously tweak it until you've perfected it.

Amanda: Are there certain red flags in those metrics or anything in particular you look for, not even that it would be a total failure or something, but just identifying opportunities to tweak something that you can unearth in your analytics?

Shondell: Yeah, if people are clicking off of your page within a second or two seconds and you've got internal links, you've got call to actions in there, you can see that they're not engaging with the content, then you know, it's probably not working so, you may want to change some things up. A few quick tips, especially when you're doing written content, just some things that we do you know, Varci Media, like when we're writing, we don't write you know, more than 20 words in one sentence, our paragraphs are always shorter than 150 words, we break up the content with subheadings, audio, graphics, charts, YouTube videos, or not even just YouTube videos, you know, just video in general. What that does is, it breaks up the content and allows the eye to move smoothly through the content. Oftentimes when people are reading, they're not reading word for word, they're skimming. So, you want to have things in the content that will pop out at them, like subheadings, like videos, graphs, pictures, and that will help them to stay on the page, internal links so, that something that is relatable to you know, what you're talking about in the content, you can have a link that goes into more detail of that specific topic so that they will stay on your web page. So, those are some tips that you could do with the written word, to get people to stay on your page and to engage with your content as well.

Amanda: Yeah, that's awesome. So, there's a question I tend to ask most guests, and it's about the buy in side of things. So, in your case, maybe, you already kind of talked about how if you're not personal enough, that could be the end of it, but if there's anything else you've experienced, where you think people often make a mistake when it comes to selling content in general, like, what is something that they don't explain well enough about the power of content when they're trying to get approval to move forward with initiatives like this?

Shondell: That it has to be consistent, and it does take time, especially if you've never done it or if you are inconsistent with it. That's definitely, because I think sometimes when people start doing it and they don't see results within the first month, they may say, "Okay, this is not working.", but there's so much content out there, that it does take time, it takes time for people to get to know you, it takes time for people to trust you, and if you're not consistent, it's very difficult for people to trust you. Like, if you just show up whenever then you know, out of sight, out of mind, they're going to forget about you and there's someone else who is consistent. So, that's the number one thing is being consistent because it will happen over time, and you have-- I always come back to, start with getting to know your customer, the results will be quicker if you know your customer.

Amanda: Absolutely. 

Shondell: The results will be quicker because you're speaking through.

Amanda: Right. So, Shondell, knowing the objective of the show, who do you recommend to be guests on future episodes?

Shondell: I'm going to say anyone that's, you know, doing marketing well online. Definitely, I love Gary Vaynerchuk, it might be, I know he's probably getting all kinds of invitations on podcast, but he just, like he gets it and because he's been doing it for so well he really gets, you know, content. And content is not just, you know, written word it's, you know, content could be anything, Netflix provides content in their movies, through their television shows. So, content is not just-- it's audio, it's infographics, it's, you know, video, it's, you know, content could be a bunch of different things. But yeah, anyone who is, you know, really heavily involved in online marketing, I think would be a great guest.

Amanda: Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to dive into your strategy on reaching target audiences. I really appreciate you coming on the show.

Shondell: You're so welcome, thank you again for having me.

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