Brand Storytelling Step #1: 20 Questions to Help You Understand Your Audience

By Todd Anthony, Founder, Head of Strategy

The first job of a brand story is to engage your audience. But you can’t engage them if you don’t know them. So the first step in developing a brand story is to get to know your audience – who they are, how they think, what they believe, what they’re concerned about, how they shop, and so on. If you don’t have the time or money to conduct formal research, do it the old-fashioned way (interview people yourself). At Pinwheel, we typically recruit 5-7 real audience members for one-on-one interviews then also interview the client’s C-suite execs, sales leaders, customer service reps, and internal audience experts of all stripes.  

We then transcribe the interviews, find the patterns, and weave together a nice, tight audience persona. Once we have that, we can feel fairly comfortable that we have what we need to connect with the audience emotionally and motivate them to act. 

Let’s take this classic billboard ad for the Economist:

This billboard was part of a big series of ads this magazine of international business and world affairs put out in the late 1990s to drive subscriptions. This is a little like reverse engineering, but it appears the campaign is suggesting that our prime Economist reader is someone who fancies themselves as smart, important, and well-respected. A person who wants to be recognized as a leader and essential player at their place of work. These are not people who punch a clock. They’re ambitious contributors who want to be seen and recognized for their superior, well-informed insights and opinions. The implication, of course, is that reading the Economist will give you all the information you need to have these indispensable insights in meetings. And furthermore, that you will rise through the ranks at the company such that you will be noticeable and essential. This is a very specific audience persona that the agency copywriter put to good use in this campaign. 

Here are some of the questions we ask to get inside the heads of the audience. We also ask questions very specific to the client’s industry and audience perceptions.

  1. Where does your audience live? Specific areas? Urban, suburban, or rural?
  2. What is their age, gender, income bracket, and education?
  3. What do they do for a living? What’s that job like?
  4. How do you think they feel about your category?
  5. In what way(s) does your category improve their life? 
  6. What do they care about the most, as it pertains to what you sell?
  7. What are their current assumptions about what you sell? How are they correct or wrong? 
  8. What are they specifically looking for when they come to you? To your competitors? Why?
  9. How do they currently feel about your products and/or your brand?
  10. If your audience was to describe your brand, what words would they use?
  11. In an ideal world – taking reality out of the equation – what would be their dream solution for the things that you sell?
  12. How do they shop for the kinds of things you sell? What is that process like? 
  13. Is it an impulse purchase or a carefully researched decision-making process? Why? How long does that take?
  14. Is there a logical order to the information they must consume before they become interested in your offering?
  15. Are the people who make the decision the same people who do the research?
  16. Who are the people that influence their decision and what do those people care about?
  17. What are their habits around your site? When you look at the site analytics, what does a typical user path look like and what might that suggest about them? 
  18. Why do your current customers like and/or dislike your brand or product?
  19. Is there something related to your brand or your category that the audience is thinking, but not saying? Or talking about frequently that your industry hasn’t addressed specifically?
  20. Are there other ways that your audience services their needs outside of using products in your category? Why might they prefer those?

Understanding your audience and how they think is just the first step in the brand storytelling process. Learn all five steps and get handy worksheets to help you develop your own brand story by downloading our free guide: Imagining Reality: Five Steps to Brand Storytelling.

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