OUTdrive Episode 56 with Susan Baier
Age range, gender, income – these are the demographics marketers have built their business on for years. However, those traditional categories ignore the most important part of the buying process: the complexity of human behavior and decision-making. In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Susan Baier for an in-depth look into using quantitative attitudinal audience segmentation research to serve your clients.
Susan is the head honcho at Audience Audit, a research company that specializes in thought leadership, audience segmentation and brand equity. She developed her expertise in audience-based marketing research over more than 30 years in marketing strategy, product and brand management, research, and strategic planning. Susan has an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Marketing and has held senior positions at Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 firms, as well as marketing agencies.
Keep reading to see integrated marketing from Susan’s perspective and research based in the element of human behavior, a layer that basic demographics miss.
Strategic & Effective Market Research
Prior to the surge of the internet, only big corporations had both the time and money to allocate to high-level marketing research. In recent years, more companies have started investing in client research, but they are not utilizing it to the fullest extent. According to Audience Audit’s website, many marketers are working without true data about what will resonate with their buyers. This may be because there is no research at all, or because the research they do have isn’t helping create impactful marketing.
“I call it the dusty binder syndrome,” said Susan, “where you do something, it costs a lot, you get a big three ring binder, it sits on a shelf, and nobody ever does anything with it.”
Marketers know that people are very complex, and because of that, they make complex decisions. The things that drive decisions can’t be seen on paper, but marketers have relied on traditional demographics that are easy to see for years. Fortunately, Susan says that “it’s actually not that hard” to show the difference between quantitative attitudinal audience segmentation research and traditional “dusty binder” research.
“People do not make decisions about things based on how old they are, or what their zip code is, or how much money they make,” explains Susan. “Our research identifies with statistical reliability, different groups within an audience that feel differently about that category or purchase decision.”
Susan gave the example of research she did for a fragrance company that specializes in scented candles. The company was initially categorizing their consumers by where they purchased their products, such as department stores, catalogs or online, to market to their buyers. Susan’s team found that their audience is actually made into three different groups – people who are fragrance driven, people who are aesthetically driven, and people who like to gift the products.
“We found that all of these different kinds of people existed in all of those purchase locations,” Susan explained. “They don’t look different demographically, at all. They’re not older, younger, more wealthy, male, or female, and you cannot tell those differences on paper.”
Creating Marketing Personas
Susan’s research can help marketers and businesses alike find ideal personas, and they tend to be different from what the company has assumed about their consumers.
“Ultimately, as marketers, we’re matchmakers,” says Susan. “We’re trying to set up buyers with the organizations that are truly able to help them. And when those two understand each other well, magic happens.”
Attitudinal segmentation can give you everything you need to create an accurate persona that is driven by human motivation and behavior, not a demographic check box. With that said, research can give agencies those personas, but it’s only helpful if your team utilizes them. Susan says one of the biggest challenges marketers face with research is not really knowing what you’re going to do with it ahead of time and what you will do with it once it’s in your hands.
“My starting point is not exactly what you want to know,” Susan explains, “but first, why do you want to know? What are you hoping that research will allow you to do better? Or to do at all if you’re not doing it now? Because first of all, if you don’t know that, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t start research, yet.”
Personas also have to be communicated, accepted and utilized internally through all levels of an organization. Having statistical data to back these personas can help break down the assumptions marketers may have built about their consumers.
What Makes a Good Researcher
Researchers are the people behind that reliable, statistical data, and they aren’t just people who crunch numbers all day at a computer or work in science labs. They are problem solvers and they have to be creative in their approach. The basic instinct of a researcher is curiosity.
“Curiosity is absolutely number one,” Susan says, “there’s no question about that. I’ve never found a researcher that isn’t curious.”
However, being generally curious alone does not make a good researcher. In most situations, researchers are organizing data and information around people in different demographics than themselves. The best researchers can recognize their biases, and keep it from interfering with the end goal.
“We talk about people being objective, not subjective,” said Susan, “but our brains don’t work that way. It’s not about being objective, it’s about recognizing that you have bias. And recognizing how to systematically reduce it as much as you can.”
Good researchers have the unique ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand where the gaps are in a business or a marketing strategy. From there, they turn to problem solving to fill those gaps.
“It’s so helpful and beneficial to learn new things,” noted Cliff, “and to gain insight that then turns into strategy that helps clients accomplish their objectives.”
Building a Personal Brand with Equity
According to Susan, the top strategies that have helped her build her brand are: “having a point of view about things and not being afraid to talk about it, having information that’s different and helpful to folks in that thought leadership component, and then connecting with places where my ideal clients already are and finding that watering hole where they’re getting resources.”
Susan attends several conferences, usually speaking or sharing presentations, joins podcasts, and is an advocate for thought leadership. According to Audience Audit’s website, effective thought leadership requires two things: understanding the needs of those you want to lead and offering a new and helpful perspective on something important that will help them achieve their goals.
In her 30+ years of experience in marketing, Susan has developed relationships with several people in all areas of the industry, including Drew McLellan, the owner of Agency Management Institute. AMI is a management consulting business that specializes in helping owners of small and medium-sized marketing communication companies level up their game. Those agencies are exactly the type Susan is looking to serve with Audience Audit.
“I think the best agencies, like Callis, have a niche,” said Susan. “They are very experienced in working with a particular type of audience and working with particular types of clients. We’re doing a lot of thought leadership research now for agencies that helps them show their investment in a particular audience, and helps the people that they are trying to serve.”
Tune in to this episode of OUTdrive as Susan and Cliff replace those dusty research binders on the shelf with a new world of quantitative attitudinal audience segmentation research.