Step 3: Audience Research

General information

Learn everything you can about your target audience – how they view the problem, what barriers they face and their trusted sources of information.

Your target audience is the group of people your campaign is designed to reach – the people whose behavior has to change for your campaign to be effective.

Examples of CAM Audiences

Here are some examples of audiences targeted by actual CAM campaigns:

  • Students entering high school
  • Low-income parents of middle grades students
  • Non-college-bound African-American male high school students
  • High school students from Spanish-speaking households
  • College students at risk of dropping out
  • Adults who finished high school but didn’t go to college

One or more factors may help you refine your target audience. For example:

  • Demographics: age, income, gender, race/ethnicity, parents’ education level, primary language spoken at home
  • Geography: state, county, city or community; urban or rural
  • Stage in the Education Process: in school or out of school; taking or not taking advanced courses; nearing deadlines for college or financial aid applications; entered but did not complete college
  • Attitudes and Beliefs: doesn’t think college is important or cool; thinks college is important but not affordable; believes only straight-A students go to college; intends to go to college

Start with these basic questions to identify your target audience:

  • Which group or groups of people are most affected by the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • How big are these groups – hundreds, thousands, millions?
  • Are there some groups that are more ready to make the changes you want than others?
  • Given your organization’s role and resources, are there some segments of your audience that will be easier to reach than others?
  • Which of these segments will be your campaign’s primary target, and which one (or more than one) will be your secondary target?

Know Your Audience

Really knowing your audience takes more than intuition. You should conduct as much research as you can to learn how they see themselves, what motivates them, their attitudes toward college, and how to reach them. Ask yourself:

  • What’s important to them? What influences their relevant choices and behavior?
    • Think about what they care about right now, not just what you want them to care about.
  • Why would they believe what your campaign has to say?
  • What might make them skeptical about your message?
  • What are the best times and places to reach them?

Remember, no marketing campaign can be all things to all audiences. Effective campaigns start by targeting audiences that are poised to take specific actions. For more about what those actions should be for your campaign, see the next section: Set Objectives: What do you want your audience to do? Knowing as much as possible about their actual likes, dislikes, beliefs and aspirations is essential to changing their behavior. Research helps you understand what really matters to your audience. Look at what information is already available (see our Audience Research section of the Resource Center) and consider your budget before deciding what type of original research to conduct.

Use research to answer these core questions about your target audience

While some research may be applicable to college access in general, always keep your campaign’s particular objective in mind.

  • Who are they?
    • What are their demographic characteristics?
    • What are their skills?
  • What are they doing (or not doing) now?
    • What are they doing that supports your objective?
    • What are they doing that runs counter to your objective?
    • Why are they engaging in these different behaviors?
      • How do they think they benefit from particular behaviors?
      • How does it meet their wants or needs?
      • Do they see any downsides to their choices?
      • Are there notable differences between those who are and are not engaging in positive behaviors?
  • What do they know about getting into college and the step your campaign is focused on?
    • Do they have the facts about programs, timing, costs, requirements, etc?
    • Are there significant knowledge gaps or misconceptions?
  • What are their values and attitudes – what do they believe?

Relevant beliefs may range from how they feel about themselves, to their faith in the education system, to their attitudes toward different kinds of spokespeople.

  • What barriers do they perceive to taking the action you want them to take?
    • These barriers may be material (I don’t know how, I can’t afford it), social (My friends will laugh), or emotional (I’ll fail).