How well do you know your target audience? It’s an important question, and one that a surprising number of small businesses have trouble answering. Why? Because it can be difficult to hone in on exactly who you’re selling to when you’re focused only on what your offering. On the other hand, knowing your target audience forward and backward can give you an advantage in your marketing efforts, and reward you with a competitive edge and a higher conversion rate. After all, it doesn’t help if a thousand people click on your Facebook ad if only 5 of them are the right customers for your business—and that’s just one example of why it’s important to understand your target audience. Here are 6 tips for getting started.

  1. Focus on Targeting

Before you can understand your target audience, you have to fully understand who they are. Don’t say your target market is “everyone”. That isn’t a strategy that will bring in the revenue and loyal customers. Speak to a smaller segment of the consumer base, and you’ll be able to focus more on their needs and serve them better. Others outside this circle can still find your business and buy your product or service, but you don’t need to be marketing to them. Understanding your target market involves identifying them first!

  1. Build Out User Profiles

One of the best ways to “get to know” your audience is to take all the information you have about them and create fictional personas. These personas can get extremely detailed, and should include as much information as possible, including age, gender, income, challenges, priorities, and a summary of “a day in the life”. If you serve a few different demographics, it’s important to create a persona for each segment of your target audience. Don’t overdo it though—remember that you’re trying to focus in on your ideal customers, not expand to other audiences.

  1. Test Your Assumptions

We all make assumptions. Problem is, they’re often wrong, or based on false information. Don’t assume you know everything about what your audience is looking for. Whether you’re targeting aging Americans or tweens, there’s always something you can learn from going straight to the source. Survey your customers (you can even offer a giveaway or discount as an incentive) and see what they have to say. Make sure you’re setting up your analytics to get as much specific information as you can that will help you test your assumptions.

  1. Examine the Competition & Current Market Research

Of course, it’s important to keep tabs on your competition for many reasons, but understanding your audience is yet another compelling reason to do so. Look at their marketing efforts. How are they targeting their messages? Do they have a unique selling proposition they’re using to draw in their target audience? You can learn a lot from examining the competition and seeing what they’re doing that’s effective…and not so effective. You can also take advantage of the research others have done—read case studies, industry reports, and anything else you can get your hands on.

  1. What are Their “Pain Points”?

Everyone has something that bugs them, and as a business, your goal is to solve these “pain points”. Can you use your unique selling proposition to solve these pain points? Can you solve them better than any of your competition? It’s important to know exactly what challenges your customers face, so that your company can help solve them. When you put yourself in your customers’ shoes, ask yourself: what do they want? How can what I offer make their lives easier?

  1. Use Analytics and Social Media Engagement

We’ve never had greater access to comprehensive information about customers and their behavior. It’s easy to gain valuable insights these days with social media engagement, analytics, and email marketing. Want to know what your customers want? Ask them. Keep tabs on what content performs well, and make adjustments based on what appeals to your target audience.

Informing Your Decisions with Understanding

In the end, understanding your target audience will allow you to make informed decisions. You might be trying to reduce the defect rates in your products, or ironing out the kinks in your services, but you still have to offer stellar customer service and engage with your audience. To do that, you need to understand them on an in-depth level—something that requires time, patience, and a multi-faceted approach.

Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He is currently writing a book about scaling up business and his experience implementing lean methodology.