4 Research Methods for Audience Analysis

Before communications professionals such as technical writers, public relations specialists, and others within the field launch a campaign or strategy, they often need to assess the target audience to make sure that all information provided is appropriate, appealing, and at the correct level.

The audience, also referred to as the end-user, will be the recipient of any items produced and shared, so it's crucial to make sure that all communications are targeted towards that group. In order to achieve this goal, many communications professionals will use research methods for audience analysis. As you work toward your master's in communications, it’s important to cultivate skills like these now that can help you at work later.

There are several commonly used methods; each offers its own insights into your target audience. Read on for four examples:

Primary Research

The first step when beginning audience analysis is gathering as much information as possible. If you have preconceived notions or ideas about your audience, avoid them and focus on the actual research performed instead. You should eliminate any information that has already been found by other researchers as part of your primary research phase, since this will allow you to start from scratch. You might choose to use qualitative or quantitative research methods during this process, but all information should come from your own work and findings.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research focuses on the feelings and opinions of a consumer or member of the target audience. When performing this type of research, you should try to get into and understand the mindset of a customer to see which areas of the product or campaign are most appealing and which areas are lacking. Examples include interviews and focus groups.


Face-to-face or telephone interviews can provide a lot of insight into your target audience. This method of research can fall into either qualitative or quantitative, although most believe that it provides more information in the former category. An interview involves interaction between a single respondent and the moderator, or person asking the questions.

However, an interview doesn't have to follow a prescribed layout and format with a list of questions and time for answers. Instead, some researchers choose to make the interview process more comfortable and informal by simply engaging in a conversation with audience members. When conducting interviews, ask open-ended questions that allow for detailed responses instead of just "yes" or "no."

Focus Groups

A focus group.Image via Flickr by European Cyclists' Federation

One of the most common methods of qualitative research is hosting a focus group. In this method, you will organize a group of people and share information about your product or service, campaign and marketing ideas, and development. As the participants of the focus group view the information presented, you can gauge their reactions through body language, facial expressions, and actual feedback that they provide. Hosting focus groups in virtual settings is becoming more popular, thanks to technological advancements, but doing so can make it harder to see facial expressions and read body language.

When bringing people together to participate in a focus group, it's important to make sure that all participants have something in common. You might choose to divide groups by age, gender, or other factors. When you split them into more targeted groups, you can get more information that will help you better understand your audience. Most focus group hosts offer some type of compensation for participation, such as a free product, gift card, voucher, coupon, or even cash.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research typically focuses on statistics and hard facts instead of opinions and feelings. For a better understanding of your audience, it's helpful to use methods that fall under this category when conducting both primary and secondary research. Examples of quantitative research include social media analytics, surveys/questionnaires, and trials with experimentation.

Social Media Analytics

In today's online world, social media is a critical area when researching your audience. Companies can reach millions of people with a single post, something that was never previously within reach. But simply sharing posts without following up on how they are performing is a waste of time and resources. Analytics are built into most social media platforms and allow users to view how many people viewed a post, as well as any interaction with the content, such as clicks and responses.

Using the information provided can help your company learn what type of content resonates with your target audience. By viewing what they choose to interact with, you can then create additional content that complements those topics. New jobs are popping up across the country, and they require experience in and an understanding of social media analytics.

Surveys and Questionnaires

Surveys and questionnaires are old-school methods of quantitative research that still work. Whether you conduct a follow-up survey by phone or email or slip a flyer into the bag of every customer who visits your store, you can get information from real buyers or users of your product. Using this information can help you improve the product or service as well as customer service techniques and the overall customer experience.

Secondary Research

Secondary research involves reviewing information presented from other sources. If your company has conducted primary research on other products or service, you might use that data for developing and improving new products and services. Some businesses also rely on external sources to present data.

If you're simply relying on the internet for market research, it may be time to reevaluate your strategy. The online world is certainly useful as a starting point but should not be the only method by which you conduct research. Talking to your customers and understanding their unique perspectives is critical to improving the way you speak to them and market your products. Keep in mind that it would be a mistake to rely on just one research method instead of employing several different ones.

If you are interested in understanding and working in market research for audience analysis, you may want to consider your advanced education options. The online Masters in Communication Management, offered by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, includes courses that focus on research methods and how to improve audience engagement through understanding their thoughts and feelings.