Decoding Business Growth: Audience Research vs. Customer Research

What is Audience Research and What is Customer Research?

Understand the nuances between Audience and Customer Research, to craft more successful business strategies. Including key methodologies, examples, and actionable insights for your businesses.

Oct 2023

In the age of data-driven and specific decision-making, understanding who you're speaking to is paramount.

In the realm of business and marketing, both "audience" and "customers" refer to groups of people that a company or brand interacts with.

While the terms “Audience” and “Customer” are often used interchangeably and do overlap – especially in marketing and business discussions – there are important distinctions between the two. Understanding these nuances will help you create more effective strategies.

The difference between the two becomes very clear in audience and customer research = when you’re trying to understand your "audience" and understanding your "customers".

Since each research serves a distinct purpose of insight generation they require different research methodologies. The question therefore is what do you need to know?

The Audience vs. the Customers


The fundamental assumptions are, that

  1. companies aim to convert as many members of their audience into customers.
  2. Not all audience members will become customers.
  3. All customers are part of the audience, but not all audience members are customers.


Therefore, we can convey the following definitions for “Audience” vs “Customers”.

Audience is the collective of individuals who interact with or are exposed to a brand's message, be it through content marketing, advertising, PR, or other means. It's a broad category, encompassing everyone from curious onlookers to potential buyers (prospects).

Customers are all those individuals who have taken the step of making a purchase or availing a service (prospects). They've moved from passive or active observers to participants in a brand's ecosystem. This includes members of a community like a social network.


And we can differentiate these two distinct groups on the following vectors. This further differentiation helps us where humans are in their journey and which direction they are going vector. Think of it just like a geometric vector or spatial vector with its magnitude/length) and direction.

Nature of Relationship

  1. Audience: A broader group of individuals who interact with, or are exposed to, a brand's message, product, or service. This could include potential customers, industry professionals, competitors, or even just casual observers. For instance, everyone who sees a Nike advertisement is part of Nike's audience.
  2. Customers: Individuals who have made a purchase or availed a service from a brand. They have engaged in a transactional relationship with the company. If you buy a pair of Nike shoes, you become a Nike customer.

Depth of Engagement

  1. Audience: Engagement can range from passive (e.g., scrolling past a social media post) to active (e.g., clicking on a link or reading a blog post). The commitment is generally lower.
  2. Customers: Engagement is deeper, as it involves a commitment, usually in the form of money, time, or both.

Conversion Goal

  1. Audience: The primary goal with an audience is to raise awareness, educate, or entertain. The hope is to move them further down the marketing funnel toward becoming customers.
  2. Customers: The goal is retention, upselling, or cross-selling. Brands aim to deepen the relationship, encourage repeat purchases, and increase lifetime value.

Feedback and Data

  1. Audience: Feedback is often indirect. Brands might analyze metrics like page views, click-through rates, or video views to gauge interest.
  2. Customers: Feedback is more direct and actionable. Brands can gather data from purchase histories, product reviews, or customer service interactions.

Tailored Strategy

  1. Audience: Strategies target a broader group, focusing on general interests, demographics, or behaviors. It's about casting a wide net.
  2. Customers: Strategies are more personalized, targeting specific buying behaviors, product preferences, or service experiences.

While the terms "audience" and "customers" can sometimes be used interchangeably in casual conversation, they represent different stages in a brand's relationship with individuals. Understanding this distinction is crucial for businesses, as it informs their marketing strategies, resource allocation, and communication approaches.

For instance, in the context of "Know Your Audience Better Than They Know Themselves" the implication is about understanding a wider group's preferences, behaviors, and potential pain points. When applied to "customers," the focus narrows to understanding purchasing behaviors, loyalty, and post-purchase experiences. Both are essential, but the strategies and insights required for each might differ.

Audience Research vs Customer Research

While audience research and customer research serve different purposes, they are interconnected. Insights from audience research can inform strategies to convert more audience members into customers. Meanwhile, understanding current customers can offer insights into creating broader content or campaigns that resonate with a wider audience.

Audience Research: Mapping the Terrain

In the vast expanse of the market, understanding your terrain is the first step to effective navigation. Audience research allows businesses to enjoy this panoramic view.

At its core, audience research is about casting a wide net. It aims to

  • to get a grasp of the broader market landscape and better understand culture.
  • Gauge how visible and recognizable a brand is by measuring brand visibility and brand recognition.
  • Pinpoint areas ripe for exploration and identify potential growth opportunities.

Coca-Cola, is known worldwide, but still invests in audience research. Why? To understand culture and pop culture and where the attention of their audience resides right now. To understand regions or demographics where their brand awareness might be lower, presenting potential market expansion.

The interest of an audience researcher is to find answers and insights to questions like:

  • Who's noticing our brand messages? Who's tuning into our brand's messages, even if just as passive bystanders?
  • How does the market perceive our product category?
  • What are the prevailing macro market perceptions about our industry?
  • What untapped avenues exist for us to capture a larger segment of this audience?

To understand these key questions audience researchers employ different methods.

Surveys to capture broad sentiments. These are comprehensive tools, designed to capture the pulse of the masses. They aim to tap into general perceptions, gauge brand or product awareness, and discern potential interest areas.

Social Media Analysis to reveal audience preferences and perceptions. In the digital age, social media platforms are the new town squares. Analyzing engagement metrics, content preferences, and general sentiment here offers insights into what resonates with the audience and what doesn't.

Competitive Analysis to understand the market. To navigate any terrain, understanding one's position relative to others is key. Competitive analysis helps in identifying gaps in the market and areas where differentiation could provide a competitive edge.

Netflix, despite being a streaming giant, constantly analyzes competitors like Hulu or Disney+ to spot market trends or gaps they might be missing.

Customer Research: Empathy for the Individual and Their Actions

While audience research maps the terrain, offering a bird's eye view, customer research zooms in on the intricate details of the landscape. Customer researchers want to develop a tactical empathy and understand the motivations of their actions.

The purpose of this kind of research is about depth. It seeks to

  • decode purchasing behaviors by understanding the behaviors and patterns of those who've actually made some kind of transaction like ultimately a purchase.
  • Measure and asses the satisfaction levels post-action (post-purchase) when they have taken call to action.
  • Discover growth opportunities within the existing customer base (to increase both customer value capture and CLTV).

Amazon, with its vast customer base, frequently analyzes purchase data to offer personalized product recommendations, enhancing the shopping experience for individual users.

Key questions a customer researcher therefore is interested in answering are:

  • What nudges our customers to pick us over others? What drives our customers to choose our competitors?
  • How do customers feel after their purchase? Do our customers feel they made the right choice?
  • Beyond the current offerings, what else are our customers looking for? Are there unmet needs we can fulfill, value they have not yet gotten from the product or service they already bought from us (or are constantly buying like with SaaS and every other subscription)?

To gain knowledge and insight into these questions a customer researchers might use the following methods.

Purchase Data Analysis for pattern discovery from transaction data. Data doesn't lie. Analyzing purchase patterns, buying frequencies, and product or service preferences offers a clear picture of what's working and what's not.

Feedback Surveys for direct insights about CX. These are the direct lines to a customer's mind and heart. Post-purchase or post-service feedback can reveal satisfaction levels, areas of improvement, and potential avenues for upselling or cross-selling.

Customer Interviews to understand individual experiences. Often, the most profound insights come from direct conversations. Customer interviews allow for deep dives into individual experiences, unearthing challenges faced, and aspirations related to the product or service. When you let the customers speak they provide you with a trough of insights on why they bought and voice of the customer data (VoC).

The Interplay and Importance of both Audience and Customer Research

Audience and customer research, though distinct, are interconnected and enrich each other.

The insights from audience research can shape strategies to transition more audience members into the customer bracket. Simultaneously, a deep understanding of current customers can inform broader content, or campaigns, down to the creation of creative – ensuring they resonate not just with existing customers but with a wider audience as well.

Spotify conducts audience research to understand general music preferences and trends. This informs their broad campaigns. Simultaneously, they analyze customer listening habits to personalize playlists, which, when shared, serve as a tool for audience engagement, drawing more people in.

For businesses to thrive in today's competitive environment, both audience and customer research are indispensable. They are the compass and map, guiding brands towards informed decisions, effective strategies, and ultimately, unparalleled success.


For you it's essential to recognize the distinction between audience and customer research. Both are crucial pillars of a comprehensive business strategy. By understanding where each type of research fits in the larger business ecosystem, you and your organization can tailor your approaches, allocate resources efficiently, and drive growth in a targeted manner.

I hope you to leave with a structured understanding and a deepened knowledge of market research methodologies and their applications.

Please reach out, if you want to discuss your project.

Key Questions for Audience Research

  1. Who is currently interacting with our brand, even passively?
  2. What are the general perceptions and attitudes toward our industry or product category?
  3. Where do opportunities lie in capturing a larger segment of this audience?

Key Questions for Customer Research

  1. What factors influence the purchasing decisions of our customers?
  2. How satisfied are our customers post-purchase?
  3. What additional needs or desires do our customers have that we can fulfill?

How do I determine the right balance between audience and customer research for my business?

The balance between audience and customer research often depends on your business goals.

If you're in a phase of brand-building, market expansion, or product launch, a heavier emphasis on audience research can help you understand potential market gaps and audience needs.

Conversely, if you're looking to optimize existing products, improve customer retention, or increase the lifetime value of existing customers, then deepening your customer research is essential.

Periodic evaluations of business objectives can guide the allocation of resources to either research type.

Please reach out, if to discuss your initiative further.

Are there specific tools or platforms you recommend for conducting audience and customer research?

There are numerous tools available, and the best fit often depends on your specific needs and budget. For audience research, tools like Google Analytics, Google Trends, and social media analytics platforms (e.g., Sprout Social or Hootsuite) can be a good starter. For customer research, your CRM platforms like Salesforce or HubSpot can provide deep insights into customer behaviors. Survey tools like LimeSurvey, Typeform, or Qualtrics can facilitate direct feedback. It's advisable to trial a few tools to see which ones align best with your objectives.

How frequently should I conduct audience and customer research? Is there a risk of doing it too often or not often enough?

The frequency of research depends on the dynamism of your industry and your business goals.

In fast-evolving sectors, more regular check-ins might be necessary to stay ahead. However, it's essential to strike a balance. Over-researching can lead to data fatigue, where you're inundated with information but lack actionable insights.

Conversely, infrequent research might leave you out of touch with emerging trends or changing customer needs. As a general guideline, consider annual comprehensive research with quarterly or bi-annual check-ins.

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