Before Leo Tolstoy (you know, the guy from Anna Karenina and War and Peace), would begin his novels, he would write out volumes of background on each main character. He did this because he felt that once he had a thorough understanding of the characters, he could simply place them in a scene together and know how they would each respond. The story would basically write itself. (Sounds easy enough, Leo!)

This approach to well-developed characters got me thinking about how the same is true in marketing. Getting to know your audience is essential to any marketing function, and comprehensive audience details or a marketing persona can be the difference between a piece that inspires action and one that flops like it got run over by a train (Spoiler alert! R.I.P. Anna).

If you’re marketing to everyone, your message will resonate with no one.

Instead of casting a large net with a broad audience, seek to create a perfectly tailored message for your specific, researched audience.

As a writer, there’s nothing like getting a detailed brief with a key insight that really inspires. I know firsthand that when I can put a face or persona to my audience, the words just flow.

I can think about someone similar that I might know in my own life and consider how I would present or sell to him. And it’s easy to know when you’ve found a solid strategy and approach because you now have someone to put it into context.

I’m no longer simply writing to “a 30-something Mom,” (which I’ve seen more times than I’d like to remember). I’m writing to “Vanessa, the busy ER Nurse with two young kids. She prides herself on her organization and ability to juggle multiple tasks, but sometimes volunteers to take on too much because she has a hard time saying, ‘No.’ She’s a strong advocate for things she loves and hates imitation items. She won’t sacrifice quality for price. On the weekend you might find her rock climbing or at a tribute night for her favorite classic rock band.”

Now I feel like I know Vanessa. She sounds just like one of my cousins, actually.

And let me tell you about this new product/service/business, Vanessa, and how it’s absolutely perfect for your Aerosmith-loving, life-saving self.

Or instead of simply targeting “Sales,” I know I’m writing to “Jim, a Senior Sales Executive who struggles with trying to push innovative technology in a somewhat old-fashioned industry. He feels pressured by his boss to hit numbers, but isn’t provided with the tools to do so. He enjoys attending conferences and tries to keep up with the next “big thing.” He also loves Motown, has three kids, coaches youth soccer, and at times worries about how to afford his family’s upcoming Disney trip.” How can we help Jim turn his cold-calls into Disney dollars, so he can roll up to Epcot like a king?

When you truly come to know your target audience and strategize to meet their unique needs, they recognize your content, products, services and campaigns to be more authentic, personable and relatable, and—in turn—they become more loyal. Your brand becomes more humanized, and it’s harder to break up with a brand that feels like a friend.

For me personally, this brand is Trader Joe’s. I enjoy my whole experience with them. I trust their ingredients and their recommendations and look to them for new products, trends and ideas. Because they get me. And somehow everything in their store seems to be just what I was looking for. That is precisely how you want your target audience to feel. Understood.

As Bryan Kramer said, “There is no more B2B or B2C. There is only Human to Human.” Your buyers are human. Your consumers are human. Your employees are human.

Seek to understand what your audience needs most. Understand what they value, what motivates them, what they fear, and what could improve their day-to-day.

So, how can you do this? How can you find out if your target is a Kristen or a Brian or an Eileen? Here are a few ways to start:

Meet them.

See them in action. Go on a ride-along. Hear what the hardest part of their day is, and what would make their life easier. Get to know their personality, their work style and what their office culture is like. And bring along team members from multiple disciplines, this invaluable intel is useful to each department in different ways.

Market research. Surveys. Focus groups.

Get feedback in their own words. Use open-ended questions. Ask them about their background, what do they love about it? Why did they initially try it?

Create a persona.

If you can’t use a real person for inspiration, create one. Beyond the typical age, marital status, income and education levels, think about details such as what music they listen to, what they eat, where they live, what their home life is like and what they do for fun. Are they open to new things? How do they embrace change?

Social listening.

Use tools and monitor what your customers are saying online. You’ll get honest feedback and suggestions.

Mary Flenner is senior copywriter at AKHIA.