There are a variety of different answers you'll hear when you ask this question, and in most cases whatever answers you get won't be wrong. Staying ahead of your competition means thinking outside of the box and using the right tactics together in the right way in order to create something unique that covers all of your bases. In other words, it's about collaboration and finding a good balance, so it's hard to define one easy secret. Nevertheless, when you break it all down and think broadly, there is really one major secret that every company needs in order to succeed: Understand your audience. But everyone knows this, right?

Even if your competition knows this little secret (and most do), it's important to realize that your audiences change all the time. As the Internet changes and more technology, media and businesses are introduced; your audience will naturally evolve. It's up to you as a company to evolve with your audience and keep that understanding alive. This is the ultimate secret that so many are still missing, and with this knowledge you should always find yourself one step ahead.

Tips to Growing with Your Audience to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Of course knowing that you need to follow and grow with your audience is one thing and actually making that happen is quite another. Below are a few different ways you can help make sure you're on the right path when it comes to understanding your audience:

Check out your competition

This is one of the best ways to see the types of people who may be interested in your business. A great starting point is to not only check out the competitions' online social accounts but also some of their website data using tools like Open Site Explorer. This can help you see where your competition is earning backlinks, which could help give you a clue as to what types of audiences are linking back and recognizing their content. Looking at social accounts and seeing how your competition segments their audience on Google+ is also an excellent way to establish an understanding of audience. Remember, however, that you don't want to simply copy your competition. This won't get you to beat the competition, so you have to use some of the tactics above and remember to constantly be revising.

Understand your audience through research

Preliminary research involves simply spending time in the online community connecting with people, talking in forums, checking out YouTube, and getting to know your current customers and loyal followers. Again, this information is nothing new, but it's important to make this a constant part of your business so that you're always noticing any changes in people interested in your business.

Follow Analytics data and social trends

Look at demographics, where visitors are coming from when they visit your site, what pages they look at, etc. Again this is a basic strategy that most companies already have in place, but in order to be unique you should have a strategy for noticing trends and then using those changing trends to alter your content and audience understanding accordingly.

A great way to do this is set goals for yourself and if you hit a certain trend or a certain number of page views on a given page, send that information over to your content team to discuss. This same tactic can be used for social media changes or any news you hear in the industry. It's important to always keep that communication going and make sure that you're not just noticing trends but you're actually doing something about them.

Create buyer and audience personas

Creating personas can help you cater content to certain audience types and help you segment your email marketing campaigns, newsletters, social posts, and more. This helps you create a customized experience for your audience, which should help you get more information about your audience as time goes on. How you go about creating these personas and then using them can differ from business to business, so you can learn more about the ins and outs of creating buyer and customer personas. Just remember to keep going back and modify and adjust your personas as your company and the industry grows.

There are still many other more advanced ways that you can get to know your audience. The more in-depth you get the better; just make sure you don't get too overwhelmed with data. Keep revising your thoughts about audience using some of the ideas above.