Many digital marketers look to the likes of Starbucks or IBM and feel a twinge of envy. The teams managing their social media profiles have access to amazing content, images and other resources – aren’t they lucky! But if you look closely at their strategy, you’ll realize that while all these things are nice, they aren’t the keys to their success.

The top digital marketers behind the best brands on social media are so successful because of one simple thing: they know their audience.

The cheery images, insightful infographics and fact-filled ebooks are only effective because the digital marketers creating them know what messaging, visuals and positioning will resonate most with the people they’re trying to reach. And the fact that top digital marketers know their audience inside and out makes all of their activities look effortless.

Digital marketers that want to reach millennials, for instance, would be wise to understand this group’s motivations. Millennials see brands as a form of self-expression, and believe that quality, authenticity and integrity are the most essential brand values. So, brands that can express these values will be more widely embraced by this lucrative cohort.

Understanding that consumers will share their brand experiences – positive or negative – with their social networks is also a critical factor in digital marketing success. Anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions are made as a result of word-of-mouth. The brands with the best digital presence are constantly delighting their customers, and encouraging positive reviews, retweets and shares.

To reach the level of success of a Starbucks-type digital marketing team, your team must do its research, and do its research early. You’ve got to put in the man-hours to gather and analyze consumer data. Sifting through tweets, Instagram photos, pinned recipes and fashion and other social activities can yield a deep understanding of what motivates and inspires your audience.

This understanding can then be used as the fuel for your entire digital marketing strategy. It can feed your content, so that you create the blog posts, images and infographics that your audience will find valuable. It can feed your advertising plan, so that you are using the creatives that will encourage action and placing your ads on channels that your audience frequents. It can feed your measurement plan, so you know when, how and what to measure to work at continually improving your approach.

The top digital marketers don’t just shoot from the hip and hope something sticks. They’re not creating quirky images or in-depth blog posts based on their own intuition. They have developed a keen understanding of their audience, and they use it to inform every decision they make about content, engagement and strategy. So instead of being envious of these top marketers, why not take matters into your own hands and get to know your audience better? After all, it could quickly propel you to join their ranks.

What do you think makes top digital marketers so successful?