Know Your Audiences – Slice and Dice and Slice Again

In this polarized “tribal” environment, audience definition needs to be even clearer than before. Beyond basic demographics, specific characteristics and psychographics are critical to reaching your target audience with a message that sticks.

Less is more. There is no such thing as the “general public.” Resist the impulse to name everyone as the audience because you just can’t get to everyone. You can refine audience targets through some obvious screens like demography (gender, income, region) or habits (motorcycle owners), and occupation (college students). Whatever you can do to make the targeted audience smaller, will improve your chances of delivering a message that moves them to the desired action. If the target audience is Chicago-based democratic women in their reproductive years who are trying to avoid pregnancy, you can match this with media they might consume. This is especially true of social media, which allows for micro-targeting like nothing ever before.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to confine yourself to just one target—you may have many—but, they should all be as well defined as you can make them. Test the validity of targeting them by asking, “What is it we want them to do?” Just to know about the issue or product doesn’t cut it if you want your strategy to work. Plenty of people know about climate change, for example, but you want the people most likely to pressure their elected officials to act on policies to stop it.

I have done a lot of advocacy campaigns, and I try to first divide my audiences into two large buckets:

  • Decision-makers – these are the people who can really pull the switch to make change – vote for a bill in congress, authorize funding, or enact a regulation, etc.
  • Influencers – these are the people who the decision-makers respond to. And yes, it can be your mother. But also, labor leaders, voters, rock stars with big twitter followings, columnists, etc.

For each group of decision makers, create a list of influencers. There may be a lot or a little overlap, and this is fine. Just see whether there are some natural groupings that might make them targets. For example, if your decision-makers are foundation executives with an interest in poverty, their influencers might be other foundation executives (kind of a closed group). But they also pay a lot of attention to the news media, think NPR and the NY Times; academics; and to the philanthropic trade press. You get the picture. With media targets you can get a tighter audience by thinking about who covers a particular topic, i.e. health.

For an advocacy campaign we brainstormed with some Africa-based health funders a number of years ago. They had the smallest target audience I ever encountered—the tribal chief. Key influencers: His wives. No need to mount a media campaign for that project – just some carefully constructed conversations were planned.

The bottom line is that by slicing your audiences thin, you have a real chance to reach the key people you need to make an impact.