If there’s one absolute truth in marketing and communications, it’s this: It’s not about you, it’s about them. While marketing and public relations involves you talking about you, impactful communications begin with putting your audience first, and speaking in terms that connect with, entertain, engage and persuade those audiences. Therefore, any great communications plan begins with two critical first steps:
- Gaining internal agreement regarding your defined target audiences – their values, interests, challenges, motivations, beliefs or needs as they relate to your product, service or organization – and,
- Defining key messages that communicate your organization’s value in terms that matter to your target audiences.
If you have written your website copy, started a campaign, developed a communications plan, built a media list or done any manner of externally-facing marketing and communications without having agreement on your audience targeting and messaging, now is a great time to shore up your foundation and get these pieces in place.
Without agreement on audience and messaging, there’s a strong possibility that your marketing and communications activities are keeping you busy, but lack shared and consistent direction. To ensure the long-term effectiveness of your communications, examine (and re-examine) your target audience(s) and the language you use to attract those audiences. Your entire team should be aligned in these two key areas.
Are you just getting started with communications planning? Read on to learn more about where to begin. Are you at an inflection point in your organization or at a milestone in your planning? Re-examine these factors to make your ongoing communications as successful as possible.
Define Your Target Audience
Your target audience should include one or more categorizable set of individuals that share identifiable characteristics that are likely to make them relate to your business or organization in a similar manner. If you are asked the question “whom are you targeting,” and your answer is “everyone,” it’s back to the drawing board. Your answer should look a lot more like “children of Baby Boomers who are beginning to show signs of needing adult care.” That’s a defined audience!
Whether you have one target audience or ten, it’s critical that your organization is aligned regarding whom your targets are, so that collaborative communications strategies can be built to address your audience’s needs and engage them across channels.
When seeking alignment on target audiences, discuss these factors:
Consider shared needs and behaviors that would drive a client to use your product or service, rather than purely demographic or firmographic factors.
A few examples:
Actionable audience target: Women, age 25 – 35, with young children who work full-time outside of the home and have a healthy disposable income.
The audience definition here suggests possible audience needs (that will direct the defined benefits and positioning), implies language that can be used to attract the target, and intuits topics, behaviors and keywords that can be used for media planning. Additionally, this information can be matched with demographic data to support media targeting.
Less actionable audience target: Women age 25 – 35, annual household income of $150k+ per year.
Purely demographic data can be used for media targeting on some channels, but it fails to provide direction regarding the needs, beliefs, behaviors or preferences that will inform content development, media viewing habits or other factors critical to developing targeted communications.
If you are early in the lifespan of your organization, your audience definition may come from general market research and analysis. If your products and services are in market, your audience targeting can be based on current client characteristics as gathered from customer surveys, website data, social media data and search keywords.
Because market forces and client trends can change over time, audience targets may shift as well, even if your product and services remain relatively stable. Re-examine your audience regularly (possibly as part of an annual planning activity) and stay attuned to new and shifting audiences to ensure your team stays on the same page.
Organizations typically have more than one target audience. But targets may vary in importance due to factors such as current brand awareness, product or service lifespan, budget, competition, momentum, time of year, etc. When seeking internal alignment regarding audience targeting, also ensure agreement regarding the priority of your targets.
Whether you have a direct competitor in your market or simply another organization that vies for your audience’s attention, it’s rare that you are alone in your attempt to connect with your target. Consider the environment around your target audience, and enumerate other organizations, responsibilities or interests that may have hold on your target’s time, energy or pocketbook. Ensure your team is aware of these potential competing priorities and aligned on how your organization benefits your audience in a way that others don’t, can’t or won’t.
Articulate Your Messaging
Once your audience definitions are complete, your next step in communications planning is aligning on key messages. Messaging conveys what an organization does or stands for in terms that drive interest and connection with your core audiences. Done well, messaging articulates your organization’s promise, attracts notice from media and potential clients and encourages desire for your organization’s services.
If you’ve already gone through a branding exercise, you likely have messaging in place. However, messaging should be reviewed and revised with some regularity (perhaps bi-annually) to ensure it remains responsive to target audience shifts and general market forces.
Ideally, your messaging provides a consistent architecture or set of “building blocks” upon which all other communications are based. Core elements of brand messaging may include:
Vision – your long term aspiration or view of the world
Mission – your purpose, why you exist
Positioning – what you do
Value proposition – why what you do matters and how it’s differentiated
Benefits – to your target audiences
Proof – facts, figures, quotes, etc. that demonstrate that what you say is true
It’s fine if elements of these building blocks shift, as long as your organization collectively agrees on the shift. Consistency in messaging across your organization will help to create meaning around your brand and ensure that communications efforts are aligned to a shared purpose.
Building On Your Foundation
With both audience targeting and messaging in place, your organization is well-positioned to define communications strategies and execute campaigns that can build on one another for long term impact. Both audience and messaging should act as a touchstone for your ongoing communications but should never stay stagnant for an extended period of time. In today’s ever-shifting environment, it’s likely that your targets – and therefore your messaging – will evolve. To ensure that your communications remain valuable, you should have a process in place to evaluate your current and prospective audiences over time and revise your messaging as needed, always ensuring that your organization is aware of and trained on changes as they occur.