Knowing the audience in 2015

One of my most interesting writing projects in 2015 was developing a new brochure for parents of children with epilepsy. The marketing goal was to educate this group of parents about the benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy (VNS) as an option to help reduce the occurrence and severity of seizures. But I appreciated the opportunity to ‘know the audience’ before beginning to write the new promotional piece.

I visited Great Ormond Street Hospital, Southampton Children’s Hospital and the Neville Childhood Epilepsy Centre to meet with nurses, parents and children with epilepsy who were using VNS therapy. Through surveys and interviews, I learned what it’s like to care for children with epilepsy and how treatment decisions are made. Some of the insights gained were new to the client, so valuable in and of themselves. Most importantly, I was able to write the new brochure in a way that reflected the target audience’s specific situations and addressed their concerns.

‘Know your audience’ is a theme for me because I believe it’s critical for effective communication. Sometimes there is no budget or time for hearing first-hand from a target audience, but the marketing results are usually poorer for it. I was pleased this client understood the importance of finding out what the target customers already knew and where knowledge gaps existed. And I’m happy to say the new brochure copy hits the mark.

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Effective communication: Know your audience

Previously, I wrote a few tips for effective communication including ‘know your audience.’ This is so important for making sure your written and verbal business communication makes a difference. When you put time and effort into developing a particular message or story, you’ll want to make sure it resonates with the right people. But how can you learn more about your target audience?

  • Ask questions

You probably have good business relationships with people similar to those you are trying to reach. Ask them how they make decisions about purchasing your type of product or service. What sources of information do they find credible? Who are their influencers? What do they look for when shopping and what factors tip them toward one provider over another? Try using LinkedIn to survey your contacts about a new message. While not scientific, the responses will give you insights about how your potential customer will receive your communication.

  • Read what they read

Find out what your audience cares about by reading their trade publications, looking at industry websites and scanning social media. What are the values of your target’s industry? What issues are your targets concerned about and what are their business challenges? Learn what type of corporate language your audience uses. You don’t need to mimic this in your communication, but make sure your style fits in. You could also attend conferences and events about your audience’s industry to hear about trends and align your messages.

  • Observe your own responses

Be a focus group of one by paying attention to your responses to persuasive messages. Are there particular stories that resonate with you? Think about why that communication broke through and made you want to take action. The messages may be completely unrelated to your business, but noting your responses will give you useful information. Why did a particular radio story make you visit a website? Why did you share a newspaper article you read? What was it about a blog post that prompted you to comment? What made you keep reading a particular website? Apply what you learn to your messages so they persuade your target audience to take action.

This audience research may take place over time. The important thing is to start somewhere with a bit of learning about your target. Don’t worry if you need to come back to it periodically.

All of this research about your target audience will increase your credibility. When you sit down to write your messages, all that you’ve learned will come through and demonstrate that you understand your target’s situation. Your communication will be meaningful to your audience and more likely to prompt action.

Best wishes for insightful audience research and effective business communication!