HCBC member Jennifer Barrett Fajardo supports nonprofits and other community-serving clients to develop or strengthen cause-based communications, marketing, and community-building efforts through thought partnership, training, technical assistance, and advisory services. She’s also the founder of Comms For Causes, an online learning hub and strategy lab designed for mission-driven changemakers.
One of the fundamental elements of strategic communications is having a clear vision of our target audience so that our messaging can be crafted in ways that are compelling to them.
And yet, it’s common to encounter major resistance to this step. The most common objections are some variation of:
- Why do I need a target audience?
- WE need to reach everyone!
- Our audience is the general public.
And for nonprofits working to tackle big systemic issues, this may be true to some extent. Unfortunately, the reality is that if we try to talk to everyone, we won’t reach anyone—at least not in a meaningful way. Or, worse, we’ll be intentionally blocked out, especially when reaching out digitally. Rules governing email marketing (like the CAN-SPAM Act), as well as sophisticated user control settings on social networks, make it easier than ever for people to CHOOSE who they hear from.
So if we want a receptive, engaged audience, we need to know: Who are we trying to reach and why? And that WHY is two-fold: 1) Why do we need to reach them; and, 2) Why should they care about what we have to say?
For nonprofits, this will vary widely depending upon your goals, but might include groups such as patrons, funders, program participants, policy makers, staff, students, advocates, board members, donors, volunteers, or members. This is not an exhaustive list, but provides some examples of groups that might be targeted.
Targeting the right audience
If you find yourself struggling to define a target audience or are having trouble narrowing it down to a specific group, these three questions can help:
- Who is best positioned to determine our success or failure?
- Who is likely to be impacted by our work/activities?
- Who has a vested interest in the issues we care about?
More simply: think about who can help us achieve our goal or stand in our way.
Once we’ve identified our target audience and what action we want them to take, we will inevitably discover that we’re missing some important contextual or background information that will require additional research. Learning more about our audience will inform other decisions we’ll need to make about how and where we can best reach them with our messaging.
These follow-up questions can help guide our research:
- Why does this audience matter? How can they help or hinder progress toward our goal?
- What knowledge, beliefs, or attitudes does this audience have about this issue or topic?
- What are some of their values or concerns relevant to this issue or topic?
- What information sources do they use and/or whom do they trust?
So the next time your messaging is falling flat or failing to move your audience to action, spend some time with those three primary questions to be sure you understand who you most need to reach, and then assessing how well you understand that audience so you can update your messaging accordingly.
If you’d like even more helpful tips (including worksheets that include the questions above!), be sure to download a copy of my 16-page workbook and you’ll be subscribed to receive future resources straight to your inbox!