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By Brandon Soublet

So you’ve been tasked with writing a communications plan. Great! It’s time to sit down and start thinking through your goals, objectives, tactics and audiences. Although this last term might seem the most basic, I’ve found it to be the one that is the weakest in many communications plans. Having a poorly or improperly defined audience can stretch your plan too thin, limiting its effectiveness and likely defeating its overall purpose. Here are some key tips to help properly define and identify your audiences to increase the impact of your plan.

Illustration of a group of office workersKnow what an audience is. An audience is the group of people you’re looking to influence with your communications campaign. Whether it’s solely an informational campaign or you have a specific call to action, the people you want to inform or motivate are your audience. It’s important to know what an audience is, but also to know what an audience is not.

In a past life, I had a client who wanted to launch an external communications campaign. Two of her desired audiences were “the media” and “the general public.” The problem? Neither of these are audiences. The media is a vehicle for communicating information, just like email or a newsletter. When people use the colloquialism “talking to the media,” they mean that they are speaking to a group of reporters whose beats include specific subject matter and who will subsequently report on the conversation to a broader group. The media can serve to amplify your message by increasing its reach, but if you’re taking your message to the media, it’s always so that it can be redistributed, or to build relationships for future amplification.

The general public is also a poorly defined audience. How many times have you had a product, service, or message that was relevant to everyone? In 2015, AT&T and Verizon were two of the three companies in the U.S. to spend more than $1 billion in advertising. Their ads are everywhere – billboards, newspapers, internet, radio, television – but are they advertising to the general public? No. These companies are advertising to consumers with enough disposable income and tech savvy to buy smartphones, and to members of households in their service areas looking to buy high-speed internet access. Geico is the third firm that spent more than $1 billion on advertising, and they’re aiming for people who own or lease vehicles or property to buy insurance. If these ad giants aren’t targeting the general public, then you probably aren’t either.

Define or segment your audience as specifically as possible. A well-defined audience allows you to think critically about the most effective tactics and messages. Imagine you’re trying to recruit players for a recreational baseball team. If your audience is “people who like to be outside,” your messaging should focus on why they should spend their outdoor time on sports rather than grilling steaks. If your audience is “athletes,” you should focus on why baseball is the best sport to choose among other sports. If your audience is “baseball players,” you’ll need to convince potential recruits of the benefits of joining your team, as they’ve already decided they’d like to spend their outdoor time playing baseball. None of these audiences is wrong per se, they just require different messaging and will yield different results. A specifically defined audience will also inform where you present your messages. If you’re trying to convert soccer players to your baseball team, it’s probably a better idea to post flyers at the local rec center than it is at the movie theater.

Know your audience’s preferences and level of sophistication. A previous company I worked for had a third-party consultant develop an electronic holiday card to send to clients and partners. The card was well received until an office tried to distribute it to their primary client – one with an understandably strong preference for printed cards – the United States Postal Service. Similarly, the card had limited reach to our clients in developing countries, many of whom did not have consistent internet access with enough bandwidth to receive or stream a large video file. Had the audience for the card been better assessed upfront, the consultants could have developed low-bandwidth and print versions of the cards in addition to the video.

Follow these easy guidelines and you’ll be on your way to getting results from your target audience!