4th Aug 2020
3 Min Read

Who are you really talking to? The art of understanding your audience

Elle Bradley-Cox
Elle Bradley-Cox
IC & Engagement

How well do you know your audiences? Do you know where they live? What car they drive?

How they get to work? What’s keeping them awake at night? What motivates them? What excites them? What makes them feel cynical? Or bored? Or inspired?

If you do, when did you last ask them those questions? Last year? Or last week, after you announced a round of redundancies and a bunch of closures?

COVID-19’s kickback has booted many of our colleagues from unexpected – and multiple – directions. Not only have they lost loved ones, missed weddings and shielded the vulnerable, they might be the victim (or perpetrator) of the recent rise in domestic violence cases. Their partner may be furloughed or have lost work. Their child might be struggling because they’re not at school. They could be worrying about anything from redundancy to rude customers.

Persona grata

In external marketing, painting a detailed picture of audiences in the form of personas is commonplace. But internally, we tend to rely on broader brush-strokes – perhaps because our colleagues are a captive audience.

But are they? We need our messages to be heard and engaged with. If we’re getting it wrong, our fine words will fall on deaf ears. Employees will turn off and tune out.

Getting it right is about basing your decisions on the needs of your frontline. It’s about those working remotely and from home, often juggling a much more flexible and fluid relationship with their employer than ever before.

It’s not easy and it’s not uniform. But as the contract between employee and employer becomes more complex, so do our channels, our concerns and our celebrations.

It’s time to resegment our audiences – so we can make sure our messages are relevant, timely and interesting in a fast-changing world beset with challenges none of us have faced before. And we mustn’t presume or pigeonhole. It’s time to listen to our frontline and give them the opportunity to co-design the solutions they – and our businesses – will use to do a great job next year.

Paint the picture

The strength of personas – those imaginary people we raise, Frankenstein-like from our data – is their humanity. It’s hard to write an article or a message to a lorry driver, but it’s easy to write for Dave, 52, who drives a lorry for work and a Harley at weekends. He’s the depot darts champion, he’s been with the business 10 years, hasn’t had a pay rise for two, and is based in Birmingham.

You’ll need to make up the details – but they’re based on likely and typical facts. Now we’ve rounded Dave out, we know and care about him. We understand his motivations. And the more data, the more conversations and the more feedback we use to put flesh on Dave’s bones, the more we understand how to spark his interest – and how to avoid making him tune out.

Today’s Dave

But if we haven’t checked in with Dave for a while, there are things about him we don’t know. We don’t know he has asthma and has been shielding. We don’t know the contract he works on is for a business badly hit by COVID-19. Dave’s been hearing all about it on Sky News – and he’s concerned. We don’t know that Dave’s wife is a nurse, his elderly mum lives with them and the eldest has just moved back in. Dave’s really worried about redundancy.

Talking to our audiences, reading their feedback on workplace social platforms, listening to canteen chat and befriending frontline allies are all imperative if we’re going to address their shifting priorities.

Creating personas from bare statistics and ear-to-the-ground tip-offs makes your audience come to life. It makes them human and relatable. Thinking of Dave stops you from posting a funny video on Workplace the day after his team leader has announced imminent redundancies.

When it comes to creating compelling headlines, engaging content and relevant messages, you just have to ask yourself ‘What would Dave make of this?’.

If Dave – or your other audiences – wouldn’t care or engage with it, why are you telling them?

Stress demands agility

Right now, pipelines are murky, advice changes regularly and our colleagues are human. The same person might be confident, light-hearted, depressed, concerned or angry at the drop of a facemask. Customer-facing staff are up against non-compliance with new safety rules – or even abuse and violence.

That’s why we need to stay closer than ever. Keep asking for feedback, keep poring over pulse surveys, keep reading workplace social media, keep listening to what your ears on the ground are telling you. Keep your personas agile and responsive to change. When you, or your team, or your stakeholders want to tell your audiences something, remember they are human – and they might be Dave.

Want to continue the conversation?

As employees become more dispersed, and we compete against greater noise and distraction than ever before, has our job become that bit more difficult? And what can we do to overcome the barriers in our post-pandemic workplace?

Join Jacey, Lisa Hawksworth and our guest panel at a previous webinar, as they take questions on hard-to-reach audiences.

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