When I worked in broadcast news, our audience was a large one: the viewing public. To gain greater insight into these millions of viewers, demographic data provided us a biographical sketch of who was watching and when. This included factors such as gender, age and socioeconomic status. In the pursuit of ratings victories, we’d often determine which stories would run based on what we thought viewers would want to watch: Would this be of interest to young mothers, seniors or others?
Likewise, in strategic communications, we don’t communicate until we understand our clients’ audiences. In higher education, for example, that includes students, potential students, parents, alumni, donors, board members, the press and the general public. When marketing a luxury residential building, developers must develop messaging for prospective buyers, neighbors, and industry press. In each case, these different stakeholders are from a variety of places, both literal and figurative. They possess varying levels of knowledge and opinions about a particular organization, service or product. Most importantly, they care about different things.
In each case, professional communicators take into account these different profiles and tailor messaging for each audience. What we do is ensure our clients meet each individual/audience where they are.
Meeting someone where they are is believed to have started in social work, pastoral duties and in other “helping” professions. However, the truth is that this strategy can be employed in any walk of life, in almost any situation. None of us are a blank canvas. We all have some preconceived notions. Savvy marketing/communication professionals know that meeting someone where they are isn’t just a way of breaking down audiences by behavior and attitudes–it’s key to an effective communication strategy.
How do you convince the parent of a prospective student to send their child to a college that just made news for the wrong reason? How do you convince prospective patients to use your medical facility if it’s gaining notoriety for a tragic mistake or accident? It’s easier to convince another of a particular position or argument, if you start—not from where you are—but where they are.
Here are some tips:
Watch your language: Be consistent. The appropriate language should be worked into all messaging so this strategy resonates across channels (paid, earned, shared and owned) to the appropriate audience.
Pick your targets: Is the newspaper/magazine you’re targeting for a client a consumer publication for the general public, or a trade publication for readers with advanced knowledge in a particular area? This will determine how much jargon or complex concepts your client can reference while articulating a certain position or point of view.
Understand social media habits: As I mentioned earlier, where someone is can be a state of mind, a literal place or a digital forum. Which social media channels does your audience use regularly? If you’re focused on B2B communications, LinkedIn may be your best bet. Outreach to the general public: Facebook. It’s thought leaders you covet? Then it’s Twitter. Be sure to customize your message not only for the audience, but the culture of the social media channels they use.
Show some heart: Meeting someone where they are is such a smart strategy because it’s ensures your messaging won’t come across as tone-deaf. It projects compassion and empathy. Citing last quarter’s profit margin makes sense for a board member, but not for the victim of a data breach. Ask yourself what’s on an individual’s or audience’s mind and address those issues head-on. It will allow you to get out in front of a potential crisis or, at the very least, keep one from escalating out of control.