Audience targeting: Often many routes to your ultimate goal

We are constantly working with clients on planning communications programs. And one area we always need to address is the audience. In other words, who are we trying to reach?

The reason that seems like such a simple and obvious question to many people is that quite often they only focus on the most obvious answer. They might say their audience is their customers and leave it at that.

But it’s not always that simple.  Sometimes the right answer is that there are multiple audiences, or primary and secondary audiences, with one audience targeted to influence another audience.

Let’s say, for example, your organization is advocating in support of a piece of legislation. Ultimately, your audience is the members of the legislature who will vote to approve or kill your bill.

But to reach them, one avenue will be media coverage that you will help place. That media coverage is read by thousands of readers, but the lawmakers are the real target. So, you’re reaching them through interim steps – your first target, i.e. your first audience, is an editor or reporter.

Another interim step is reaching the audience of the general public through this media coverage because some who see the story may pick up the issue and contact their elected official to urge them to approve the bill.  So, there are three audiences, one leading to another – 1) media, 2) general public, and 3) legislators.

The point is to recognize that the ultimate audience isn’t the only audience.

Look at the way pharmaceutical companies advertise drugs on TV. The audience of TV viewers is just a stepping stone to the real target – the physicians who can actually prescribe the medication. By targeting TV viewers who can’t buy a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription, the pharma companies are targeting one audience in order to reach another audience. Their intent is to influence you, the consumer, to ask your doctor about a prescription medication in hopes the doctor will write you a scrip.

Next time you ponder who the audience is for your message, try to look beyond the most obvious answer. You might need to influence more than one audience to reach your prime objective. 

- Eric Whittington