How to Identify Your Audience

September 27, 2016

How to Identify Your Audience

When you’re starting a communication campaign, whether it’s for your business, church or non-profit, the first two questions you need to ask are “Who am I speaking to?” and “What do they need to hear from me?”  Those questions seem simple, but in reality they’re deceptively complicated.  We’ll deal with the second one next month, but for this month I’d like to tackle some of the things to consider when identifying your audience.

Who are you Speaking To?

Often our first reaction when considering our audience is to dream big.  We want everyone to come to our church, attend our event or love our product.  That’s true, of course, but it’s not helpful for creating a strong communications strategy.  While it’s nice to think that we might be able to produce the one flyer, postcard, video or podcast that the whole world’s going to love, it’s simply not realistic.  We need to identify our audience and customize the message to ensure it’s clear to them. 

This means identifying the groups that you’d really like to reach with your message.  If you’re looking at a church or an event, perhaps it’s the people in your immediate neighborhood.  Maybe you’ve got a specific age group in mind, or you’re thinking of an event focused on men or women in particular.  In any case, take the time to narrow down your audience.

One way to do this is to consider who your event is ideally focused on.  Is this a mother’s day out program?  There’s some assumptions you can make.  Look at those who are already involved and consider whether the audience that’s grown organically is one that you can generalize a bit more to use as a target audience.  “Who is already involved?” is always a great question when trying to decide “Who else can we reach?”

Now What?

Once you’ve narrowed down your audience, let that drive your communication choices.  Are they people who live in a specific geographic area?  Signs and posters might be a good choice to include, and you might even consider personal visits.  Are they a demographic that’s well connected on social media?  Perhaps some Facebook advertising is in order.  Are there other events in your area that target a similar demographic with whom you might be able to partner for promotion?  Look for where your audience is already listening and figure out how you can speak there. 

Don’t Change the Message

Keep in mind that this is about changing the “how” of communication, not the “what”.  We’ve done this throughout history as a church and we continue to do so.  Only the world’s worst missionary would travel to a far away land and seek to teach the natives English so that he might share the Gospel with them.  He’d instead learn their language, culture and customs before seeing how he might most effectively share the Gospel with them.  That’s the idea in targeting our communications strategy.  It’s about removing barriers that prevent clear communication to allow the message to be heard

The danger of over-segmenting our communication by demographic is that we can over customize the message in a way that, in the end, destroys the message itself.  As an example, consider Becky, the target demographic for many Christian radio stations.  She’s a 38-year-old mom with the minivan and places to go.  She wants music that’s safe for her kids with a positive message, and our Christian radio stations step in to that space for her. 

Unfortunately, the efforts to create a safe space for Becky have led to an artistic marketplace where negativity, pain and challenge aren’t permitted to have a voice.  But each of those things has a place, welcome or unwelcome, in the life of the church.  When we have customized our communication to the degree that we’re altering the message to please our audience, we’ve ceased to be anything transformative, and wander dangerously close to ceasing to be the Church.  We must proclaim the Law in all of its stricture and terror right alongside the Gospel in all its sweetness and grace.

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