Audience insight – where to get it and what to do with it

Last week I attended the Public Sector Communications Conference. It was a great day, with really interesting speakers and useful conversations with my fellow delegates to develop ideas further. It was the sort of day where you go home with a spring in your step and ideas buzzing round your head!

As you might expect, there were distinct themes that came through the whole day. The importance of audience insight – understanding what makes them tick, as Emma Leech, Director of Marketing and Advancement at Loughborough University, put it – was reinforced over and over again. Once you know what your audience cares about and what they are interested in, then you can evaluate what that means for what you are trying to achieve. If you want to bring about change, you need to use this insight to work out how you can move people’s thinking, attitudes and actions, based on their starting point. Theirs, not yours.

I always talk to my clients about the importance of identifying the audiences they want to communicate with and really getting under their skin.

“Effective communication really isn’t about you, it’s about them.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate about the things that are important to you, but you need to know about any gaps or potential gaps between you and your audience.

One of my most popular LinkedIn articles was about understanding your internal audiences and there is definitely a growing recognition of the value of insight. So where do you start if you want to find out more about your audience? What can you do to gather data that is meaningful and ripe for evaluation?

There are many different ways to find out about your audience’s attitudes and what they want from you. Here’s just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Market research reports. If your audience is external to your organisation – a particular social group, for example, or customers who are interested in a specific service – a simple Google search will bring up lots of market data that you can use to understand your target audiences better. Look for the data that illuminates their thinking and behaviour in relation to what you are trying to communicate and change.
  • Ask them what they think. This applies equally to internal and external audience groups. One to one conversations and focus groups are a great way to find out more. Asking open questions and really, genuinely listening to the answers helps you to collect really valuable insight that you can use to inform how you communicate. A great tip from Jessica Pearce, Head of Campaigns and Strategy at the Prime Minister’s Office, was to go to the pub – or other place where your audience hangs out socially. This is often where people say what they really think and it is a great place for you to listen to their mood, motivations and concerns.
  • Get on social media. Trending topics are a really good indicator of what is of interest right now. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss as ‘fluff’ a number of celebrity-related hashtags that are trending, it gives you an indication of what people are talking about and sharing with each other. You can consider how to make your content relevant and resonate. If you have the budget, you also have the option of sophisticated social listening that provides in-depth tracking and analysis of the topics you are interested in.

However you gather your audience insight, the key thing is to remember to work out what it means for your communications. And then to apply that learning to everything you do.

If you are looking for help in getting audience insight, please do get in touch – sometimes it can help to have an independent person to ask the questions and analyse the answers for you.

Until next time

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