Who is the Audience?

Posted on in BrandBlab

Consultants and clients talk a lot about target audiences despite the fact we are told today the best brand offers are created and developed by their consumers – who is targeting who?

Presumably there should be less targeting more listening, reacting and ideally anticipating. The challenge is who are we listening and relating to?

It used to be easy, you just had customers. Now you have to respond to ‘audiences’. Any company in the public arena has a potential mission impossible situation in terms of always
positively relating to all their audiences. By definition, brands are supposed to form positive ‘ relationships’ with those who ‘buy’ the product and service. Investors look to benefit from the organization they have bought shares in just as ‘traditional’ customers benefit from the company’s products and services they have purchased. Both want maximum value return on investment- shoppers want more for less, shareholders want maximum value return on investment. We are all driven by our personal needs and aspirations. Add to the mix a company’s staff- their ‘inner’ customers, and we have three potentially diametrically opposed motivations and interests.

Society then provides another level of diverse vested interests which must today be carefully treated and satisfied- observers and influencers, the media, communities of interest,
politicians, the competition, each with their own pressures and motives to complicate the mix.

Going back to basic ‘customers’, in a retailer’s case, the shoppers, we have to understand we are dealing with individual mindsets, not conveniently labelled and segmented customer groups. Our motives and moods change in seconds with the right trigger- we feel different depending on the time of day, who we are with, how we feel, the weather….

Generic phrases ‘for all the family’ may be a starting point but for shopping centers this can simply translate to anyone with appropriate funds at any time. The danger is appealing
to everyone and nobody in particular. Defining typical customer profiles, interests and activities can help identify appropriate initiatives, positioning and concepts but anticipating changes in attitude- what’s in and out is an art (and luck) as any fashion buyer knows.

I get really worried when some clients still feel a sufficient brief is simply a socio economic group and some age profiles. Baby boomers, generation x, now y, maybe starting points for describing some general attitudes and trends, but the danger is relying on easy convenient briefs which suit the marketer but can miss a key change or opportunity in aspirations. The 14 year old Japanese schoolgirl was, and maybe still is, seen as a reliable trend-leader to watch, but I would not bet on this.

Now branding has become an accepted discipline for promoting countries, regions and cities, the complexity of audiences becomes infinitely multiplied. Alignment becomes the buzz word but we have to be kidding ourselves to feel we can really effectively align even the key vested interests. Just a simple generic message line can be difficult – remember ‘Cool Britannia ‘ was a step too far for the conservative half of the British population. At best, there needs to be a reasonable coordination of aspirations from commercial business interests, institutions, the politicians and obviously the most challenging, the residents, visitors and workers that ultimately define the success or failure of such initiatives.

Sustainability issues now create an audience minefield. One person’s carbon miles environment impact is another’s concern for supporting developing cultures. Selling flowers from Africa can be argued about logically and emotionally and nobody is necessarily right or wrong, but the retailer then has to tread a difficult path to satisfy the myriad audiences watching their every move. Branding is about ‘walking the talk’ but the range of audiences begs the question how to keep everyone ‘on message’. Incentivising customers- both external and inner can require a gravity defying approach.

Branding use to be about simply ‘the packaging ‘of a company’s products and media, but maybe we are returning to an era, where we must think through a range of highly coordinated ‘packaging’ strategies to meet key audiences agendas. Nobody said it would be easy..

Clive Woodger