Define who: 5 ways to know your audience

Aimee Rivers Feb 1, 2022 1:59:43 PM

For me, the best part of telling a story is the audience. I get a thrill out of watching their eyes widen, hearing their breath quicken, and making them laugh.

Even if I’m not in the same room, I make it my business to understand what they value and what motivates them. The audience, after all, is where the transformation happens – the knowledge gained, the new perspective acquired, the connection made.

Defining your audience is arguably the most important step in business storytelling. Professionals, however, tend to skip over it, focusing instead on what they want to say and what they want to achieve. And in making it about themselves, they end up losing their audience completely.

The process of defining your audience is not about placating. Rather, it is about gathering insights that will allow you to create a story that achieves your objectives. The more information you can collect, the more you can craft and color your story to engage, ignite action, and create lasting impact. Here are 5 ways to define your audience:

1. Go beyond stereotypes

We are in the age of post-demographics. In the simplest terms, this means people are liberating themselves from the expectations set forth by traditional demographics and constructing their identities based on their personal tastes, interests, and attitudes. This demands that we look beyond stereotypes when we are determining how to effectively communicate with people. Tapping into the shared sensibilities and passions of your audience can help you achieve something truly profound – making them feel like they belong.

2. Use the basics to sense check

Whilst I encourage you to look beyond demographics, you should not discount them completely. General information such as age and gender, economic and education status, ethnic and cultural background, and political and religious beliefs can provide a foundation for your story and be used to identify possible sensitivities.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

What difficulties does your audience face? What obstacles stand in their way? What aggravates them? The answers to these questions can provide insights that will support you in establishing trust. Whilst you may not have the solution to their problems, your understanding and empathy for them may be all you need to connect.

4. Know what they know

Understanding the level of knowledge your audience possesses will help you in a key area of storytelling - determining what needs to be included and what can be left out. This may be challenging when the level of knowledge varies from person to person. In this circumstance, you will need to craft a story that keeps the pace for the know-it-all’s, while also providing succinct explanations for the knowledge-seekers.

5. Give them what they want

Your audience wants something – a useful solution, a new perspective, a feeling of connection. Discover what this is and use it to anchor your story. Only in keeping the focus on your audience’s wants and needs can you achieve your own goals in creating connection, inspiring action, and leading change. Now that you know who you’re talking to, it’s time to find a story worth telling.

Aimee Rivers is the founder of Plumage, a communications consultancy that helps creative companies tell their stories in an authentic way that thrills their clients and supports their business goals. Originally from Los Angeles, she is now based in the UK.