Know Your Audience (Pt 1)

How to strategize your stories across audiences.

By Sruthi Sadhujan, Senior Strategy Director at Hyperakt

Many nonprofits are driven by a valiant impulse to tell stories, as often as possible, to as many people as possible. But a story on its own can only go so far. Like an arrow without a clear target, a story without a clear audience is in danger of missing its mark.

In just the past decade, as design and business have become increasingly intimate bedfellows, the gospel of “knowing your audience” has seeped into the mainstream. Innovative companies like Airbnb and Capital One have proven that knowing your audience, inhabiting the spirit of the people on the other end of your work, is a strategic asset and continue to raise the bar for deploying smart design and communications.

Knowing your audience doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be time consuming. And it is no longer just reserved for tech companies, designers, or ad agencies.

First things first: clarify and prioritize your audiences.

Before you start getting to know your audience, you have to identify who they are. Who are you talking to? Who are you trying to inspire into action? This is one of the first questions we at Hyperakt ask our nonprofit clients and the initial answers we get tend to be generic and one-dimensional.

“The general public!”

“We want to reach all people who care about [insert relevant issue here].”

“Our donors.”

When thinking about your audiences, remember two things: be specific and cast a wide net. Instead of aiming for a broad segment like “donors”, dig deeper. By donors, do you mean one-time donors who give specific amounts in response to a particular campaign? Do you mean recurring donors who pledge $100 annually? Or do you mean high-net-worth individuals who give upwards of $100,000?

Generate a long, unfiltered list — one that is a broad sampling of your audience ecosystem, but that is also specific in its labels — and plot the audiences on a two-dimensional matrix like the one below, which takes into account both influence and interest.

Influence is the power a stakeholder has to facilitate or impede the objectives of your project. Interest represents a stakeholder’s likelihood to care about or be invested in the issue.

The more audiences you plot, the more you will start to understand the ecosystem — who the players are, where they stand, and whether or not they can help meet your goals. It may turn out that some audiences you were previously focused on don’t wield the necessary influence or demonstrate the right interest. This matrix is meant to bring clarity to your decision-making — who should you target and why?

By the end of this exercise, you should have a cluster of audience groups in the upper-right hand quadrant, appropriately primed and positioned to help achieve your organization’s objectives. Hint: if you don’t have anything in this quadrant, start over!

So next time you’re planning a campaign, embarking on a website redesign, or even writing a blog post, try out the “influence vs. impact” matrix to get crystal clear on who exactly you’re speaking to and why.

In Part 2 of our "Know Your Audience" series, you’ll learn the first of two hacks for getting to know your audience.

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