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Hitting Your Target

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

The audience is king. Whether we like it or not, as environmental and sustainability communicators, we have a duty to serve the one true god – our target audience.

Whether we want to raise awareness about international trade in endangered species, or attract new members to our NGO; whether we want to engage people in a weekend permaculture blitz, or widen our Transition Towns network…one thing is certain:

“The most successful communication campaigns are the ones which tightly define their target audiences and develop messages appropriate to them.” (UNEP, 2005).

Whilst there is a strong argument to continue talking with the same people we’ve been talking with for the past ten years (otherwise known as “preaching to the converted”), the challenge for environmental communicators is to attract the countless people who are yet to “see the light” of sustainability.

“Target marketing is next to godliness” an enthusiastic lecturer once said. Despite the religious metaphor, the truism is this:  Different people see the world differently. They have different ideas and opinions about everything – from their preferred brand of milk, to their position on whether panda bears should toughen up.  That different people see the world differently sounds obvious – because it is. And yet, for some bizarre reason, environmental communicators often fail to differentiate their audiences and (consequently) their communication. The result is wishy-washy communication that fails to engage its target audience….principally because there is none.

Before you next produce a brochure or make a video or conduct a workshop or place an advertisement, pause for a moment and ask yourself: “Who do we really want to talk to? And why?” It’s not enough to say, “We want to talk with householders” (and therein assume that all residents are the same). Families, elderly residents, unemployed singles, students, professional couples – they may all be householders, but they see and experience the world uniquely. Find out what interests and motivates your audience. Identify the media they consume. Are they more inclined toward digital media or print newspapers? Do they listen to live radio or download podcasts on demand? Whether you conduct focus groups or surveys, make sure you source this info and develop a clear audience profile as a matter of priority.

Indeed, priorities are an interesting way to separate audiences. Research shows that “People are concerned about the environment, but find other issues more important.”(see Collins & Porras, 1995, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies).

To effectively reach your target audience, identify the other issues or aspirations that concern them – and then link your sustainability message to one or more of those priorities. Whether it’s physical health, financial or job security, home improvement or personal development – there are various priorities to which we need to relate our sustainability message if we’re to meaningfully connect with our target audience.

Know your audience and you’ll get ever closer to achieving your environmental sustainability goals. At the very least, you can improve the way you craft and deliver your messages to help different communities to receive, absorb and respond to your information and calls to action.

Praised be the mighty audience! May we always remember that it is people – wonderfully different people – who hold the power to change!

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