Sitting down to draft my first blog post got me thinking…what’s the single most important thing I can share? If I’d only one piece of advice to improve your communications, what would it be?

…in a nutshell, it’s putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience(s).  It permeates all phases of developing effective communications. It underpins the most successful campaigns and is often missing from those that fail.

Sounds straightforward, and the concept is.

The complexity is in the application and in the (sometimes seemingly irrational) behaviour of us humans.

Asking questions like ‘where do potential customers spend their time?’, ‘what motivates them to purchase products like yours?’ and ‘what are they seeing/hearing?’ is really important.  Testing assumptions is even more important. Being flexible enough to listen and adapt is the pinnacle of effective communications.

Where do potential customers spend their time?

From physical spaces to virtual ones, understanding where your audience is, tells you where you can reach and engage with them. It indicates which marketing and PR tools are most likely to be effective. For example, does your audience spend a lot of time on Facebook or are they more often on Twitter?  What newspapers and magazine do they read and could you offer the editor an exclusive story?  Does a significant proportion of your target audience attend an event that you could sponsor?

What motivates your target audience to purchase products like yours?

Understanding your audience’s motivations will help determine your strategy and messaging.

People purchase products for all sorts of reasons and there are many models, theories and approaches to help marketers think about this question. Sometimes the triggers are conscious, sometimes they are not.  Think emotional as much as practical.  Our emotions are much more powerful than we sometimes like to admit and the majority of the best marketing and PR campaigns use them to persuade us to engage with brands and purchase products.

What is your target audience seeing/hearing?

Being able to grab your audience’s attention and differentiate your product from others requires looking at the world they live in, from their point of view.  Spend time in the places where you’re looking to engage with your audience. Note what is stimulating conversation and what’s not.

Consider what your competitors are doing, when and where?  What can you do or say that looks and feels different?

Sometimes there’s more than one audience

For example an article for a magazine, newspaper or website must meet the needs of the editor, the reader and you, the organisation developed the piece.

As well as getting your message across in a piece readers can’t help but take notice of, you want the editor to open the piece, smile and forward it straight to the sub-editor with no changes. Use a similar voice to others creating content for the outlet, take note of the tone, the length of sentences and paragraphs and use of language. Make the editor’s life as easy and straightforward as possible.

Think about the needs, wants and motivations of any gatekeepers that will approve your content.  Ensure you put yourself in their shoes as much as your target audience.

Check your assumptions

Online content in particular can yield copious amounts of data.

Proactively test your assumptions. Not all organisations have the budget to conduct major market research, but the data you can gather from online activities can be a cost-effective way of checking your target audience’s response to your communications. A/B testing with Facebook adverts are a great example.

The key is to look regularly, listen to what the data is telling you and be flexible. If something is engaging your audience well, do more of it! Try and work out why. Compare it against activities that aren’t so effective and get to know your audience better.