As a racial justice organizer or advocate, you probably want to raise awareness about your issue. The problem is that it takes much more than awareness to move people. Activation requires motivation. People must have the will to act.
It is not enough to simply educate your audience. Just because people are knowledgeable and care about your issue doesn’t mean they will act. In fact, more often than not, they won’t. They have to be motivated.
So how do you build the will of people to act? It starts with getting to know them. That means knowing whom you’re trying to reach, what’s important to them, and what inspires them to take action. You need to understand your target audience.
In this article, you’ll learn what a target audience is, why they’re important and how to get to know them better.
What is a target audience?
Your target audiences are the people most likely to help you achieve your vision for change. Once you know who your target audience is and what they care about, you can determine how you’re going to approach them, what you’re going to say, and who is best to say it. The more clearly you define your target audience, the more strategic you can be about moving them into action.
You can have more than one target audience, but you should develop a different strategy to reach each of them. How you engage each audience will be dramatically different based on a number of factors, such as what concerns they have, what they value, and where they get information about what’s going on in the community.
Why you should define your target audience
Data shows that one of the top reasons people take action is because the issue affects them personally. In other words, people act because it is in their self-interest to act.
Yet too often, organizers and activists speak from their own perspectives and fail to consider the environment, values, concerns and experiences of the people they want to engage. As a result, they fail to build the will of their audience to support their vision for change.
To move people to action, your messaging must generate desire and motivation in them. It must reinforce the idea that taking action will lead to something that is important to them, something that will personally benefit them. Tailoring your message to your audience means taking their perspective into account. It means speaking to them, not at them.
Taking the time to define your target audience will enable you to:
- Ensure you’re developing the right messages for the right people
- Understand how your content connects to your reader’s self-interests
- Increase the number of people who take action on behalf your campaigns
How to define your target audience
Identifying your target audience should be part of planning process where you first determine the goals and objectives of your campaign.
Remember, there is no such thing as “communications goals.” Your communications activities, just like your organizing and advocacy efforts, should focus on advancing your larger vision for change.
Once you’re clear on your goals and objectives, you’ll want to look your objectives one by one and think about who has the power to make each of them a reality. Ask yourself who has the power to give you what you want. That person is the decision maker.
In some cases, your target audience might be the same as your decision maker. For example, if your objective is to pass a ballot initiative, both the decision maker and the target audience would be voters, as they are the only ones who can decide to go to the polls and cast a ballot.
In other cases, you might target audiences that can help you influence the decision maker. For example, if your objective is to change a local policy, and the city council is the decision maker, you might select voters in a key council district who can help persuade their elected council member to vote yes on your initiative.
The key here is to focus on the audience(s) with the most access to and greatest influence over the decision maker who has the power to make your objective a reality.
Do not target the general public. When you try to target everyone, you fail to target anyone. Generic messages won’t resonate with everyone, and as a result, they move no one. When you narrow your audience, you instantly become more strategic.
Instead, segment your audiences until you can’t segment them anymore. Divide them into the narrowest categories possible and then develop a different strategy to reach each audience group and to move it up your ladder of engagement.
Remember, small numbers can make big things happen. Focus on reaching the right people for your strategy.
Getting to know your target audience
Now that you’ve determined who your target audience is, it’s time to learn everything you can about them so you can tailor your messages accordingly. The best way to do that is to create an audience persona.
Audience personas are archetypes of your target audiences that include basic details about them and what they care about. They provide valuable snapshots of your audience that you’ll be able to refer to over and over again.
You should start with a basic list of questions about your audience. For example:
- Describe your audience. What are their characteristics (e.g. age, race, hobbies, type of job, personality)?
- What does a typical day in their lives look like?
- What keeps them up at night?
- What values do they identify with? (Some examples of values include love, compassion, courage, resilience, justice, peace, honesty, fairness, dialogue, openness, and vision.)
- How are they currently involved in their community?
- How do they get their information? What style of communication do they prefer?
- What social media platform(s) are they most active on?
- Why do/should they care about your organization? What are their motivations?
- How can you appeal to their interests and concerns?
- What do you want from this audience? What is your desired action for them?
This exercise can be done internally if you and your team are already familiar enough with your target audience that you feel comfortable answering these questions on their behalf. Otherwise, it’s best to find a few (at least three) people who represent your audience and to conduct a short interview with them. You may also create a survey for them to fill out.
Once you have a firm grasp on who your audience is and what they care about, you’ll be better able to create messages and content that resonates with them.
Remember, people respond to messages that are personally relevant, make a personal connection, get them personally motivated or give a personal reward. So don’t be afraid to get personal. You’ll fare much better in the long run if you do.