Job Number One In Storytelling & Messaging: Knowing Your Audience, Deeply

How much do you know about who you are trying to influence with your messages and storytelling? Do you know what they hear when you speak or write to them? Do you know when and why they vote you off the island or ask you to exit the dance floor?

You may believe you know them quite well. Sales force feedback, focus groups, surveys, and direct conversations give you good information. But, is it enough?

In today’s world, understanding who you are speaking to, including the things that have nothing to do with what you do or to what end you are trying to influence them, is not just important. It is expected.

For instance, do you believe the residents of Love Canal heard the news of the Japanese nuclear meltdown earlier this year the same way you did? I am sure you didn’t hear it the way I did, as I lived two hours from Love Canal when I was young. I heard about Love Canal incessantly until we moved to Virginia, where no one seemed to have heard of that terrible environmental tragedy. Of course, in the 1970s we did not live in a 24/7 news and information culture, so there were a great many people who did not hear much about Love Canal. But, our world is different now, where news of events spread as fast it happens.

You wouldn’t know how I would react to nuclear plant news unless you got to know my background and, on top of that, put “two and two” together about my childhood location and news of the day. This may not mean much if you are trying to sell me shoes. But, this information would mean a great deal if you were trying to get me to buy land, which just happens to be near a nuclear power plant.

Listening to who you are trying to influence is essential to communication success. The first steps are quite obvious:

  1. Put what you want to sell on the back burner for a minute and listen.
  2. Get honest about how much you know about their world.

But, a third step is less apparent: ask them about things that go beyond the immediate “sell.”

Tomorrow is part two of a four part series, which will address the 5 questions to ask your target audience.

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