Who do you think you are talking to?
Have you ever been served an advert so horribly unsuited to you that you feel intense revulsion, or perhaps an urge to laugh, or even to screenshot the content and shame the brand on Twitter? This could be a rogue algorithm. Possibly you are a freak of demography or live in an atypical area. Or maybe the company (or their comms agency...) just got it really wrong. There are a few ways this can happen: they didn't test the product and it just isn't very good; the ad is terrible; or they are talking to the wrong audience.
These same flaws are possible in any piece of communication. Sometimes the message you are selling stinks; sometimes it's how you are selling it that stinks; and sometimes you are selling it to the wrong people.
For example, I've spent many an hour debating why Remain did not win the EU referendum and I would be rich indeed if I were financially compensated every time someone told me that the campaign needed a better answer on immigration. But the truth is there wasn't a better answer on immigration. The coalition of groups backing Remain were never going to shift away from a position that was fundamentally pro-immigration, and the country disagreed. No matter how many iterations of that message we tested, none of them shifted the dials in favour of the EU.
It is also possible for a terrible sales pitch to ruin your chances for success. The Coalition, for example, was keen to introduce shared parental leave 18 months earlier than it did. A disastrous trail of the policy by Liz Truss on Newsnight put paid to that idea and the whole programme was set back a year and a half.
But it is pretty much impossible to hone your message – or sales pitch – if you don’t already have a precise idea of who the audience is. This is one of my favourite parts of any campaign. It starts from your purpose: what are you trying to achieve? Then you apply your theory of change: how do you think you are going to do that? And now: which allies do you need to recruit to make the plan work?
Most organisations have multiple audiences: customers/donors/voters (possibly several different types), regulators, academics, NGOs, investors, journalists, policymakers... and that’s just a few external examples. What about your internal stakeholders who all want a piece of the pie?
So before you start drafting messages, or choosing messengers or planning your media buy – pause, collect together your team, and draw a map of your audiences. I promise you that this simple exercise will pay back the hours you invest in it many times over. You and your colleagues will have a better understanding of the pressures each team faces; your external and internal communications will be far better co-ordinated; you are less likely to forget someone important; and you will immediately see synergies and conflicts that were not apparent at the start. In short, this will save you stress and money. It will even look nice hanging on the wall and then you can use the wall art budget to buy plants instead. Or more ads.