It’s always easy to assume that just because you like something and you would feel inspired to take action, others would feel the same. Here’s a hint: People vary.

It took me a while to understand that my main target audience at my first big job were middle-aged, self-important workaholic men, and they loved different things than I did. Instead of in-jokes for the initiated that work so well in young-ish volunteer groups, they needed flattery and gloss and perfect simple solutions for their problems. My own experience was a bad guide for good communications in this environment.

Who is that person you are talking to?

When creating a communications intervention, it pays off trying to understand who you are actually speaking to and how these people differ from yourself. What do they know? What do they need?

If you have difficulties making out target groups, it can sometimes help to take just one person known to you as an example. If your mom would visit your organization’s website, what would she be looking for? How about that politician you are trying to influence? Your supporters, your allies? Someone looking for a job with your organization?

Scaling up

If you are trying to shift attitudes and behaviours on a grander scale, models that segment audiences according to their values and needs come in handy and can be more useful than those that only look at demographics.

My favourite model segments according to three main motivations:

  • Settlers, who look for basic material needs, safety and belonging (20% of British population)
  • Prospectors, who look for outer recognition, status and success (40% of British population)
  • Pioneers, who look for inner values, aesthetics and self actualization (40% of British population)

Read more about the Values Modes (and view a more detailed classification)

A key lesson for us environmentalists: If we want to inspire people beyond our own niche, we have to communicate on values and motivations that might not necessarily be our own.

People vary. What does that mean for your communications?

Edit: Would you rather watch a video? Caroline Fiennes of the Global Cool Foundation explains similar ideas at TEDxWarwick.

You are not your target audience
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