Know Your Audience – Tips for Tailored Communications The pitch might be perfect for one audience but decidedly imperfect for another.
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Many of us have spent countless hours crafting our communications. Our time is intended to create the perfect pitch to investors, customers, or vendors. Yet the same pitch doesn't work for all stakeholders — the pitch might be perfect for one audience but decidedly imperfect for another.
My tips for tailoring communications to each stakeholder group come from my experience serving divergent stakeholder groups. What I've learned is that you might deliver the same content to different audiences, but you must tailor that message for each audience's unique interests, perspectives, and backgrounds. Unfortunately, this is not how many businesses craft their messaging. A study in Accounting and Business Research found that businesses tend to tailor a single message and then communicate it across different financial stakeholder groups. This approach contributes to ineffective corporate communications. What the research shows is that, simply stated, messages designed without knowing your audience fall on deaf ears.
Three essential tips can guide how you tailor your communications for different audiences. Each of these steps relies on the foundation of fact-finding. Conducting intensive due diligence about your different audiences will allow you to know them, appeal to them, and persuade them.
Know your audiences — and your assumptions about them
This sounds simple, but in fact your audience's interests, traits, and inclinations might be more elusive than you realize. Knowing your audience begins with identifying all of the assumptions that you hold about your audience. I remember one of my first pitches to an investor that was based on an assumption about how his background might influence his perspective. Fortunately, I second-guessed myself and decided to inquire a little deeper into his experience. One of his former business partners told me that my assumption was generally correct, with a major caveat. I revised my pitch accordingly, and that potential investor became an important partner of my own.
Anticipate the reception
You might have the same message about your firm to pitch to your investors and other stakeholders, but their unique perspective means that their reception will vary. Anticipating the unique reception to your pitch among each of your different stakeholders will allow you to tailor your counter-response. I learned this the hard way. After the fourth or fifth pitch meeting, I realized that everyone I spoke to had a different set of questions for me. At first, I thought the variation was simply the result of confounding variables. Upon later analysis, I realized that I could have predicted those questions based on each investor's unique traits. Anticipating the reception means that you have adopted the mindset of each audience based on its unique position.
Have a conversation
Most importantly, your pitch to every stakeholder must be conversational, not unidirectional. Many of the problems listed above can actually be resolved through a conversational approach. The conversation can allow you to learn more about your audience than what you previously thought you knew. The conversation can allow you to identify their like reception to your pitch. Knowing your audience means respecting your audience, and nothing says that more than communicating with them as individuals rather than targets.
In fact, I learned this fundamental lesson from one of my first audiences — a customer. I came to my first meeting armed with an elaborate sales pitch to land the big fish. I was young, confident, and enthusiastic about how my services could meet her needs. As soon as I started, she smiled, chuckled, and said the words I'll never forget: "Slow down. Why don't we take a few minutes to get to know each other?"
Blushing, I realized I had framed my customer entirely as an opportunity, not a person. We actually spent most of the time I had booked with her talking about everything but what I intended to pitch. At the end of our conversation, she looked at me and smiled. "Great! Now that we know each other, perhaps we can do business together. Show me what you got." I realized the importance of the conversation was more about me learning about her. She also learned a lot about me — as a person and as a vendor.
The unifying principle
Learning about your audience is the common thread that runs through each of these steps. You can only tailor your message uniquely for your audience when you know your assumptions about them, anticipate how they will react to your message, and learn from them through authentic and transparent conversation. Crafting a generalized message that is intended to appeal to multiple audiences will likely appeal to none of them. Show your audience the respect they deserve by crafting a uniquely tailored message for them guided by these concepts.
A tailored message fits like a finely tailored suit. Your audience is more likely to respond when they see how your attention to their particular details informed your message.