4 Risks of Assuming You Know Your Target Audiences

Your idea of who your target audience might not match the reality of who they actually are.

As you busily carry out your day-to-day and annual business activities you might not realize that your organization has unwittingly fallen into a trap. You may be making assumptions about the audiences that are most important to your success. I urge you not to make the mistake of assuming you know your target audiences, particularly as it exposes your company to 4 important risks.

Our experience through conducting strategic planning with many types of groups is that the target audiences that emerge are often surprisingly different than those people perceived to be the audiences at the start. Not knowing who your audiences are, as well as not identifying their needs correctly, can be a big risk.

From our discovery sessions with clients – which is one of the first steps of our strategic planning process – we’ve identified four risks organizations face when you assume you know your target audiences:

1. Overlooking an important audience.

Audiences are not just those that will buy your product, enroll at your school, donate to your cause, etc. It’s important to identify any stakeholders that are important to meeting your business goals.

Often, people have their own top three audiences in mind. These audiences can vary from one department to another, or even within teams based on roles and responsibilities. Without dedicating the appropriate time toward identifying all possible audiences and discussing why they are – or are not – a priority audience, you could overlook a key audience that could have a big impact on your success. You might even discover the right audience may be a subset of a larger stakeholder group.

2. Not prioritizing which audience matters most.

Another common scenario that occurs when organizations are asked for a list of audiences is that the answer is “everyone.”

Every organization has multiple audiences – customers, employees, shareholders, business partners, community members, etc. However, they are not equally important all of the time. The risk here is that in trying to make your company or project be everything to everyone, you don’t actually bring a benefit or value to anyone.

We challenge organizations to prioritize their audiences based on the business goal they are trying to tackle. For example, a college trying to increase freshmen enrollment should focus first and foremost on reaching high school students. While other audience groups, like alumni or faculty, care about the school, they are not going to have as significant of an impact in attracting new students as directly reaching the prospective students themselves.

Prioritizing is often one of the harder steps of Standing Partnership’s strategic planning process. A good competitive analysis can help you better know your target audiences, as well as the audiences that are being addressed by your competitors. And, sometimes outside research is necessary to gain additional insight into different audiences.

3. Not having internal alignment.

Another risk to setting the right strategy and identifying the correct audiences is to include only one department in the identification process. Without input from various departments that have a connection to meeting the goal, launching the product or the achieving the success of the initiative, the individual departments may develop their own strategies –causing confusion, inefficiency, and, most likely, failure to meet the goal.

4. Right audience – wrong analysis.

Even if you know your target audiences, your organization can have misalignment on those audiences’ needs and how best to reach them. This can waste time and resources – and worst-case scenario, alienate an audience.

If you suspect your company is not united in focusing on the right target audiences here are some ways we can help. First, use our Risk Audit Checklist to help determine if audience assumptions are contributing to reputational risk.

Second, consider engaging us as strategic planning partners. Our process will challenge you to analyze each target audience to better understand what drives them and how you can fulfill their needs. Through valuable team discussion you will identify key differences between audiences and identify ways of approaching them.

At the end of the day, knowing the audiences that can have the most impact on your success is a foundational step to any good strategy.  And, it is important way of preserving and enhancing your organization’s reputation.

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