One of the things that I really used to admire about my former boss’ boss, was his ability to see things from the audience perspective. It wasn’t about whether he liked or understood the product but whether it would resonate with the audience. And he trusted the teams he had to know the product and to know the audience. It worked. It kept the brand in the top 4 of global brands.

Now that I’m in the business of delivering creative solutions to clients trying to reach their audiences, it shocks me how few businesses think about their audience but think about themselves. I’ve met clients who market their products, that are targeted to people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, with billboards in Kabulonga. Or other businesses that base creative designed on their own personal preferences. It becomes less about the brand and the product and more about them, and perhaps how they look to their peers.

In all my experience – and that of all the industry leaders who I’ve read about – the beginning of success is with knowing your audience. From a deep understanding of your audience can you know what they need and what they want, and then deliver it successfully to them. Perhaps if you yourself are your target audience, then maybe your personal wants and insights are indeed useful, but if you’re not, then it’s really not about you.

It is definitely a hard thing to do – to put the needs of others above your own – but that’s why having a marketing team or agency that understands your brand and your audience is paramount.

Another example I often face is when we’re editing a video for a client. Despite them filling in the creative brief and outlining the objectives of the video, the audience it’s supposed to reach etc, when it comes to the first offline, and the first chance they get to edit it, it’s like they forget their brief and their audience! Sometimes this can be seen when the team reviewing the materials have very different opinions on the direction of the creative or the edit changes. That’s when you should know that somewhere along the line, someone is not in tune with the audience or the objective of the creative.

I find whenever I’m coming up with a concept, and following it through, I have to pause several times to ask myself if this is right for the audience. Having a litmus person or group also helps, I can check in with them if we’re going in the right direction.

Of course the problem with the focus groups, or litmus person is that you have to make sure they don’t feel the need to tell you what they think you want to here. In this regard, this is probably why Media 365’s immersion process is so useful. It’s partly based on observational research. Rather than asking people specific questions, watching their behavior, how they interact with things and their products.

Even sometimes that’s why listening can be more useful than talking. I remember once, during all the election campaigning and the candidates kept talking about their agriculture promise being about paying the farmers on time, my aunt from the village in Lundazi scoffed and said while that was important, even just having a place to store their grains was important. Turned out that they lost a lot of their harvest because the nearest distribution point was too far for them to get to.

It was another aha moment for me. While the papers were reporting about the farmers complaining about late payments, no one was talking about any other problems the farmers were facing, so it became an easy campaign promise to jack, without talking to any farmers. I’m not saying the presidential candidates didn’t do their research but perhaps they chose the ones that made more sense in the media, than to the voting farmers.

It reminds me of another story about a man who tried to sell me a bicycle (don’t ask), the thing was he sold me on the benefits, but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t buy the bicycle. That’s because he never even asked me if I knew how to ride a bike – which I don’t (don’t judge me).

I fight a lot with my clients – I do because I’m passionate about my work and delivering a good product – on seeing things from their audience’s point of view (I’d also like to win some awards in the process, but that’s another story!). Sometimes the client will listen when I point to the data, but sometimes they’ll ignore it in favor of pleasing their MD – this is probably also because they have yet to convince their MD that when marketing works, it does translate into sales and therefore your profitability.

When your business is up and coming, it’s probably even more important to understand your audience as you develop products and services for them. But as you grow, it’s equally important not to lose sight of who they are. Not knowing your audience and how to reach them will ultimately cost you financially and give your competitor an advantage over you.

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