Know Your Audience

Nine ways to reach the people you want to reach

I’m embarrassed to admit how often I forget one of the most basic communication principles: Know your audience. It’s easy to take this principle for granted, especially if you communicate to your audience regularly. Here are nine things I’ve learned that may serve as reminders to you.

1. Create people-cards. Ad agencies do this all the time. Profile your audience with by using real data and research, and then create posters or cards for a few of the people who represent the overall audience you’ve profiled. Hang these in front of your writers, designers, creators and others who work on your products so that they always have those people in mind when they communicate.

2. Conduct surveys and polls. This is as easy as using Web sites such as SurveyMonkey.com, PollMonkey.com or MyChurchSurvey.com. These sites make it possible for you to get feedback from different groups of people. The more you know about who you are communicating with, the better you get at communicating.

3. Communicate so the audience will understand. Often when I speak at events, I tell the story of Robert E. Lee, the famous Civil War general. He never sent a communiqué to his generals before first asking a private to read it. The private had to read the letter and then restate in his own words what the call to action was. If the private didn’t get it right, Lee would rewrite it until the communication was perfectly clear.

4. Immerse yourself in your audience. Watch the shows they watch. Play the games they play. Eat what they eat. Read what they read. The more you understand their lives, the better you will know how to connect with their realities. This is not about compromising your character or unique personality but about understanding theirs.

5. Anticipate their future. Don’t get caught up just in what they’re doing now; anticipate where they will be in a few weeks, months and years. When you know where they’re going, you can arrive early and be waiting.

6. Translate accurately. Pay attention to how your message is being translated into other languages. Even popular ad slogans have been translated inappropriately. The famous “Got milk?” phrase was translated in some Latino markets as “Are you lactating?” Perdue Farms ran a campaign years ago that claimed, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.” When translated it became, “It takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.” If Coca-Cola can figure out how to communicate to the other side of the world, certainly your church can communicate to the people across the street.

7. Be one of them. Shadow a few people from your profiles (see No. 1). Follow them for a day from morning to night.

8. Observe their behavior. This is the opposite of immersing yourself in what they do. Instead of doing what they do, observe how they interact with what they do. See what makes them cry, what makes them laugh. What scares them? What moves them to action?

9. Direct your communication to the people in the middle. Don’t always aim your communication at the masses by trying to capture or engage everyone. Go for the people in the middle, the largest representation, and target them. When you try to reach everyone, you reach no one. When you try for someone, you can reach many.


Brad Abare is the director of communications for the Foursquare denomination and founder of the Center for Church Communication (cfcclabs.org).

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