I was working on a project for a client recently that was destined to fail. I was in a stakeholder meeting selling my PowerPoint like a mall perfume cart attendant with a quota. I glanced over at the head of the table, and all I saw was the scowl of a very unhappy customer. When I sat down with him to piece together the vision for the project, I was alarmed to find that this stakeholder couldn’t answer basic questions about what he actually wanted.

For example, I asked who the intended audience would be for the product. He said, “Everyone. Just make it interesting.”

Let me take a moment to break down what’s wrong with that response.

First, you can’t craft any product, whether it’s an article, a website, or even a smartphone, that appeals to everyone. A high school senior has very different needs and interests from a retired construction worker. The CEO of a company has very different needs and interests from a single mother of three.

Which brings me to my second point: interesting to whom?  My husband finds NCIS interesting, whereas I find Project Runway interesting (we both will happily cry our eyes out over Fullmetal Alchemist together, though, because that’s love). Without a clear audience, there is no way to define what is “interesting.”

One of the first steps in executing any project, writing or otherwise, is to define your audience. These are the people who will receive, share and enjoy your product or service. These are the people you want to target your marketing efforts toward. These are your customers.

When defining your audience, you want to use specific, but meaningful criteria. Most companies will have an idea of who their customer is based on their product, brand, and sales data. If you don’t know who your audience is, do some research. In particular, you’ll want to pay attention to these categories and define from there:

  • Demographics
    • Age or generation (ie: millennial, baby boomer, etc.)
    • Gender (including non-binary)
    • Location
    • Race/ethnicity
    • Language
    • Education
    • Income
    • Marital status/family composition
  • Psychographics
    • Beliefs
    • Values
    • Interests
    • Politics
    • Religion
    • Military status
    • Mental health
  • Issues and needs
    • What do they need?
    • What is missing from their lives?
    • What can you provide to fill that need?

Here’s a random hypothetical example. Company X is building a website dedicated to helping people find reputable nursing homes. Their target audience is likely going to be working adults with elderly parents. They may have children of their own or simply don’t have the space/time/knowledge to care for their parents themselves. This audience likely knows how to use the internet for research, but is overwhelmed by such a daunting and emotional task. Company X, understanding this, brands themselves as a compassionate, family-focused organization with specialized agents who assist customers with researching institutions.

Now, if Company X was not aware of their audience, they may make mistakes like use language that appeals to the wrong market or structure their website with a confusing layout. These oversights are both frustrating to the customer (who is already in a difficult position as they try to care for their family member), but also costly to the company as they lose business.

So if a stakeholder ever tries to tell you that they want their product to be “interesting” for “everyone,” sit them down and explain the importance of audience analysis. Then take steps to ensure you’re getting your product or service to the right people.

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