Paul Hart Written by

Understanding audiences, it’s more than skin deep

Posted on 5th March, 2014 in

In this digital age where significant investment is being made by marketing teams into web and social media activity, how do agencies and clients ensure they really understand the audiences that they want to connect with?

Over the last year, we at Cargo have seen a significant increase in the level digital project enquiries from both existing and potential clients. In a lot of cases the focus has shifted from ‘tell the world what we do’ to ‘let the customer find what’s relevant for them’. This approach is not just limited to a particular sector such as professional services, but is now almost widespread across all types of sectors and themes from engineering to local authorities. This change in emphasis requires agencies to really understand a client’s audience base and the users of digital tools such as a website.

Not so long ago, this level of understanding would be covered in one or two initial meetings with the client where essentially the focus would be on their individual / collective perspective. However, getting beneath a ‘skin deep’ understanding of audiences requires a more thorough and inclusive process. There have been a number of projects this year that highlight the importance of deeper research to remove the preconceptions and assumptions that all agencies and clients make about their audiences. The first aspect to address is that audiences can sometimes be incredibly complex and occasionally completely contradictory to one another.

Take one of our recent website projects for the charity ‘Changing Lives’ as an example. Their typical audience base comprises of ex-offenders, funders, stakeholders, bank managers and some of societies most vulnerable and ostracised people. Getting a feel for these groups could have been done through a series of informal interviews, but we took the decision early on to get all these different people into one room to really get to grips with each audience requirements for the new site. To ensure that we got the most from each session, we devised a number of customised exercises that we felt would really open up debate and stimulate discussion. The resulting workshop was not only emotional, it was a totally enlightening experience for everyone in the room. It enabled everyone to get a detailed 360 degree understanding of each other’s requirements and to really drill down and address specific types of content that was either relevant or irrelevant. We then funnelled this information into a series of user journey profiles that formed the foundations for the new site.

So what difference did the workshop make to the end result? Well, we were able to walk in the shoes of each audience, understand their issues, emotional state and also what mattered most to them. It almost felt like a form of method acting! The biggest impact though has probably been in the way that the new site connects with so many diverse people, where the old site didn’t. You can see the results for yourself here.

Is a workshop right for every client? It was certainly right for Changing Lives and we’ve since gone on to run similar types of workshops with other clients. I guess ultimately though it all depends on budget and a client’s desire to understand in more detail the people they want to talk to.

There have been a number of projects this year that highlight the importance of deeper research to remove the preconceptions and assumptions that all agencies and clients make about their audiences.

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