Why there is no such thing as the general public.
Okay, so it’s a long title…but don’t shoot the messenger!
This is not my own writing, but that of Elmore Leonard, author of ‘Get Shorty‘, the television series ‘Justified‘ and over 40 novels.
By most appraisals, Elmore has long dethroned Raymond Chandler as the greatest of American crime writers. Many critics argued that, if anything, the reference to genre slighted his contributions. Martin Amis described him as “a literary genius,” and “the nearest America has to a national writer.”
Elmore died over three years ago, on August 20, 2013, but it was his wish to be buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Michigan, a little over a mile from his house in Bloomfield Township. It took three years, but Greenwood finally opened up new plots, allowing Elmore to have his wish and be buried there.
Elmore’s ashes were interred at 10:30 AM this morning, in a brief ceremony lead in prayer by Monsignor John P. Zenz, Pastor of Holy Name Church in Birmingham. In attendance, under a red canopy, were several members of Elmore’s family.
Elmore grave marker gives his name and the years of his birth and death. At the bottom, is the inscription, “The Dickens of Detroit,” a phrase used to describe Elmore over the years that he actually found a bit puzzling. In a 1997 article in the San Jose Mercury News, he said about the tag: “That has more to do with alliteration than truth, … I wonder what they would have called me if I was from Buffalo?”
For those of you planning a visit, Elmore is buried in Section G, Lot R, Grave 2.
So lets get back to this post and its long title!
Why there is no such thing as the general public
Do you ever have conversations internally about who it is you’re trying to reach with key messaging, only for someone to say that your target audience is “the public?”
How do you respond to this?
There is no such thing as the general public. The information wants of young parents are different to those of retirees, just what a healthcare professional needs to know is different to that of the person they are caring for.
Effective communications means understanding who your niche audience is. Only then will you be able to speak with them in a way that is appropriate, relevant and useful.
Questions you might ask to allow you to define who that audience is include:
– What is it you want your audience to do?
– Are they young or old, male or female, rich or poor?
– Where do they live and what do they do for a living?
– How knowledgeable are they about your cause?
– Are they looking for power and status, excitement and adventure, or an opportunity to enhance their skills and expertise? Are they time poor?
It may seem easier not to bother establishing defined target audiences, but this is a false economy. It is impossible to speak to everyone equally and in the same manner. Failure to define target audiences will result in wasted time, energy and resources, and a diluting of messages that will ultimately not resonate with anyone.
For example, if you are only concerned with raising the profile of your charity among ministers or industry leaders then you needn’t bother targeting women’s lifestyle magazines. Equally, if you only operate within a particular region of the country then your priority is likely to be on building relationships with your local media rather than focusing on the national press.
Once you have defined your target audience, you then need to know as much about them as possible. What they think, what motivates them, which websites they visit, which newspapers they read and how active they are in social media, etc. At its most basic level, this means using common sense and some desk-based research. More thorough and therefore more accurate audience research would involve polls and surveys, focus groups and paid-for data from research companies such as YouGov, Ipsos Mori, Kantar and others.
We think a really good example of knowing your audience comes from Macmillan Cancer Research whose fundraising for World’s Biggest Coffee Morning went through the roof after it changed its communications to focus not on what women over 45 could do for it, but what the charity could do for them.
Or another example would be Cancer Research UK. When it wanted to target young people with messages about skin cancer, it did so via a beauty campaign rather than a health campaign. By teaming up with models and skin clinics “R UV Ugly?” highlighted how sun bathing can damage your skin and speed up the ageing process – the intention being to target younger people who were concerned with their appearance and unlikely to pay attention to messages purely focusing on the health impacts of sunbathing.
We’d love to know about more great examples of really excellent audience profiling and the impact it has had on your communications, as well as ideas for sharing information about the nuances of your audience with colleagues.
Clearly we all have our own views and personal beliefs about how best to go about promoting and marketing our books. But I cannot ignor this form of advice from a writer who has, to a certain degree, been successful (by anyones measure)
I hope you have a great day.