content strategy

Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged. 

Know Your Audience: A 6-Step Plan to Creating Personas

Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by  ephidryn .

Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by ephidryn.

A successful message isn’t about the message’s creator. It’s about the person who is reading, watching, or hearing it. 

What does she value? What is she hoping to achieve? What motivates her? What will turn her off? What will spark her to take action?

These are crucial questions — and they are important whether you’re composing an email, shooting a video, putting together an annual report, or creating something else.

Yet in a world where many of us are busy trying to keep up with our crowded editorial calendars, it’s often difficult to take a step back and think about the individuals who are on the receiving end of our messages. As a result, chances are pretty good you’re missing the mark with at least some of your target audiences.

Now imagine if your communications team truly understood the intended audience for every one of its messages.

Your open rates would be higher. Your social media content would get shared more regularly. Your revenues and brand awareness would soar.

There’s one especially effective tool for helping you achieve this state of communications nirvana: personas

Personas are composite profiles of your key audience segments that help your team identify, understand, and talk to these key audiences.

When created and deployed properly, audience personas can help time-strapped communicators understand and connect with their key audiences. Personas help put a face on the people you’re trying to get to take action — and they offer true insights into what your target audiences care about most.

Scott and I have come up with what we have found to be a great system for creating personas through working with groups like the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and Wolters Kluwer.

Here are 6 lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Identify your goals

Before you define and learn about your key audiences, it helps to understand your priorities. Are you looking to advocate for an outcome, raise more money, launch a new product or service? By articulating two to three key organizational goals, you can begin to identify your highest-value audiences and work backward from there. 

2. Map your audiences to your goals

Once you define your priorities, identify which audiences you most need to reach in order to achieve these priorities. Perhaps you need to find more people who are similar to your existing donor or customer base—or you need to target an entirely new audience to achieve your goals.

3. Gather the relevant data

The most useful personas blend art and science. The science, in this case, is data. Review your organization’s CRM, web analytics, donor surveys, and any other key data about your current audience to begin to better understand who they are and what they care about. When possible, supplement these data with information from external sources to paint a more vivid picture.

4. Put a face to the numbers

Data is crucial, but so are insights from real people. We recommend interviewing people who are in your target audiences to gain insights that go beyond the numbers — and to reach outside of your organization to talk to folks who aren’t familiar with you. These interviews will help you learn more about what they value, what they think about your organization, and what it will take to gain the attention of others like them.

5. Make them engaging and accessible

Personas are designed to be easy to understand, so try to avoid word-heavy narratives. Use photos, quotes, and breakouts to give them color and help your team feel connected to them. And present them in accessible formats, such as posters that can be tacked up in office cubicles or flip books. Here’s an example of a package of personas we helped create for Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

6. Embed them in your culture

Train everyone in your organization on how to use the personas in their marketing and communications efforts. Find ways to incorporate your personas into your planning process for events, new campaigns, and other activities that involve interacting with your key audiences.

The Takeaway?

Creating personas takes some work, but when done well, that investment is more than paid for by the added clients, donors, customers, and champions who come your way when you know how to speak their language.

Want to learn more about how personas can help your team? Drop me a line (peter@turn-two.co) and we can chat more.

How to Combat the Content Crooks

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Adrian Scottow

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Adrian Scottow

Poet T. S. Eliot once famously quipped “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” 

T.S. would likely have a different take in today’s cyber age where there’s plenty of borrowing and stealing going on – but not by those looking to master a literary technique.

No, in the virtual cut-and-paste Internet era, content gets lifted at an alarming rate.

We’ve had clients and fellow writers voice concern that competitors are looting their content, changing a sentence here or there, and then passing it off as their own.

Yes, it happens.

No, there isn’t much you can do about it when it does. 

Yet there is solution: Create more content that is all but impossible to steal.   

Specifically, focus on your organization’s unique purpose and craft customized content that tells your story and highlights your strengths in ways only you can. 

For businesses, customer success stories and case studies do the trick. For nonprofits, it’s featuring a dedicated donor or someone whose life was bettered by your services. For any organization, it can be thought leadership content or op-eds that convey personalized insights or anecdotes.

Not only is this content well insulated from theft, it’s also much better than the generic copy that anyone can pump out and does little more than add to the clutter of the Web. 

Success stories from your customers or clients bolster your credibility by doing much of the heavy lifting to highlight your strengths. Meanwhile, thought leadership pieces helps your key leaders develop their own unique voices and share experiences and insights to connect more meaningfully with readers and set your organization apart. 

Creating steal-proof content doesn’t have to be a lot more work either once you get in the habit of branding your content as your own.

For even routine how-to or educational content, you can find ways to pepper in customer or client examples, or have the content bylined by a leader or subject-matter expert who can share personal lessons learned. 

Another T.S. Eliot quote that does stands the test of time is this: “Business today consists in persuading crowds.”

Whatever your business, a key way to persuade your crowd – while thwarting the thieves – is to create content that is uniquely your own

Content Strategy: Keep Your Eye on the Hole

Flickr Creative Commons  photo by David Joyce

Flickr Creative Commons photo by David Joyce

Anyone who has ever played a round with me knows I'm a dismal golfer.

But there's one piece of golfing advice that has served me well: When you’re standing over a putt, your final sustained look should be at the hole. Not the ball.

This same advice also applies to content strategy.

In this case, the hole is your targeted audience. Those are the people you are trying to influence, engage, inform, and, ultimately, drive to donate, buy, advocate, or act.

Yet, a lot of content folks aren’t really taking a long, sustained look at those audiences – their attitudes, interests, motivators and preferences -- when crafting messaging and editorial calendars. 

Quite simply, too many people are keeping their eyes the ball. But they should be focused on the hole.

The reasons for this are many and largely understandable. Too little time. Preconceived, and likely misguided notions of exactly who your audience is. The quickening pace of change which means what connected with your audience two years ago completely misses the hole today. 

Really knowing your audience well takes some work. But it's far from impossible.

If you take the time to follow these three simple steps, you start sinking more putts with your content:

1. Work your beat

Back in my days as a newspaper reporter, I would spent the first two hours of each workday checking in with sources. I’d go from office to office in city hall, chatting up everyone from the administrative assistants to department heads. It was through that effort that I got a much better sense of what was going on. And it often was quite different from the stories chronicled by the city’s press releases.

Approach your job like a beat reporter, talking with as many people in the organization, particularly those the front lines working directly with customers or donors you are trying to reach. 

2. Rely on analytics

There is just too much good technology out there to rely solely on your gut when it comes to content. Your gut still matters, so trust it. But verify.  Get to know your analytics team or tap an outside source for expertise.

Data can reveal a lot of nuance and details about the people you are trying to reach that can then inform your content strategy.

And on the back end, good data and metrics can give you a steady feed of what’s working and what’s not so you can course correct accordingly.

3. Create and update personas

Personas provide a readily accessible and detailed profile of the people you are most trying to reach. As a composite of your most important audiences, personas can keep your content on track and help others in your organization focus their efforts as well.  Further, the process of building those personas reveal tons of great insights that help the content team get a much clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities that others in the organizations face, and how great content can address them.  

If you're new to the world of personas, check out some sample personas we’ve worked on. You can find them in the online appendix to Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits.