Instinctively, most of us adapt our behaviour according to those around us and the situation in which we find ourselves. Whether in a social or professional environment, we modulate our tone and pitch accordingly, choosing our words with care. Chameleon-like, some of us even adapt our accents to better belong, although we’d never admit to something so crass.
The writer and philosopher Edward de Bono once wrote: “Communication is always understood in the context and experience of the receiver, no matter what was intended.”
As such, understanding the audience is not just about knowing who you wish to listen to and engaging with what you have to say (and, perhaps, buying your products and services). It’s also about how that person’s propensity to listen and engage varies according to context.
Take online communication. Here behaviour and receptiveness varies according to device, location and time of day. A harassed commuter using a smartphone is unlikely to engage with complex messages, while a reader leaning back with a tablet on a Saturday morning is prepared to indulge in something more involved.
A Friday afternoon, meanwhile, may be a good time to catch someone in a good mood as they prepare for the weekend. But the problem may be catching them, as web traffic falls considerably as the working week comes to an end. Or, rather, some of that traffic moves to the pub, which may not be the best environment in which your message ought to be received.
On the flipside, Sunday evenings may be characterised by pre-working week blues so, ostensibly, not the best time to engage with an audience member. However, consider that Sunday evenings are also a time many of us ‘check in’ for the week ahead. Therefore, if your communications match that mindset – something useful, in other words – a Sunday evening missive might prove effective.
As we discussed in our earlier blog, it is impossible to write persuasively unless you understand whom you are writing for. Establishing and defining personas is a constructive way to build up a meaningful picture of that audience. Telephone and/or internet-based surveys are another way to understand who your audience members are and what motivates them.
There are other ways to gain valuable intelligence about your audience. Consider, for example, analysing the search terms people use to arrive at your website or the stories they most commonly click on when in receipt of weekly newsletters. All this helps flesh out the backstory.
But as we’ve set out here, understanding the ‘who’ is not the same as understanding the ‘how’ so to really get under the skin of your audience, don’t forget context.
By Jon Bernstein
Jon Bernstein is an associate of Slack Communications