The paradox of knowing your audience

I was quite fascinated watching ‘Stan Lee’ the documentary on OTT. For those who are not aware, Stan Lee is most popularly known for his superhero creation of the Spider Man. In the documentary, Stan Lee reminisces about how he came to invent Spider Man. At one stage of his writing career, he felt the need to write what he enjoyed writing most about. He became his own audience. According to Lee, ‘great creators tend to also be great consumers – great filmmakers love watching movies, great writers love reading, great musicians love listening to music, great chef love eating food…’

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie novels, you would have probably realised by now that she loved to ‘play the audience’ (pun intended). She became one when she imagined her stories, the characters and the scenes. Her ending scenes wherein the sleight hand of the murderer would be revealed were also written with the audience’s emotion in mind.

For both, Stan Lee and Agatha Christie, the audience was a large pool of people, across the globe and cutting across different age groups. They did not have a specific, narrow pool of audience. Their popularity spanned generations. And continue to do so.

Yet, because, they became the audience for their own writing, they were able to understand the pulse of their reader. This made them very successful.

The paradox

In the universe of corporate communications, one mantra that is often repeated is that of ‘knowing your audience’. Or having a well-defined stakeholder map. This helps the communications team to customise information and make it more relevant and precise for their audience. How one designs the messaging, the story telling, the tonality used, and the shape of the narrative – is all defined by knowing the audience. Communicators often swear by this method. It works too.

I hope you see the paradox that exists. We have great writers who planted themselves as the audience and got into their head, which helped them churn out hits after hits. On the other hand, we have the communicators who do elaborate and precise stakeholder mapping to understand their audience and then accordingly shape the tone and voice of their message. It also assists the communicators and PR consultancies to determine the most effective medium/channel to use and engage their audience through.

Can corporate communicators widen their lens and thereon, their stakeholder to take on the general audience? For instance, instead of keeping journalists central to their messaging, can companies focus on the end reader? This goes beyond the identified beneficiary and consumer. This is the whole universe! How does one customise a message for the whole world? It is by being the audience yourself!

Hold that press release, take a step back and detach yourself from your role of consultancy or communicator. Read the press release from the eyes of a common man. Or ask, someone not associated with your profession/company to read and take honest feedback. You may be surprised at the outcome!

Be your own audience

Quentin Tarantino, the famous American film director and producer once replied when asked if he made movies with an audience in mind – “People ask me, ‘Do you make movies with an audience in mind?’ And my answer is Yes I do. Me. I’m the audience. I’m the guy that goes to a theater and pays to see a movie on opening day. I’m the audience. And I know what I like to see. And I was betting that there were other people like me out there.”

As you write your next message, what are you betting on?

The time has come to break the audience fixation messaging. This is the time to innovate and be creative in communications.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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