Who Are You Talking To?

by Paul McDonnold

As the political debates have heated up, in my neck of the woods the calendar and the air temperature seem to be waging a debate of their own. The former says autumn has arrived, while the latter stubbornly argues that summer is still here. This weekend the temperature is supposed to finally give up the fight. In the meantime, I wanted to write a little something about the most fundamental question of business communication, and the one so many organizations fail to answer correctly:

Who is your audience?

Whenever you or your firm creates a communication piece, you need to think carefully about who you will be sending it to and why they would be interested and engaged by it. Far too often, organizations put together brochures, sales letters, case studies or other pieces without giving the audience any real consideration.

Why is this wrong?

Because, in the absence of a specific consideration of audience, the tendency of an organization is to speak to itself. Consider a financial firm creating a website for itself. The person writing it probably has much more contact with his or her boss and colleagues than with the firm’s customers and potential customers. The natural tendency for this person will be to write to that internal audience – something that will impress them and make the writer seem smart. The boss may reinforce this approach, in order to make his or her own department appear smart to those still further up the corporate chain of command.

This approach can, among other things, lead to overstuffed, hard-to-read communication pieces – loaded with big words, fancy jargon and long, convoluted sentences. What the firm may not realize is that the exterior audience has much less interest and time for reading the piece than do those who are creating and approving it. With an exterior audience, you have to hold their attention, and you won’t do it for long by talking about yourself. You have to speak with clarity about THEM. You have to show that you understand their wants, needs and problems, and that your firm can effectively address those.

The more bureaucratic and the less entrepreneurial an organization is, the greater the danger that their communications will devolve into a case of the firm, in effect, having a conversation with itself. To avoid this pitfall, simply plan and execute your communication pieces with an explicit consideration of audience. Sometimes an outsider’s perspective can help as well, and this is part of the value I try to offer my clients. If you’d like help on any projects, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and have a great fall!