Once you have your Message nailed down, you need to take a closer look at how you approach your Audience. It isn’t as simple as “if you build it, they will come” (Field of Dreams has a lot to answer for). In order to correctly approach your audience here are some tests that you can place upon your message to ensure that you are truly connecting with them. Truly.
Due to space limitations (more on the role of Media in a later post) I can only present things in bite-size chunks if I could hope for these posts to be read. At this point I’m working from the perspective that you have already honed your Message (your “Brand”), and have identified who your Audience is going to be (I’ll be returning to this latter subject in a future post, as it deserves specific attention).
For now, we’re going to stick with examining how you can persuade that audience. If you ever took a Speech class in college, then you’ve probably heard about the Aristotelean approach to understanding persuasion:
- Ethos: the credible appeal
- Pathos: The emotional appeal
- Logos: The logical appeal
The sad truth is, simply throwing these descriptions at you isn’t going to help. Trying to figure out what makes something credible, or something emotional, etc., only winds up making you feel like you’re trying to write a book report… again.
So, because I like you, I’m going to give you four questions that you can ask yourself that will help you analyze your audience to the point that you are on the same wavelength. This is a quick-and-dirty approach and should be seen as the Cliff’s Notes version of a full audience analysis, rather than what I used to make my students do.*
- How will my Message make sense to my Audience?
- Why will my Audience believe my Message?
- How will the Audience feel about my Message?
- What will my Message mean to my Audience?
Let’s examine each of these in turn, and let’s see if we can take your Message and apply it to your audience so that they correctly match up. As we work our way through the funnel at this stage of the game we should have a strong grasp of what our Message is supposed to be (and isn’t supposed to be). You’ve sculpted your statue and now it’s time to present it to the world.
Okay, moving right along…
How will my Message make sense to my Audience?
What we’re doing is taking Aristotle’s logos and changing it into the form of a question. We need to marry our Message to what the Audience understands.
There are a number of ways to do this. If you happen to have a Message that may be outside the scope of your Audience’s experience you will need to figure out a way to make it make sense. Personally, I try to take a parallel concept that my audience will understand and use the analogy to make complex concepts easier to grasp.
So, for instance, let us take other articles you may have seen on my site. Most of these aspects are technical in nature, and as a result they generally only appeal to technical audiences. But here’s the Catch-22: if you don’t already know the lingo, how will you ever get to learn the lingo?
Fortunately (for me, as I don’t have to create a new illustration on the spot), I’ve an excellent example to illustrate my point. If you look at the technical reasons behind a standards compromise for FCoE by Brocade and Cisco, most readers might gloss over the significance of why this is important. However, by using an analogy of a mother duck and her ducklings, a relatively complex subject not only describes the Message in plain English, but answers the “so what” question as well. To this end, analogies are a great tool for helping your Audience understand.
The overall point, though, is that you need to take a hard look at your Message and then ask yourself this very important question. The mechanics of answering it, such as an analogy, is only one approach; there are many others. It’s up to you to find the best one that bridges the gap between your Message and your Audience.
Why will my Audience believe my Message?
This could very well be written, “why will my audience believe me?” This is where your credibility – ethos – comes into play.
There are various ways of establishing credibility. You could be an expert (you may have certain credentials after your name), you could have statistics to back up your arguments, you could have testimonials. Some audiences find credibility in the logic of your argument. Whichever method you choose, you must keep in the forefront of your mind that if you don’t establish some credibility with your Audience, nothing you say will matter.
It’s important that you never underestimate the value that your Audience places on your credibility:
All persuasion is, to an extent, self-persuasion.
This means that if your Audience persuades itself that you are not a credible person, nothing else will get through. Ask yourself this question over and over, especially if you change your approach. it should always be the first and the last question you ask yourself about your approach.
How will my Audience feel about my Message?
Now, if you’re a logical or an analytical person, you may not really care about how your Audience feels (pathos). Truthfully, you may have an Audience that is analytical in nature you may believe that it’s something with which you don’t have to concern yourself.
You would be wrong.
While it may feel manipulative and insincere to attempt to solicit emotion from your Audience, there are more emotions than just “happy” or “sad”; there’s indifference, for instance, and that’s a deadly emotion for an audience to have in reaction to a message.
So, take into consideration what emotion they will have as a result of being exposed to your Message. Will they be angry – angry enough to respond to a call to arms? Will they be excited – excited enough to place an order? Will they be curious – curious enough to invite you in for an interview?
Try to examine what emotion is the most appropriate for your Message without being manipulative. Examine the audience in terms of their likely disposition and work with that disposition in your approach. Remember that if you can piggyback onto the emotion they already have then they are likely to persuade themselves before you ever get to the punchline.
What will my Message mean to my Audience?
This is arguably the most complex and difficult question for you to answer, and as a result it is also the most difficult to answer and the most difficult to accommodate.
In essence, you’re looking for the symbolic approach to your message: that is, what is the significance of your Message to your Audience. What does it mean?
Depending on what your Message is, it could be the consequences rather than the characteristics. For instance, if you’re selling High Performance Computing (HPC) InfiniBand equipment, it could mean running a gene sequencing project in two weeks instead of three. If you’re selling cars it could mean being the coolest kid on the block over having to suffer driving the mommobile. If you’re selling the iPad it means, well, it means that you don’t care what it’s called but that they just gotta have it. 🙂
Sometimes it means solving a problem. In the previous article on focusing on the Message, we used the example of the job seeker. By crafting your Message appropriately and properly understanding your Audience, it could mean that you are the solution to an ongoing need they have. Or, in terms of networking, it could mean that you have successfully imprinted your Message on your Audience so that they will remember you (no small feat).
Start by considering the consequences of your Message, what are the likely outcomes going to be by taking a certain persuasive approach over another one. The way you handle your Message – something communication theorists call metacommunication (communication about communication) – is as important as the Message itself. It’s the old adage, “It’s not what you said but how you said it.” There’s more truth to that phrase than most men (myself included) like to admit. 😛
If you aren’t sure what the consequences are going to be for your Audience, you need to take a step backwards and learn more about them. By this point you should have as good an understanding of who your target Audience is as they do about themselves. This isn’t manipulating them; this is respecting them.
Ultimately, you want your audience to arrive at your conclusion before you do. All too often we try to spring the purpose of our Message upon the Audience as a ‘surprise,’ like an O. Henry ending or a Twilight Zone episode. Rarely does that approach actually work, even as exciting (and on occasion humorous) as it can be.
Nevertheless, by understanding your Audience and your approaches to persuasion, you’re now going to be ready to understand which media are going to be the best routes to reach them. Will the marriage of your Message and Audience lead to social media? Broadcast? Webinars? Face-2-Face? Each medium has its own specific characteristics that can heighten or deaden your Message.
In future posts we’ll start examining various media and the strengths and weaknesses they bring that can augment – or kill – your Message.
* If you happen to be one of my former students, I apologize in advance for your nightmares of recalling the “good ole days.”
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