Will They Say Yes? Thinking about Engagement from the Audience’s POV

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Sam Ford.

Companies spend a lot of time thinking about how to engage their audiences when it comes to marketing.


Traditionally, this conversation ends up focusing on having (or imagining) some sort of captive audience: the magazine or newspaper reader who can't help but look at an advertisement as they read the headlines; the TV viewer who sits through a commercial while waiting for their show to come back on; or the poor sap whose mailbox is sagging due to the loads of junk mail stuffed in each day.

Online, companies' first impulse has been to create branded spaces they own and then come up with ways to corral audiences into them: sending them along the paths we line out for them and poking and prodding them for quantitative data along the way. What better way to know if our marketing is working, after all, than to make everything easy for us to measure, no matter how onerous it is on the audience?

Sometimes, marketers do acknowledge that such approaches miss where audiences are actually already engaging, and where conversations are already happening. But in response, they often take the traditional PR route: creating lists of influencers–the few thought leaders in a given field who, they convince themselves, will bring a whole community along for the ride, if you can just get them on board.

All of these communications approaches have a vital flaw: they are about communicating at the customer, about owning the conversation, and–primarily–about fulfilling the company's marketing needs.

Now think about what might happen if we think about engagement instead from the audience's point of view.

This is the challenge we've given ourselves at Peppercom for more than a year now. As we think about our clients and potential clients, it has driven the strategies and approaches we recommend and has become one of our most effective means for problem-solving.

And, as we will officially announce next week, Audience Experience is now the newest service offering from Peppercom, where Peppercom— in collaboration with our partner and author of Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us, Emily Yellin— will work with companies to immerse them in their key audiences' perspectives.

This approach, and offering, is as straightforward as it sounds: we help communicators step outside their view from within a particular department in their company and instead think about their communication from the perspective of the audiences they seek to reach. It's a way of thinking built on a basic sense of empathy, but it's been as deceptive as it is simple. Unfortunately, this commonsense approach has not been all that common.

We can speak from experience that truly embracing and adopting this approach is a work in progress. It's a goal we strive for and a bar we have set to reach through our work every day. It requires constantly challenging ourselves to rethink and reconfigure how we think. But the potential benefits are incredible, in terms of creating and managing communication that resonates with, serves, and engages the audiences we seek to reach.

Engaging the audience means knowing them— not just as a stat in a survey, or as an aggregate customer profile, or as the member of a focus group, or as an impression— but knowing and seeing ourselves from their point of view. It means always thinking of audience members as actual people, considering what their wants and needs are, and thinking about how the company serves them, rather than just marketing at them.

Peppercom's prevailing philosophy moving forward is that intimately knowing, anticipating and answering the audience's wants and needs benefits our clients, their audiences, and us. And both we and our clients are finding new ways this approach helps us every time we take it. We also hope it is a way of thinking that marketing and corporate communications increasingly comes to realize they can't afford to ignore.

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