Monochrome image of a diverse audience of people with the words 6 signs you don't understand your audience as an organisation

6 signs you might not fully understand your audience (as an organisation)

We live in a world where we are bombarded with content – every day.

With such blistering competition, it’s imperative organisations understand how to enchant and invigorate their audience. Especially, if they want to grow impact.

We all know we need to understand our audience before we can draw people in closer.  

But how do we get our colleagues to see it so clearly?

Let me put it another way …

How do you galvanise everyone to be audience-focused … every day?  

We can pave the way ahead. We can show our colleagues how responding to audience needs, beliefs and habits will help our organisations build back stronger.  

By helping colleagues recognise niggles that are holding them back, you can go on to collectively pinpoint the merit in being audience-centred and build support for creating an audience-focused strategy.

A good starting point is to help everyone spot these tell-tale signs.

Here are six of the most common signs indicating organisations need to better understand their audiences. I see these pop-up in all types of organisations, whoever the audience: learners, customers, funders or volunteers.

Can you and your colleagues relate? Can you draw on these to illuminate the way ahead?

Sidenote: People in all sizes of organisations use my blog to evolve their thinking. I earn my living though supporting organisations with personalised marketing and digital coaching.

So, if you re-use my words, please show your support by referencing or linking to this blog to help spread the word so that I can continue to write free articles for all readers. Thank you.

Table of Contents

Sign 1: Teams get caught between requests

When teams are not on the same trajectory to solve problems for their audience, I see departments and directors bombard comms, fundraising and digital teams with seemingly, random, incoherent requests.

In Who Cares? Building Audience-centred engagement strategies in the non-profit sector, Joe Barrell, founder of the communications agency Eden Stanley and former director of communications at Save the Children, explains the point I’m trying to make in a nutshell:

Those tasked with producing content and managing channels find themselves buffeted about, in a tug of war between other functions all demanding a share of the bandwidth. Or at the whim of a powerful director, trustee, or CEO.

Joe Barrell

Don’t worry. We’ve all been there.

We’ve all felt compelled to broadcast someone else’s message – a message that feels at odds with the overall conversation you’re trying to engage people with.

I vividly remember one point in my career where requests flew in thick and fast from all angles. There was no time to ponder. We longed to do more impactful work. But with other teams working at cross-purposes because they didn’t have the audience insights they needed, it felt impossible.

Privately, I felt like one of those whacky, waving inflatable guys flailing wildly from side to side (between departments requests). But outwardly, I always flipped back to centre – with a smile – steeling myself for what came next.

Inflatable character flailing in the wind with the words are you buffeted from side to side between directors

The result of this common phenomenon is always disheartening though – for people and organisations.

When teams become delivery services for colleagues’ ideas and messages, brand activities appear sporadic and fail to accumulate momentum. 

And more importantly, no-one experiences the feel-good factor. 

OK, so it may not be so extreme in your organisation.

But if servicing other teams feels like it has crept up to more than 20%, it’s time to take a step back and ask why … before things becomes untenable.

Sign 2: The loudest voice wins

Do you ever find yourself in meetings presenting the same points again and again … to the same people?

Do colleagues with the strongest (or most persistent) voice get the outcome they want – repeatedly?

Female speaking through a megaphone with the words do the people who speak loudest win?

It’s common.

But it’s frustrating. Especially, if the decision agreed doesn’t solve your audiences challenges nor, connect with their beliefs.

It wastes time. And time is precious.

Life is much better when the audience’s voice prevails. When feasible activities most likely to engage your audience emerge at the top.

In the opening chapter in Mastering Marketing Agility, Andrea Fryrear explains how this works in practice.

Only a request with a clear customer connection makes it into the workflow. … We must prioritise based on what we know about each customer.

Andrea Fryrear, Co-founder of AgileSherpas

In other words, if we want operations to run smoothly, we need to make time for everyone to understand your audience.

Sign 3: Month-by-month planning is energy-sapping

Young professional male deliberating at a laptop with the words having trouble deciding on content?

Are people overthinking or having trouble thinking about what content to write next month? Has it become a ‘we-better-sit-down-again and mull-over-what-we’re-going-to-do task?’ Or a who-can-we-invite-to-spark-new-ideas task?

I remember observing an organisation’s editorial group create a content plan for their forthcoming e-zine. There was a lot of head-scratching and grimacing. It was painful; an arduous process. 

But not because the team were devoid of inspiration. On the contrary, this was a dynamic team. They simply lacked knowledge about readers wants and needs. 

Understanding your audience, on the other hand, results in easily identifiable content that instantly comes to mind.

When we stay attuned to our audience we know exactly what content to create to make their lives easier or, to connect with their beliefs. This stops us from getting lost in ideas for ‘awesome content’ that may (or may not) resonate with ‘our niche.

Sign 4: Marketing activities “promote” rather than “solve”

We all know that if our marketing feels like marketing, it’s not right.

Traditional marketing: telling people how amazing our organisation is; or telling people what they need to do doesn’t work anymore. It’s unappetising. ‘Who cares? So what?’ thinks our audience.

Or in the words of Dave Harland, copywriter and all-round funny guy, ‘They think it’s nothing to do with me. Byeee.’


Conversely, audience-centred activities are human; informing, inspiring or solving a problem for people! They aren’t aloof or pompous.

Yet still, I see organisations starting conversations about themselves. I often see this when an enthusiastic board member or senior executive with ambitions to see the organisation thrive wants things to sound grander and thus, inadvertently overpowers the need to tap into audience needs.

Take a look at these yawn-inducing headlines I came across when having a quick browse of websites.

  • We’re the world’s leading ….
  • We’re responsible for …
  • We’re proud to be …
  • We’re pleased to announce …
  • We’re the experts in …
  • We’re passionate about …

And my all-time favourite

  • ‘We’re the No.1 …

(I come across this often in sports organisations.)

Ugggh! These headlines have nothing to do with the reader. They fail to entice people out of their comfort zones. People scroll straight past on auto-pilot, without a second glance.

In a recent post, Eden Bidani, conversion copywriter and LinkedIn influencer, offers sound advice we can apply to any content type, to help ourselves avoid falling into this trap.

Get propsects engaging with your content … by leading with messages that interest them…

…but once you have them out of their shell, taking interest in what you have to say, then you can connect those messages back to your offer.

(P.S. You can find these messages *easily* without spending hours in brainstorming sessions, but by collecting and studying:

✅ reviews and testimonials
✅ JTBD interview transcripts
✅ online forums and groups.

screenshot of post by eden bidani giving advice on headlines. It reads: And while they know their world might not be 100% perfect, you're going to have a super hard time convincing them to listen to you (and discover the amazing offer you have to share), if you start the engagement with messages like: "We're #1" "We serve all your needs" "We're better than XYZ company" But you *will* be able to catch their attention and drive conversions by sharing messages that directly relate to something in their comfort zone And that's today's 1-min conversion copywriting tip: Get propsects engaging with your content and clicking on your ads by leading with messages that interest them... ...but once you have them out of their shell, taking interest in what you have to say, then you can connect those messages back to your offer.

If we know what makes our audience tick, we can even apply Eden’s tips to engage people with About Us pages.

Look at how these sparkling  About Us headlines manage to flip the focus to the audience:

  • Would you like to become a more confident …?
  • Would you like to help change …?
  • Would you like to reach your goals … quicker?
  • We’re giving you the opportunity to …

Sign 5: Progress is only measured by big volume metrics

Do you ever feel swamped by digital metrics?

Headline: drowning in metrics. Image of a male peeping out from sheets of paper displaying various graphs such as pie charts, bar charts and line graphs

It’s common. There are so many to choose from.  Especially when organisations are on a cycle of reporting to board, funders, partners or clients.

Digital marketers are trained to track an array of performance measures such as search traffic, visits, clicks, open rates etc. They’re indicators, yes. And as a collective, they provide some insight.

But what do they really tell us?

The harsh truth is that they are somewhat superficial …

… and can lead us to chase short-term gains at the expense of long-term impact.

We know that what we really need to do is focus on is whether we’re connecting with the right people – our niche – in incremental steps and taking them on a journey towards our goal?

That’s the sophisticated way to measure the true impact of what we do.

Let’s take a look at how that works in practice.

Meet Elijah Jones, Communications Manager at the international youth organisation, World Youth. 

Elijah is feeling positive. World Youth has gained funding for a digital campaign on youth empowerment. The organisation has never had the funds to run an awareness campaign before.

So, it’s an exciting time but a bit nerve-wracking as the digital reach targets are colossal. But luckily, Jenny Bond, a comms professional from the world of international football has joined the Board and will be supporting Elijah with campaign planning.

The first planning meeting goes swimmingly.

‘We could engage young people by asking them to vote for the most inspiring football player,’ suggests Elijah.

‘Great,’ says Jenny.

‘I could connect you with club comms team to see if they’ll spread the word in their communities.’

‘Brilliant. I’ll find out if we could host the vote on the World Youth platform,’ adds Jez, the Digital Manager.

‘Then, when visitors land we can display empowering content about the players backstories and messaging about what we do,’

OK, so it’s not quite so simple. It takes a stack of planning and organising. But in the space of 3-months, the campaign takes off.

Clubs get behind it and their supporters flock to vote for their favourite players. In fact, the campaign generates so much traffic that the website goes down at one point. How embarrassing! 

The results come in. Website visitors alone skyrocketed by 500% in the month and the hashtag reached 7.2 million people.

What a result!

Elijah feels relieved … and proud.

The year-end digital targets feel doable; the grant terms have been fulfilled; and the next board meeting should be a breeze.

But there’s a snag. A whopping, hairy, gargantuan snag.

Let’s rewind for one moment.

Let’s imagine Elijah has more information about the organisations World Youth funds.


Partner organisations that deliver World Youth empowerment and employability programmes are small and don’t have resources to develop content for their own campaigns. 

One of the biggest challenges they face is recruiting young people onto their programmes which in turn, limits World Youth’s impact.

Armed with this knowledge, the planning meeting takes a slightly different tack.

‘I get the power of football,’ says Elijah. ‘I’ve been trying to work out how we can harness it to empower young people and support our partner organisations at the same time.’

‘I’ve been thinking how we could use it to fuel a collective campaign with our partners?’

‘How about we work with clubs to convince footballers with inspiring backstories to be campaign ambassadors and share their stories of hope?’ suggests Jenny. ‘We could look to engage footballers  such as the amazing Nadia Nadim. Did you see the recent tweet about her? I have it on my phone, here.’

‘Awesome. We could share the content with partners. They’d love that. They could use it to help young people believe in their dreams. Then, we could follow-up with content that nudges young people towards applying for programmes.’

‘The images could be really powerful,’ adds Jenny. ‘We could even host a virtual portrait photography exhibition to get the media interested too.’

Elijah goes on to test out these initial ideas, developing the campaign in collaboration with clubs, partners, the media and most importantly, young people.

Things start to take shape and will be ready to launch in 4-months.

Jules, responsible for reporting back to the funder, is emailing weekly for updates. He sounds edgy about  timescales. But relaxes when Elijah explains how it’s working.     

The campaign launches and runs for the first month. 

Here comes the result.

The digital outcomes are nowhere near as impressive as in scenario 1. There’s no PowerPoint with reams of graphs in sight.

But it’s irrelevant. Why?

Because the impact on young people’s lives is real.

And that’s what counts. Not high volume clicks, shares or likes. 

Just 2 simple but impactful stats tell the story.

  • The number of applicants for youth employability programmes increases three-fold
  • 70% of participants go into employment post-programme.

Elijah facilitated a campaign that brought about real change for young people. And all because Elijah had that one small nugget of information about partners at the beginning.

So here’s a question. 

What golden nuggets do you have that shows you understand your audience? 

Have you pinpointed the next big problem you need to solve for people?

Sign 6: Knowledge about your audience differs

Headline: Does opinion on audience need differ on character saying they need this, another saying they need that and a third character in the middle shrugging his shoulders

I think we’ve all experienced this one.

Maybe different teams are moving at different paces. Perhaps, the digital team has a good grasp of website user needs because of the user journey mapping project but other teams are not responding to those needs. Or perhaps, the research team understands social needs, but their knowledge is far from universal across all teams.

Maybe views within teams differ because of personal experience. People often choose to work for an organisation because of personal experience. And their personal experience is of immense value. But what if everyone’s personal experience is different? How do you choose which need is greater?

Imagine you work at a cancer charity that intends to support people through their treatment and beyond – online. And you’re chairing a meeting to review what support clients need most so that you can trial some services.

You only have budget for 2 services to start with. But there’s a problem. There are five people in the room, with five different experiences of cancer, passionately sharing five different views on what clients need most.

Online meditation for relaxation? Consultations with a medical professionals? Pre and post-op pilates? Nutrition advice for well-being? Adapted yoga?    

They’re all needed services. But how do you choose? Does the loudest voice win?

Of course not.

You have to choose the services for which the need is greatest.

But you don’t have the data you need to understand your audience needs as a whole.

And that’s why everyone in the organisation needs insights about audience needs.

Not data from a specific project. Rather, wholistic data about all the needs, wants and habits of the various groups in your audience.

We all need data that enables us to make quality decisions based on what will have the greatest impact.

Invest to understand your audience ... as one team

Digital people often talk about big metrics, reach, channels, AI etc.

But after years of working in marketing and digital, they feel abstract to me.

I only feel enthusiastic if they will bring people closer to the positive impact they want to see.

Let’s not forget. The biggest lesson we’ve learned from the pandemic is that people want to feel like they’re interacting with humans, not entities.

More than ever, organisations need to be more human.

But we can only inject people skills at every touchpoint by responding to our audiences’ needs. And we can only show empathy, in comms and services, if we understand our audiences’ needs.

Is now the time to bring your organisation’s audience insights together – in a way that makes sense to colleagues in their role?

And instead of getting lost in conversations about perceived need, you can feed each other with purpose and wisdom.  

One more thing …

I hope you’ve found something in this article to spark even one little change in your organisation. If so, please share with your network and make a comment below.

And if you’d like personalised support on inspiring people to make the shift, give me a call. It costs nothing to talk.   

Some links in the post are affiliate links. Please use them. It doesn’t cost you any more if you decide to purchase but it does provides me with a nominal income which allows me to buy more books to inspire my articles.

Books and tools mentioned in this post

Who Cares? By Joe Barrell. Highly recommended as a go-to reference for building an audience-centred engagement strategy.

Mastering Marketing Agility, by Andrea Fryrear. A billiant framework for introducing agile practices into marketing operations.

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9 thoughts on “6 signs you might not fully understand your audience (as an organisation)”

  1. There is so much valuable information here!! This site is definitely in my bookmarks so that I can scour it again in future. Anyone from team leaders and marketers to content writers and graphics creators can make use of this. Thank you for the well written and incredibly helpful articles!!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment Alyssa. I appreciate it. It takes me a while to put my thoughts into something coherent so I’m glad you found it useful.

    1. Thanks Rob, I’m glad you found something in here you can use.

      It felt good to write all these thoughts in one post.

  2. This was a very insightful, relatable and well put together blog Melanie. I could definitely recognise some mistakes I have made, but will learn from them and definitely take on your suggestions. I look forward to reading your other blogs too!

  3. I’m glad you found it useful Saoirse.

    It can be hard to do when there is so much going on but I find everything slots into place when I find time to listen.

  4. Blake Richardson

    So, so useful Mel, thank you.

    Just read through for a second time and made copious notes because there was so much valuable information to digest.

    As you say, knowing your audience is fundamental, but too often an organisation’s audience engagement strategy can be fundamentally flawed.

    Lots here to help marketers and content writers understand how to become an expert in connecting, engaging, empowering and transforming their audiences as well as pinpointing those common barriers that are placed in a Marketing department way hindering this process and the organisation’s progress.

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