Speaking Your Audience's Language

Listening and learning how to speak to your target audience is critical to success. Focus groups can help – a lot.Choosing the right word in an advertisement, direct mail solicitation or advocacy piece can make all the difference. Qualitative research is arguably the best way to inform your word selection.

Creative departments come up with campaign themes, phrases and visuals that can be exciting and evocative. But in the eyes and ears of the intended audience, they can be misunderstood or simply confusing.

If your audience doesn't get your message, that's what should get you excited. Excited enough to find out how they interpret your words and images — and what words and images would convey the message you want to get across to them.

That's a job for focus groups. They provide a place to assess your language from the vantage point of your audience. Sometimes, the meaning of your material is clear with a minor tweak. Other times, your message is muddled by the words and images you select and requires a major makeover.

Ego bruising aside, knowing that your words and visuals connect with your audience is worth the effort. It is definitely worth the expense when compared to the vast sums you could waste on advertising that misses its mark.

Focus groups also can provide clues on choices of spokespersons and communication channels. Your words may be right on, but your spokesperson is a turn off whom people don't trust. You may have the right message, but the wrong channel, where your audience doesn't visit.

Speaking the language of your audience is not a constant thing because language changes. Words that had one meaning decades ago may have a whole new meaning or connotation now. Or a word that once was in favor may be out of favor because of its association with a negative event or personality.

Understanding how your audience talks, especially about you and your products, is critical for you to talk effectively to them. Concentrate on what you mean to say and how to say it. Your words matter.