Even #lonemarketers can ACE the “audience is everyone” debate. Agree, compliment, and expand your way back to marketing. Say, “yes…and here’s how…”
This #strategymoment is brought to you by…. “The audience is everyone”.
Ahhhh yes, you finished prepping the marketing plan for an upcoming effort, and you’re feeling awesome. Nothing can ruin this day. You finally carved out some time to take a big step away from the megaphone of mass marketing and identified some target segments. The approach might still assume everyone in those groups is the same, which you know they aren’t, but (*deep breath*) it feels soooooooo good to be moving in the right direction for once. You can’t help but smile as you walk around the office, and you can’t wait to share this plan with your colleagues. They’re going to be so impressed.
Or so you thought.
When it comes time to go over the plan, it all goes downhill…fast. You make it past the goals, relatively unscathed, but the entire conversation devolves when you get to the audience.
You were super pumped to share how you segmented the audience and the ways you’re going to position opportunities to each target across various channels. It quickly becomes clear, however, that you’re the only person in the room who understands that audience segmentation is critical.
You know that, just as each broad audience has specific communication needs and preferences, each target segment also has different needs. Segmentation ensures the content you create and share will be relevant and valuable to each target, driving more results. You are acutely aware that if you don’t at least segment, you’re wasting your time and resources spamming everyone with a message for no one. You also know that messages to broad, mixed audiences are less effective in triggering behavior changes and actions because they are even less tailored to the needs of individuals.
According to your colleagues, the audience is everyone.
Yup, turns out – pretty much all adults still alive today are the “target audience” for which you should be creating one message. All of them. From everywhere. Of all ages. With all interests.
Ugh. You went above and beyond to help the organization move beyond its limited tactical focus. You did all this great, strategic work to actually put together a more personalized approach the audience will appreciate to increase the likelihood they will take the actions the organization wants. Of course, nobody’s even heard the great ways you’re planning to reach the targets because they’re too busy arguing about who the audience is and whose job it is to make that decision. You can feel the rage bubbling, as you watch that future of brand advocates slip even further out of reach.
Before you give them an eye roll and audible sigh of frustration, check your face and take a #strategymoment.
To diffuse any tension in the room and recalibrate the environment for a collaborative conversation among partners, you need to embody positivity and excitement. Double check your own body language to ensure you’re smiling and not crossing your arms. Rekindle that enthusiasm for the more personalized approach you outlined in this plan. Hang onto that feeling.
Now assess what’s causing the breakdown. Keep in mind that almost all resistance is rooted in some form of fear: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of missing out (you know FOMO’s real), fear of being wrong, fear of looking foolish, fear of wasting time, fear of conditions being worse in the future, fear of not being appreciated…you get the idea. Resistance is a good sign you’re dealing with fear. When people have knowledge gaps, fear is often what fills in those gaps and presents as resistance.
#strategymoment: You’re getting resistance to strategy, and you’re resisting accepting the alternative approach being suggested. Oh right, resistance is rooted in fear. What kind of fear are you feeling? Fear of being attacked or perhaps not being appreciated, respected, or valued for your expertise? And what about them? What do their behaviors, comments, and facial expressions suggest they might be fearing? Is it fear of change, fear of the unknown, or fear of losing control? Did they mention their supervisor or other leadership? Could it be they don’t understand and are worried about having to explain something they don’t fully grasp up the chain? Something else maybe?
First assessing the roots of your own resistance to this moment will help you adjust your own mindset, freeing you up to then lead with compassion, provide reassurance, and quell any fears to help you all move onto your killer strategy.
Use the agree, compliment, expand approach
Say, “yes…and…here’s how…”
As a marketer, you already know with certainty the audience isn’t everyone. You made a whole plan based on knowing that. The goal of this conversation is not to win some semantic dispute or to make sure everyone leaves the room fully understanding targeted marketing. You’re trying to gain buy-in for a plan. So, don’t get stuck in a debate. ACE it, and move the focus onto all the great approaches you’ve outlined.
AGREE: Say, “yes!” As tempting as it is right now to say “no, you’re wrong”, “no” is dismissive: it shuts others down and is a surefire way to put them on the defensive. It’s disagreeing to a disagreement, which only tees up more disagreement. Starting with an enthusiastic “yes” is counterintuitive, but it is a powerful way to immediately shift the dynamics. “Yes” signals acceptance, which puts others at ease and helps build common ground – and that’s exactly what you need. It also helps pause the conversation to give you the floor.
COMPLIMENT: Say “great point, <NAME>” or “great question, <NAME>.” Saying someone’s name grabs their attention and tells them they’re important. Now that you’ve got their attention, reward them by pairing their name with a compliment. It reinforces your acceptance of them. Follow that with a definitively positive statement to add a flair of finality and authority to the topic. The words might not taste good in your mouth, but saying “you’re right” – or some version of it – is one of the most effective phrases you can utter, especially when there’s been disagreement. Words like “definitely”, “absolutely”, “completely”, and “totally” reinforce there’s no question about it. It also makes it hard for others to keep arguing or expressing dissent when you like what they’re saying.
But you don’t actually like or agree with what they’re saying, do you? Here’s the turning point.
EXPAND: Rephrase “the audience is everyone” by recasting it so it is more accurate and in the correct context, and then move on. This technique is used frequently in education, especially to help people learn a language. For example, an instructor will rephrase a learner’s incorrect statement (e.g, “me hungry”) in the correct form (e.g., “Oh, you’re hungry. What would you like to eat?”) without overtly calling attention to a mistake or embarrassing the learner. In doing so, the instructor doesn’t accept an error, corrects the learner, and makes sure conversation continues. In your situation, you know the audience isn’t everyone so consider what about lots of people is critical so you can find a point of agreement and do so in a way that helps clarify the intentions that are reflected in the plan. Is it important to influence as many people as possible? Encourage large attendance? Maximize donations? Then recast the phrase and add on. Say, “and, here’s how…” to set yourself up to contribute your own ideas. This approach positions you as a partner and opens the door for a new topic. Saying “…and, here’s how” is your way to skip over any more disagreement about the audience and segue into the strategies and tactics you outlined.
Here’s what your response will look like when someone insists the audience is everyone
Reply in the moment
- Yes, great idea, Mark! I completely agree that the greater the reach of a campaign, the greater the number of individuals who can be influenced – and here’s how we’re going to influence as many people as possible…if you turn to…you’ll see we’re going to do that by…
- Yes, great question, Sarah! We’re totally on the same page. We do need a lot of people to participate, and here’s how we’re going to maximize the response we get from the audience….let’s look at…here you’ll notice that we’re going to…
Go back to an earlier exchange
- You know, Ben, you mentioned before that we need to get as many eyes on this as possible, and that’s an important point. Let’s go back to it for a moment. Yes, you’re absolutely right that impressions are critical, and here’s how we’re going to focus on getting those eyes on our offer…
Each response positively embraces “the audience is everyone” by clarifying the intention of the words, building onto the clarified definition, and moving right into the strategies and tactics you want to discuss. They avoid weaker words like “may,” “might,” “could,” “would,” “seem,” “possibly,” and “probably” that open the floor for more dissention.
But, you’ve been here before and know the conversation can easily circle back to “the audience is everyone.”
If that happens, it’s time to end the meeting and give everyone a break.
Say, “It sounds like there are still some concerns about the audience. I appreciate you sharing them with me. Let me go back and adjust this plan a bit to reflect our conversation, and then I’ll recirculate it. You can expect that by…<DATE>”
When you recirculate the plan, you know they’re going to be looking for “everyone” or “all” in the audience section.
Compromise without reverting to mass marketing:
- Break the audience into primary and secondary audiences.
- Under primary, add the list of possible target audiences from your original plan. Contextualize why they are most likely to take the desired action.
- Under secondary, use the word “all” attached to the name of your broad audience (e.g., all donors, all volunteers, all alumni, all board members), which they will be looking for. Contextualize that they should be informed (or whatever the primary concern was about making sure “everyone” knows) so your colleagues feel heard when they review the update.
- Add a tactic or two, if not already part of the plan, to reach that broad-based audience (e.g., announcement on the web, inclusion in an upcoming enewsletter, or via other channel) so there is a way “everyone” will see the opportunity without creating one-off communications to them.
When the effort is complete, debrief with the same group and share the results. Here’s when you can provide some more direct education about the difference between mass and targeted marketing in the context of the results. You also can discuss the difference in awareness building efforts (to that secondary audience) and conversion efforts (to that primary audience). Give them credit and reward them for trying something a bit new with targeted marketing, especially if the targeted efforts stronger results.
Being successful means remembering how important it is to live to fight another day
Especially in an environment where others frequently resist strategy, you’ll wear yourself down fighting every battle. In this case, even if you have to add a mass tactic or two, you’ve still managed to advance a more personalized approach overall. Celebrate that huge win because it is awesome! You’ve also demonstrated serious leadership and partnership with your colleagues, which helps position you as a go-to, get it done person.
If you don’t take a moment to assess resistance, you’ll be more likely to dig in your heels and brace for a knock down, drag out battle, which will risk giving others the impression you are difficult to work with, have a bad attitude, or don’t understand. When you read and respond to resistance, you’ll be able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.