One of the most important and yet often most poorly thought through parts of strategic communications planning is targeting audiences. Most organizations and companies don’t delve deeply enough with their communications plan. They see their audiences as monoliths. Or, when they do segment, they don’t go far enough. When examining audiences, there are two key aspects to keep in mind—audience definition and audience outcomes.

Targeting Audiences: Definition

Audience definition involves identifying—and prioritizing—the key groups your company or nonprofit seeks to engage. As noted in a previous blog post, saying you want to reach the general public is a nice goal, but far too broad. It’s like saying you want to reach the world. There are certain segments of the “general public” that you may want to engage. But as you go deeper, just saying you want to reach say, “technology businesses” or “individual donors” is also far too generic and broad a category.

The more you can narrow the universe of folks you really want to reach, the more effective you will be in your communications. As with an old-fashioned camera, narrowing your lens also sharpens your focus. And it helps maximize the resources you do have to devote to communications.

To begin to define your audience, examine the individuals, companies and groups that have a role to play in helping your organization achieve what it wishes to achieve. We then try to segment the audience into smaller groups of individuals who have, or may have, some impact on the organization, as well as those an organization wishes to influence. To begin, break down your audience into segments by asking the following questions:

Who funds your organization or company? If you are a for-profit company, these audiences would include shareholders, institutional investors, or customers who buy your products and services. For nonprofits, they might include individual donors, foundation donors, government agencies, corporations, etc.

Who shapes your organization’s conduct and polices? This may include your board of directors, but it also may extend to such groups as former executives who still exercise clout or powerful funders.

Who regulates the way you do business and operate? These would include federal, state and local agencies such as OSHA, Health and Human Services, EEOC, local health departments, lawmakers, tax-takers, the SEC and so on.

Who uses your services or products? Prioritizing your audience is key here. For a computer reseller, for example, you might want to reach both businesses and individuals. Narrow your definitions into smaller segments by creating profiles of both existing users and those you would like to reach, sorting them by kind of businesses, size, and needs. And don’t stop with those in your immediate orbit—look for customers, clients, funders, and others at arm’s reach. For a healthcare nonprofit, for example, this might mean identifying not only the patients who come to you for services directly, but the other providers who refer patients to you.

Who influences others in your space? This might include renowned experts in your sector or field, celebrities who have an affinity for your cause or like your products and use them, watchdog groups, members of the media, or a vocal blogger with a large following.

We suggest making a grid and plugging in the various audience segments. To be sure there may be some overlap but by mapping your audiences this way, you will get a clearer picture of whom you want to engage and it will help you make some choices about priority of audiences to engage.

Targeting Audiences: Outcomes

Once you have identified audience segments, it is also important to map them by the outcomes you hope to achieve with your communications engagement. While easily said, identifying the outcome you really want can be one of the most difficult elements of communications planning. Audience outcomes are not just about counting clicks or collecting clips but tying your communications outreach to tangible goals for the company or organization’s growth and development. Good facilitation may be invaluable here, not only to identify the outcomes you want to pursue, but to align your team around those goals.

If one of your audience groups, for example, is made up of the current customers who have made one or more purchases in the last 12 months, a reasonable outcome for that audience might be to get them to purchase three to four items from you in a year. Other audience outcomes might include changing the attitudes and perceptions towards your company or nonprofit or the field in which you work, or gaining greater acceptance for your position on a specific issue.

Knowing the specific audiences that you really want to engage and honing in on outcomes for that engagement are critical to the success of all communications planning and the strategic initiatives that flow from that. What are some of the ways that your company or nonprofit approaches audience definition and outcomes?