Do you really understand your audience?

As marketing people, we often like to think that we naturally ‘get’ our customers/audience/consumers, whatever you want to call them. Our years of experience mean we instinctively know what people like. We believe that we can easily put ourselves in the shoes of the person on the street and therefore know which messages will get their attention and lead them to buy.

Well, it’s just not true. If you work in marketing, you are not a normal person and you do not think like the modern mainstream. Crucially, you’re not even likely to be especially good at empathising with them.

If you work in marketing, you are likely to be younger, better educated and better off than the average person in the UK. Already, you are different from the modern mainstream.

More importantly, we think differently and have different motivations to the majority of people. The people around us shape the way we think and so behave. We all have biases in our thoughts, they are unconscious and, when we spend time with people who think the same way as us, they go unchallenged. As marketers we spend a lot of time with, surprise, surprise other marketers!

In their two white papers “Why We Shouldn’t Trust our Gut Instinct” and “The Empathy Delusion”, Reach Solutions have identified some crucial differences between the sort of people who work in marketing and the modern mainstream.

Marketers are more likely than the modern mainstream to take risks, seek personal achievement and think in an analytical way. The modern mainstream think in a more holistic style, they are more affected by context and more likely to avoid strong emotions. Marketers often wish to stand out; normal people like to fit in.

There is even a measurable difference in the ethical frameworks favoured by marketers and the modern mainstream. Marketers place greater importance on the moral foundations that focus on welfare and individual rights, whereas the modern mainstream are also guided by the ethics of community. This could mean that marketers have a blind spot when we seek to appeal to the ethical aspirations of the modern mainstream.

“But”, I hear you say, “it doesn’t matter if us marketers are different from our audience. It’s our job to understand people, it comes naturally to us”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Reach Solutions’ research shows that only 29% of the modern mainstream show high levels of empathy. Among marketers, it’s 30%. So, us marketers have no special talent for empathising with our audiences.

Empathising is actually really hard, but it’s essential that we do it to understand what matters to the people we want to sell to. What can we do to make sure marketing strategy is based on a true understanding of our audience, not just our own projected values?

At CreativeRace, we do three things to make sure we create work that will appeal to our audience, not just to our client and ourselves.

1. Don’t guess. Make sure you understand what your audience are actually interested in so you can reflect it back to them. It’s fine to come up with a theory, like “I think our audience really values personal expression”, but what is your evidence for this?

2. Use quality evidence. Proof of what people actually do and think, not what they say they do, or worse, what they plan to do. This means large-scale behavioural data – what are people buying, what are they searching for? A survey of 200 people who say they plan to exercise more isn’t a good reason to launch a new sports brand.

3. Invite challenge. Ask others to take an opposing view or challenge your logic. Are they convinced by the data that supports your theory? Ideally, ask someone who is different from you, someone with different life experience – they will think differently to you.

You can read more about Reach Solutions research into the differences between marketers and the modern mainstream by visiting https://www.reachsolutions.co.uk/insights

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