Audience Centric Communication

Why does your business need audience centric communication? In short, because no one believes the things companies say, any longer. Words have lost their power to persuade in these days of cynicism and distrust. Regardless of the size of your marketing department and the amount of your advertising budget, it is not possible to influence trust or increase likeability by talking about your product or service.

The brand called trust

Once upon a time, companies made products that exceeded customer expectations largely because the products also exceeded customers’ imaginations. This not-so-mythical period was in the 1960s and 1970s when “innovative” was used to describe products ranging from laundry detergent to cars with anti-lock brakes.

Imagine for a moment, a young couple in 1975, buying a new car for their family. They arrive at the dealership thinking of station wagons with room for little Jimmy’s crib in the back. Then, the salesman tells them about the car’s brand new anti-lock braking system. Now, ask yourself if the young mom and dad haggled with the salesman over price.

When products “wow” us, they reach us emotionally, and we buy them. Moreover, when a product offers us something we never imagined owning, we feel almost grateful to have it. Little Jimmy’s mom and dad felt grateful to buy that car, with its remarkable innovation that made driving safer. What a great company, what a great product.  What a great time to work in advertising.

Today, the demands of customers are different and the brand they seek is called trust. Marketing gimmicks with clever advertising slogans are almost useless.  Even the iPhone, a product that surely “wows,” is subject to this undercurrent, and so far, Apple is upholding trust through its personable retail model and product reliability.

Understanding Audience centric communication

Unlike customer-centric communication, which ostensibly begin and end with the customer in mind, audience centricity comprises customers and employees. After all, employees are the representation of a company’s brand and values.  The way an employee projects these values determines customer perception, and no amount of advertising can override real customer experiences.

When companies make a change to their business, they develop a minimum of two distinct communication strategies: one for internal audiences and one for external audiences, or customers. The vast majority of companies, however, develop many communication strategies based on the number of marketing and communication departments. These may include Public Relations, Internal Communications, Shareholder Communications, Customer Marketing, and Prospect Marketing, to name just a few. Depending on how decentralized a company is, there may be even more independent teams working to develop independent communication strategies.

Clearly, this process is inefficient and wasteful. The employee hours devoted to these tasks is staggering when accounting for the writing teams, proofreaders, designers, and publishing teams assigned to each project.  Equally concerning is the excess risk incurred through these independent processes. The risks of inconsistency and quality deterioration are simply unnecessary. Surprisingly, however, this is how communications function in most organizations today.

Audience centric communication, conversely, is a methodology that develops a single strategy for all audience segments, while allowing for regional and segmentation-based message customization. The overall strategy, however, applies to all audiences, including employees. This is a critical difference. In order for employees to effectively represent a company to its customers, they have to understand change from the customer’s point of view. Changes, therefore, are contextualized from a customer standpoint in a way that enables employees to uphold customer confidence.

Because the process assesses all audience segments simultaneously, it ensures brand integrity, message quality, and message consistency. Additionally, the initial assessment allows communication leaders to flesh out pivotal decisions that can influence trust and loyalty. Consequently, the communication does more than deliver information; it engenders goodwill while strengthening the ties between employees and the customers they work for.

“Mirroring” Customers

Harris interactive, the market research and consulting firm, has its own take on audience centricity. The company advocates “mirroring,” a strategy that seeks to align employees with customers through communication. This approach is intended to improve employee responsiveness to and anticipation of customer needs. Find out more or read the PDF here.

Harris Interactive’s research also validates the importance of trust-based communication: “We’ve frequently found that customers consider the emotional, relationship-based aspects of value delivery—trust, communication, interactive/collaborative components of service, anticipation of needs, brand equity, etc—much more important, and more leveraging of behavior, than the functional aspects.” This quote comes from a 2008 Harris Interactive Executive Brief called: Profitably Linking Employee Behavior to Customer Loyalty: Driving Customer Commitment Through Employee Attitudes and Actions.

How trust is changing business communication

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the way companies communicated with customers was revolutionized.  Instead of telling customers about every feature of their products and services, advertisers learned the power of simple and shaved company messages down to brief, tantalizing messages. Leo Burnett, the pioneering advertising executive from that era summarized the values of the day in this directive to aspiring marketers: “Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun.”

Burnett’s 1960s credo still has tremendous value today. The power of simple will always reign over complex and confusing. However, consumers have become leery of things that look too good to be true. This distrust is well-earned, and after the events of 2008 and 2009, distrust has become deeply woven into the fabric of societal values. In short, people are afraid of being vulnerable.

Consider again Apple’s strategy. The company has an almost captivating image of simplicity that reflects consumers’ desire for clarity in their own lives. However, the company supports this strategy with a remarkable human touch that every prospect and customer can experience via the company’s stores. The product design is still restrained and memorable, but the communication experience is rich, personal, and open to all.

While consumers still desire products that “wow” them, they also want to feel that the company will treat them with respect, after they’ve handed over their hard-earned money. Instead of making a product look “fun” as Burnett once advised, companies would be wise to demonstrate integrity and civility in their customer experience.

Audience centricity is not a stand-in for customer experience management, but it is an outside-in communication methodology that enables companies to build their own brand of trust.  Please contact me for more information.


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