• Barb Mayfield

Want to know the secret to creating better content? Know your audience.


Sticky note on top of a keyboard with the words Know Your Audience

Creating effective communication hinges on one essential step more than any other. That step involves knowing and understanding your audience. This step requires some effort, so it is all too often skipped, but skipping this step can be the primary reason for communication failure. Every step that comes after depends on how well this one is completed. Bottom line: The more you learn about your audience, the more effectively you will communicate with them.


The messages you create and the channels you use to communicate must be tailored to the needs, concerns, desires, values, and behaviors of your target audience to effectively reach them, grab their attention, engage them, and lead to positive change. Without knowing what your audience wants and needs, you are basing your content creation on guesses and assumptions.


Imagine communicating with your target audience is like selling them a product they need. To make the "sale," your message must meet a need. If you never ask your audience what they need or want, how do you know what they will be willing to “purchase”? Will they walk away or will you make a sale?


When you go to a place of business that effectively makes you a satisfied customer, whether it be purchasing a pair of shoes, a new appliance, or a brand new car, which salesperson is the most effective?

  1. The salesperson who launches right into the polished sales pitch and shows you all the features of the brands or models they find most popular. Or…

  2. The salesperson who lets you wander around and look on your own and provides answers to your questions. Or…

  3. The salesperson who meets you at the door, asks you what you are looking for, finds out the product characteristics that are most important to you, what your price range is, what experiences you’ve had with similar products, answers all of your questions, and allows you to try things on for size or take a test drive.

I think you’ll agree, that salesperson #3 wins every time. They have conducted a “needs assessment” to determine what their audience wants and needs. With the data they collect, they are able to meet your needs and effectively make a sale.


In the 10 Steps to Creating Compelling Communication, this step follows step 1 – identify your audience, and precedes all others. This step, conducting a needs assessment, involves both primary and secondary data collection. Plan to do both, beginning with looking at secondary data.


Secondary data comes from sources that have already been collected. Sources of this data include published research, government websites with population and health data, even data collected by your organization. For example, comments and questions on social media and blog posts can be ongoing sources of data about an audience.

Collect primary data to answer remaining questions and more specific questions about your target audience, especially as it relates to a topic or program under development.


The following list provides ideas for information to collect:

  • What does the audience already know about any potential topic(s)?

  • What are misconceptions and gaps in knowledge? What do they find confusing and would like clarification about? Would they like to learn something new about this topic?

  • What do members of the audience care about related to a potential topic? What is relevant to them? What are their interests? What concerns them? What are their problems to solve and their pain points?

  • What are their current practices related to any potential topic(s)?

  • What are their motivators and barriers to change behaviors? What is their interest level and degree of readiness to change?

  • What are their learning styles and preferences?

Primary data is generally collected via surveys, interviews, focus groups, or observation. Each type of data collection method has advantages and disadvantages. Select one or more methods that provide the best return on investment. Some questions may be best answered by a short 2-3 question online survey administered to many people and other questions will be best answered by fewer people with a more in-depth interview or focus group.


Primary data is ideally collected ahead of content creation, but it can also be collected during the communication encounter. Polls during a presentation are a good example of this. Discussions can also enlighten communicators to what the audience’s concerns and questions are. The effective communicator is able to tailor what and how they communicate to meet these needs.


For an in-depth understanding of conducting needs assessments, refer to Chapter 11 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide.


With step 2 completed, you are ready to begin step 3: Identify your purpose and message.


“If you want to create messages that resonate with your audience, you need to know what they care about.” ~ Nate Elliott


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