Beware the internal echo chamber - it does not give you insight into your audience and their lives

Look out not in, to get real inspiration and connect with your external audiences

Look out not in, to get real inspiration and connect with your external audiences

Three weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at the Charity Comms seminar on The Innovation Mindset launching this fantastic free innovation guide . It was a really great event and I enjoyed playing a small part in the content on the day. One particular area I focused on that seemed to resonate was an example I gave talking about the dangers of listening to the internal echo chamber. People nodded their heads (pretty sure that was positive affirmation - not falling asleep), retweeted and talked to me about it afterwards. It’s an area I feel passionately about - so I thought I’d elaborate in a longer blog post.

  • We will make decisions based on data

  • Our campaigns are based on audience insight

  • We are data driven

  • We are insight-led

Are you - are you really? Or does all that noble intention melt away when the voice of the highest paid person in the room pipes up, disregarding supporter or stakeholder feedback and views?

The four sound and sensible statements above are relatively easy to write in to strategy documents, team operating principles and ways of working manifesto’s. They are much harder to put into practice and hard bake into your organisation. They are easy to forget and disregard when you’re up against deadlines and just trying to get something signed off.

If Brexit has taught us one thing - and it really should have taught us at least one thing - it’s don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answers to. This applies equally to your organisations constituents. If you’ve spent organisational money on finding out what your target audience think, you have a duty to act on that information and factor it into the decision making process with a heavy weighting.

So - in my presentation I talked through a superb example given by Paul Vanags of the disconnect between the prevalent views of some Oxfam staff versus the views of their supporters and a representative sample of the general public. You can read the full blog here and you really should - it’s a great read. Paul warns of the dangers of using your colleagues to filter ideas out before they get to a testing stage with your potential audience. In my experience this happens. A lot.

If you work in fundraising and have produced collateral for a particular audience it is highly likely you decide which creative moves forward. If you’re working with a creative department or a creative agency - you get the three concepts right - and then a few of you form a decision making committee - we like a little of that, a little of this - can you just blend them together?

Are you the target audience? If so - great - if not (and it’s unlikely you are) - not so great. If you want to increase your impact with the target audience - you can quickly present these concepts to them quickly and cheaply. Use something like Attest to get quick feedback. With digital tools abounding in this area - there really is no excuse for not checking your core campaign ideas with the target audience every time. At Flying Cars we always recommend our partners taking some time in their campaign development to do this.

For bigger campaigns it’s more likely the target audience will get a chance to feedback and input - but the battle isn't always over then. Often audience research and data is looked at and absorbed - and then disregarded in favour of the personal opinions of more senior staff members. And that’s kind of ok - senior staff are paid more in part because they need to provide leadership and make decisions right? Well not really. Organisations that have flatter structures, with less hierarchy tend to make quicker decisions, are more entrepreneurial, and staff that are trusted to make decisions in line with their pay levels are generally more satisfied.

This is not to say that your audience, your donors, your stakeholders are always right about everything - they often don’t know what they want, or say they want one thing but mean the other, or say what they think you want to hear - so being audience-led doesn’t mean switching off your critical faculties and surrendering all decision-making to them. But it does mean involving their views at the key stages of campaign development and acting on what they tell you the finished product should look like.

So how to push through these difficulties? If you are designing and creating a new engagement campaign here are some suggested steps you can incorporate:

  • Make sure your target audience is well defined and agreed before meaningful work begins

  • Take time to build in developing some original audience insight into their lives (try and get the most senior decision maker involved in the insight interviews - it is much harder to disregard when you’ve heard real people speak)

  • Agree who is signing off the campaign - try to make this as flat as possible within agreed parameters

  • Ensure no ideas are disregarded before the voice and views of the target audience can be consulted - don’t whittle down your universe of ideas by asking internal staff (unless those ideas create safeguarding or reputational risks)

  • Ensure live audience testing is built into your campaign development process. This does not have to be costly - you can audience test ideas in lean ways with minimal spend - try Facebook, online panels or in person with bits of paper.

  • Get agreement from senior staff that you will move forward with the idea most preferred by the target audience

  • Create at least one stage in your process to pivot in a slightly different direction if your initial campaign idea is not gaining the traction you desire

  • Ensure someone is charged with looking at the campaign data and that actions and decisions will be made from the findings of that data analysis.

If you do some or even better - all of these things - I guarantee your next campaign will deliver more impact for your organisation than those that have gone before and your audience will connect more deeply with your cause. And that’s something everyone wants right?

Header photo by Victoria Bragg on Unsplash