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Adjust your messaging to the audience




By Tom Peterson

Do your cause a favor and adapt your words to fit the folks you’re talking with.

I occasionally shop at a Target store near my house. The retailer recently mailed me a large brochure with 24 coupons: 25% off spices, 15% off pillows, 25% off sliced jalapeños. These coupons weren’t random; they all echoed products I’d bought there at least once. There was even a coupon for rawhide chews for dogs, something I’d bought to keep my furniture from being chewed up. Target had tracked my buying history and custom printed a unique set of coupons—with a picture of each item—in a brochure for an only-person-in-the-universe audience: me.

You may not have the technology to pinpoint your supporters’ needs with this level of precision—although the honing tools are increasingly available and affordable—but you can make adjust your messaging based on what you do know about them. When you reach out, your message and tone should resonate with the specific audience.

Your core message should stay the same. But how you speak with different groups may vary widely. Early in my time leading marketing at Heifer International we asked donors in surveys and focus groups why they supported Heifer. With no prompting they overwhelmingly responded that wanted to help families become self-reliant. While not surprising, it was essential that we knew this. Self-reliance became central to every message. But when we spoke with congregations, we added faith language and spoke of moral imperatives. To foundations we talked about impact and included evaluation data. Our holiday gift catalog questioned whether Uncle Al needed another tie and included the cool factor of alternative gifts for your family or friends. But all of our communications spoke of how the livestock and training transformed lives and helped families move toward self-reliance.

adjust marketing message nonprofit

Right message to the right audience

Much is written about marketing to different age segments, for example, greatest generation, boomers, millennials, and gen X. These and many other groupings should drive your language choices. Successful messaging to grandmothers probably won’t work with teenage boys. Even though you are describing the same cause and making the same call to action it should sound different.

Music performers tell a joke: What’s the difference between a rock musician and a jazz musician? A rocker plays three chords in front of 3,000 people while a jazz musician plays 3,000 chords in front of three people. Depending on the audience, your message should sound different even though you’re playing the same song.

Of course, no matter how eloquent you are, you probably won’t be able to sell rawhide dog chews to a cat owner. But do reach out to the owner of that puppy who’s chewing up the furniture. But be sure to remind them she’s just a puppy. Good doggy!

Craft message to the wants and needs of your target audience.

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One Response to Adjust your messaging to the audience

  1. Dragisa Gligorijevic July 4, 2018 at 7:52 am #

    Hey Tom! I enjoyed reading your article because it points out the importance of sending the right message to the right audience. Your effort will be pointless if you direct it towards the people who are not in your target group.

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