Guest Blogging: Knowing your audience matters in each area of media, and it will matter a great deal

Each week, we will strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Kelli Bloomquist, an adjunct instructor at Drake University and Iowa State University. She is a 22-year journalist and freelance digital media specialist. She also owns the Dayton Review newspaper which has served the rural farming community of Dayton, Iowa for nearly 140 years. Her post today looks at how failure to know about your audience can have some painful consequences for everyone involved. Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.

As journalism professors, we harp in almost every unit of every single class about knowing your audience and how to target the people in it. It’s of the utmost importance, despite some of the glazed over looks that I’ve seen recently during 8 a.m. classes when I’ve been lecturing on the subject.

The fact of the matter is simple, if you don’t know the intricacies of your audience, you know nothing about your product or the job expected of you. Audience analytics are simple to find thanks to digital media outlets who have provided access to this information in various shapes and forms. Organizations and employees that don’t take advantage of this information are doing a disservice not just to themselves, but to their professional targets and goals too.

While I do harp on the subject, I have few personal examples that are so gregarious that they’re shocking in tone and act. That is, until this past week.

My family and I live on the farm that my husband’s great-grandfather built when he emigrated from Sweden more than 100 years ago. It’s a farm that has seen the rise of farming and sadly shed many tears when farming has taken tumbles in the markets.

Earlier this week, a random truck came peddling down our farm lane. If you’ve lived in the country before, you know that it’s considered somewhat brazen to enter farmland without being invited or knowing the owners. It heightens my anxiety to see an uninvited guest driving up our quarter-mile lane. Like any good farm wife, I first set the dogs after the man, hoping that their barks would run him off. But the man walked up to the door, knocked, and stood there waiting.

He was a salesman. I have nothing against door-to-door salespeople at all, though it’s uncommon for them to visit rural farmers.

The man held a clipboard with a plat map of area farms, including ours. The map was highlighted and written on. He told me about how he was selling specialized insurance to area farmers with a special focus on cancer, mortality, and long-term medical problems.

“We have insurance for farmers because you know, the mortality rate is getting bad,” the salesman said. “You know, farming is pretty bad right now and there’s a lot of farmers killing themselves. Don’t you think you need insurance like this on your husband?”

I was shell-shocked that this man had just said what he had to me. Completely and totally floored.  Clearly, he had not done even a simple bit of research on the farms that he had highlighted and marked on his plat map. He didn’t know his audience at all.

You see, my husband is actually a college music professor and we’re hobby farmers. But most importantly, my father-in-law died on our farm during the height of the hedge-to-arrive disputes in the late 1990s. State-wide media reported on it noting his suicide and the many others.

I stood, staring at this man. I’m certain my jaw dropped and my brow furrowed. “You need to leave now,” I told the man in my meanest mom/teacher voice. “Now!”

Then my cell phone started ringing. Then our landline began ringing simultaneously. I repeated that the man needed to leave and he did, though I’m quite certain he had no idea what he had just done to offend me.

The phone calls were neighbors telling us the man’s sales pitch, knowing how it would affect us and knowing how it would send us into a tailspin.

The man didn’t know his audience. He hadn’t done any research into the area or the people that he would be speaking with. He had a highlighted plat map but a simple Google search would have told him more about the homeowners in the area he was visiting.

A simple comparison of that information against his product would have given him even more information about how to sell his product. Instead, this man didn’t sell a single product that day, but many were offended by his pitch, all because they knew my father-in-law and respected our family who have been part of the community for more than a century.

Knowing your audience is of the utmost importance whether you work in sales and marketing, public relations, even journalism. Your audience demographic affects how you write, how you approach your audience, and even how your audience views you and your product.  If you don’t know your audience, you’re doing your audience a tremendous disservice and make yourself look like a heartless professional.

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