You Are Not Your Target Audience


Consider this : you happened upon a great wine label while you browse Dan Murphy’s. It strikes you from the sea of wines because you’re a designer and you appreciate its unique aesthetic (in cognitive terms, this is known as selective attention). The label tells a story about the wine and label design, so you take it to a dinner party. You share the story of the wine and what you love about it, feeling like you’re the first to discover and share it. Almost overnight, you start seeing this wine brand wherever you turn. No, you probably haven’t started a hot new trend, the wine hasn’t flooded the market with samples. You’re noticing because that wine label is suddenly more relevant to you and your mindset (also known as confirmation bias).

But not everyone will be drawn to something just because of shit hot design.  As a graphic designer, you might be, but in most cases, you are not your target audience. And the competitive landscape for your design is not just a sea of wine… it’s a tidal wave of messages…

Studies suggest the average human sees up to 5,000 messages every day.  As a consumer of the internet, you’re probably receiving 46 commercial emails per month. For now, our time catching z’s is a message free zone (until Google announce Google Pillow at the next CES… joking, kinda). If we sleep for 7 hours a night, that’s 294 messages per hour, 5 per minute.  

In 1970, it was more like 500 per day, or 30 per waking hour.

How are heads not exploding? Simple. We’ve become very adept at filtering out and ignoring the stuff that doesn’t matter to us.

Ultimately, when you are designing, you’re designing to be noticed. Getting noticed isn’t just about looking good, you’re designing to connect - to spark a feeling, a thought, an action in your audience. What you notice, what looks good to you, may not be the same for your target audience. Getting inside the heads and the hearts of the people you want to connect with, is the only way to cut through those 294 messages a day and be one of the things that matters to them.

Go beyond demographics

How much does ‘Women 24-35, living in metro areas, AB socio-economic profile, who drink wine regularly’ actually tell you about what matters to these women? Not a lot. Create a picture of your audience that goes beyond basic profiling. Before designing anything, get intimate with the audience.

Create an Audience Persona

Create a picture of your ‘typical audience’ in words, choose a portrait photo to represent her, even give her a name. Strategists call this a Persona. If you’ve got uniquely different target audiences, create two or more Personas to form a comprehensive picture of who you want to connect with.

Personas are a strategic tool to inform everything from creative, design, media and channel selection, message strategy and more. When agreed upon by all stakeholders and integrated into a brand’s process long term, a Persona will remove any subjectivity when creating and crafting communications for a given audience.

Start with insights

One of the markers of a good strategist is they ask questions. A lot of questions. It’s how we draw insights to inform strategy and creative. To build a Persona of Jordana, start with the questions that will give us some insight into who she is, what she will connect with... Above all, Jordana aspires to be perceived in a particular way. Uncovering how Jordana sees herself is the goal with building a Persona. A person’s own internal mirror will give you deep insight into how your brand and design can reflect this back to them.

What does Jordana currently think, feel, believe? Get clarity on where she is now, what motivates, what is a burden, her need state. Establish Jordana’s immediate needs and what kind of mindset she is likely to be in.

What stage of her life is she in? Is Jordana single, married, divorced, does she have kids, how old are her kids, how many nights a week does she go out, how often does she drink, what kind of entertainment or cultural activities does she seek, is she health-conscious, how important is convenience to Jordana and why…. What else interests her?

Your role in Jordana’s life

Once clear and intimate with who the audience is, be clear on what role your brand is to play in their lives. Again, the strategist asks questions. For our wine brand, consider the situations where the wine will resonate - is it a wine to be shared? Enjoyed with food or easy to drink with a few friends after work? Is it a social wine full of story, or a simple wine for enjoying while you cook at home?  Is it a special occasion or an every day style of wine?

How do you want Jordana to think and feel, what do you want her to do as a result of interacting with the brand (and your design)? How will she feel about herself after engaging with the brand? This is more than just ‘value proposition’, it is about emotional connection.

Your design should take Jordana on a journey, from what she thinks, feels and does now to what you (and the brand) want her to think, feel and do. Your design creates a bridge.

Take Jordana across that bridge and you’ve connected her to a solution, reflected her aspirational self-image, sparked a feeling that makes the brand memorable, created momentum for her to act.

Answers and Connections

Getting to know Jordana involves getting out, away from your Mac, and speaking directly to people just like her.

Formal research (quantitative or qualitative) is ideal, but not always possible within tight budgets. Set up a simple 5 min Survey Monkey and share the link across your social media channels, email it to your contacts who fit the demographic profile asking them to fill it out (and share with others). Ask 4-6 people you know who fit the audience profile to a cafe and ask them questions to uncover some deeper, qualitative insights. Do some desktop research, find articles or blog posts written by people in your target audience, or publicly available research about them.

Whatever you do, don’t assume. These ‘research lite’ tactics won’t deliver the conclusive insights you’d expect from formal research, but it is better than any assumption made at your desk.

A clear Persona and understanding of the bridge that needs to be built should spark design thinking for your project. Based on what you know about Jordana, you can make some decisions about the hierarchy of the messaging in your design, the colour palette, style and typography to reflect her self-image and the call to action that will see her take the first step across that bridge.