Understanding your audience is an indispensable element of successful communication. We regularly discuss age, gender, ethnicity, income, but less frequently discuss the in-born, psychologically-framed preferences for communication that affect how people ingest and make sense of information.
Having worked with CPP, the company that publishes the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, for nearly seven years now, we have become acutely aware of the immeasurable impact such preferences have on the way messages reverberate. Suffice it to say that people have extremely different preferences for receiving, processing and imparting information. So much so that two people can derive radically different meanings from the exact same message.
Communication preferences are at least as important as demographic considerations. So why aren’t they weighed as heavily? The simplest explanation is that this information is much more difficult to obtain. Determining race, age or income is pretty straightforward compared to finding out, for instance, whether someone likes to take in information in a precise manner vs. in a more ad hoc way, which is typically the domain of psychometric assessments.
Let’s be honest: online marketing tools are a long way from being able to deliver this kind of insight (I’m still getting Match.com ads, despite a Facebook status of “married” and pictures of my wife and kids all over my profile). However, there are still a few things that will help us deliver messages in a way that will resonate with a variety of individuals.
Strike A Balance
You can’t tailor mass communications to everyone any more than you can make pants that fit every body size. But, you can strike a balance that offers appeal for every communication preference and minimizes alienation.
Some, for example, tend to seek facts first, while others look for meanings. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to deliver a little of both. Rather than overwhelming your audience with product details upfront, include only the most relevant specifications, but make it very easy for someone seeking more information to get it. Likewise, make it clear to your audience from the beginning why what you’re saying is relevant and what it means to them. But don’t dwell on it too long, or you may turn off those that want to get down in the weeds.
Repeat And Adapt
Messages must be repeated many times before they start to stick. Since you’re going to be saying the same thing over and over, why not say it in different ways? This way you’re killing two birds with one stone by increasing your chances of resonating with different types of people, and simultaneously avoiding sounding like a digital glitch.
One advantage of constantly communicating through through a variety of mediums is that it gives you a chance to adapt your messages to the the preferences of the audience. Social media, for example, allows you to have authentic, two-way conversations. If you’re truly listening to your audience members, these conversations will provide clues as to how you can adapt your communication style to their needs.
Multi-media communication also offers an advantage, as people often have a preference for either written or spoken communication. By creating videos to complement blog posts, for example, you’re appealing to both preferences.
Mirror Your Audience Members’ Style
Probably the best indicator of an audience’s communication preference is how they are communicating to each other, and back to you. The ability to monitor online conversations provides an opportunity to gauge communication preferences. While you’re listening to what they’re saying, also pay attention to how they’re saying it. If they’re giving each other step-by-step explanations, that’s a good sign that they want to receive the same. If they’re discussing patterns and big-picture implications, that’s probably what’s going to resonate with them.