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A provocation: do you really know your audience?

Technology & Data

A provocation: do you really know your audience?


Celia Pavelieff shares her reflections on the findings of the ‘National Arts Participation Survey,’ and asks whether we truly know our audiences as marketers.

This article originally appeared in The Culture Issue, our August/September issue of Marketing magazine.


MK0817 culture coverI love watching rugby union and AFL, reading Helen Garner’s non-fiction and also magazines at the checkout, getting lost in Bridget Riley’s stripes and absorbing the infectious energy of the Djuki Mala dancers. I need a new phone, I love eating pizza, shopping at farmers’ markets and wearing boots. These details could describe anyone, but what does this snapshot of habits say about me? Who am I and how well do you know me? There is a very good chance that I am your audience, as much as you are mine.

I didn’t always like rugby union, which in many respects was blasphemous in my household with a father who once played for Australia. I was dragged along to a game many years ago, secretly liking it yet outwardly abhorring it. Nothing in the world could convince me to go to another game, though secretly I yearned for the experience again. But what would motivate me to go again, what trigger needs to be pulled in the future?

If I can go weeks without saying the word ‘sport’ or thinking about ‘rugby union’, I am a marketing challenge.

So how do you as a marketer get to know me? We all have our go-to toolkits and resources, including the granular audience data that is increasing in sophistication every day. We are marketers, so the more heavily invested we are, the more we live, eat and breathe intel on our audiences. We can almost predict their every move. We know what time they wake up and post to them. We know when they eat and serve to them. We know what they’ve looked at in the past and suggest what they may like in the future. We pop up, around and through their lives. Or at least we think we do.

Audiences are consumers, customers, clients, markets, regions and, for many of us, the reason we go to work each day. Every touch point on the supply chain of everything we do earmarks each of us as a consumer or audience for something. But I think we often forget how shared our audiences are. I am as much a telco’s audience as I am a potential audience for contemporary Indigenous dance and theatre. I am as much an ebook publisher’s audience as a farmers’ market shopper.

While we become very familiar with our audiences’ habits, how often do we invest time analysing the motivations behind the choices our audiences make? The increased content being served to our audiences is increasing the knowledge base informing these choices. Within this knowledge base lie our opportunities to motivate the dormant or new audience member. I’ll return to the concept of the new audience member shortly.

As marketers we have a powerful, unique attribute that we bring to the table. In a world currently driven by content, imagery and, at times, 140 characters, we have an important role as creators and curators to connect with our audiences. As marketers we are visionaries. We envision our audiences with our products and experiences.

We have the power of observation and interpretation.

The power to give spreadsheets and market research data meaning by using them to connect audiences and experiences, customers and products. However, the analytics and data sets only tell part of the story. The questions that this data doesn’t answer often hold the answers that tip awareness into conversion. The questions are not new, nor this insight ground breaking, but a little reminder that we are not yet in the age of The Minority Report.

The minute you think you are an expert in predicting your audience, you’ve started down an erroneous path. You’ve missed some of your developing audience in the moment. The very technology that is serving to inform us about our audiences is also imparting more and more content to them and others, and in so doing changing their behaviours. Behaviours that you have banked on and are aiming to anticipate.

Never underestimate the unknown.

If you’ve ever found yourself saying… ‘I didn’t know that’ when shown something new for the first time, you are someone’s developing audience. And once that little phrase was uttered, you were a conversion. That moment in time changed you from being a cold to a hot prospect; you just became someone’s potential customer, audience or client.

You just grew a market by one.

We can philosophise and build theories around these behaviours. We can use these behaviours to improve the success of our goods and services. And we can guarantee now that these behaviours will evolve and change as the markets change.

How can I be so sure that the characteristics of your audiences and markets will change? Our need to continue monitoring our audiences and to improve our understanding of them is my proof. Once we started doing this, we haven’t been able to stop. We research to inform us of changes, opportunities and deficits. The key to knowing your audience is to know it will not only change, but to look beyond your audience. Not only do we need to monitor the changes of our current audience, we need to already be looking into the audience groups of other industries and sectors for the dormant or emerging group. To know that of others. Technology does a wonderful job of connecting us – curate these connections to know your audience better.

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Technology, though, is largely responsive and informs us well of past performance; knowing your audiences includes active and ongoing research of your next audience.

The layers to our research will vary for each of us: analytics, market research and applied research help us to understand more significant audience behaviours and to construct audience, market and regional analysis that those diehards among us will gobble up to apply to our campaigns. This plethora of research can be cut and diced, interpreted and applied in many ways to help us understand our audiences more.

Through this article I have been exploring the simple, yet quite confounding question – do we know our audiences?

It is impossible to do this without understanding the relationship of audiences to cultures. This edition, dedicated to culture, is the perfect place to illustrate this. Many, many people have tried to define the concept of culture. Culture is many things to many people in many ways.

Exploring the concept of culture reveals that culture does not have its own theories or methodologies, but borrows from the schools of the social sciences, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, the arts, linguistics, political sciences and international relations, to name just a few. Culture also contributes and is the summation of the interpreted behaviours of these disciplines, and in many ways culture is the potential predictor of what we can achieve.

Societies’ differences are also their similarities encompassed in this wonderfully diverse and complex concept of culture. Culture in this post-modernist society is a concept, a plurality of paradigms. It is because of this extraordinarily complex quality that culture defies one definition alone. The connections between our audiences, culture and their behaviours are some of the most exciting connections that we as marketers can optimise in the curation of our campaigns.

Our audiences are rich in cultures, cultural heritage and experiences. These audiences, markets and regions each contribute to and draw from culture: your audiences and mine. In fact, culture connects not only audiences, but Australians.

I currently work in the arts – in fact, I have for many years. I have devoted countless years to understanding audiences, building and learning about them. My job will never be complete, but it will be informed by the amazing opportunities that audiences present for the arts and culture. The lessons from arts audiences are not unique to this sector.

The recently released ‘Connecting Australians: 2016 National Arts Participation Survey’ reports that 98% of Australians are engaged in the arts. This means these same 98% of Australians are our shared audience, yours and mine. The beliefs this research reports are the same beliefs of our combined audience: that the arts reflect Australia’s diversity, they shape and express identity, and create empathy, understanding and connection. What do these beliefs have to do with your products and services?

Savvy marketers will delve deeper into this research to appreciate these socially cohesive behaviours and motivations of this shared audience. These characteristics inform us about what our audiences value now and hypothetically in the future. Triangulating data potentially finds your ‘new’ audience.

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They may very well be right under your nose: the family sitting the park, the AFL fans or the 62-year-old exploring a new tablet in the electronics aisle. I once commenced a project (I tend to think of the audience build as a project) and set myself the task of breaking all previous audience records and attracting everyone who was seven to 70 in Australia.

I did segment, target and strategically plan the whole campaign, and I did believe that the audience was diverse, complex and evolving.

I used research from a variety of industries to explore audience opportunities and reach ‘new’ audiences. Audience records were broken and new targets set for the future, audiences who would never have conceived of the experience were converted. Eyes were opened, appetites raised, industries and sectors connected audiences in some surprising and unprecedented ways.

Yet there were more satisfying moments. Visiting the audience as they enjoyed their experiences at random times throughout the campaign was one of the most informative and rewarding ways that I got to know my audience. I observed, chatted and collected the stories of how they came to be there – further consolidating my knowledge of them to take them to their next experience. We were simultaneously evolving behaviours, drawing from and contributing to cultural experiences, and ultimately connecting shared audiences.

I am not convinced that referring to segments as ‘new’ audiences is useful. All audiences are someone else’s already. Yes, they may be new to you or they may indeed just need the right trigger for you to recognise them – my dormant rugby union years as an example.

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What other insights do reports such as the ‘2016 National Arts Participation Survey’ provide about your current and hottest prospected audiences? Do you know what music Australians listen to or books they read?

These same Australians who spend countless hours following sport or avoiding it? Are you aware of how active and participatory we like to be? Are you missing opportunities to engage with your audiences? Have you considered cultural backgrounds in designing and curating your campaigns?

Audiences and culture are two of the most wonderfully consuming concepts that we as marketers are interested in. Culture is inseparable from who we are, what we choose to do, watch, consume, buy and eat. To answer the question: do we really know our audiences? is almost as hard as answering the question, what is culture? My advice is then not to seek a definition, but to continue to ponder the questions and use as many different resources as we have available to us to curate our audience experiences.

And if you aren’t sure who Bridget Riley is and have never experienced the Djuki Mala dancers, look them up, because you are missing out!

Celia Pavelieff is marketing and operations manager at Australia Council for the Arts.

Research to explore

  • ‘Connecting Australians: 2016 National Arts Participation Survey’: www.australiacouncil.gov.au/ research/connecting-australians
  • Arts Nation: hub of research and data on the arts in Australia: www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research
  • ‘Building Audiences: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art’: www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/building-audiences-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-arts



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