Targeting audiences: A few thoughts to consider

by Anya Woods on 24 November 2009

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e-mail_iconEvery marketer struggles with this idea; if they don’t then they should. How do we know what our target audiences would respond to? What if we have multiple target audiences, how do we engage each without alienating the others? In what cases do we really need to step back and rethink the way we communicate with our constituents?

I came across a great example of this earlier this week when Andy Shaindlin of alumni futures did a quick look at what people on twitter were saying about alumni offices. And let’s just say, the results were not great. My favorite quote was: “Alumni associations are worse than telemarketers.”

This got me thinking. Why do colleges still have telethons? I get called by my alma maters with relative consistency, always at awkward times, and always from some poor undergraduate who has been instructed to not let me get off the phone without basically begging me for $10 on a Sunday evening. The alumni association then follows up with mailings and invitations to local events. There are a number of problems with this picture, so let’s start with a brief list:

- I am not really in a great group to begin soliciting for money, due primarily to fact that I still have a considerable amount of student loan debt.

- I hate phone calls. I’ve never given information or money over the phone before, and I don’t plan to start now with an alumni donation.

-  I would rather give online. You’d be much more likely to have success in getting me to donate small sums if you made it drop dead simple and easy, online.

- I don’t need to paper mailings either. I throw them out. I feel bad when I do it because I know how many resources go into those mailings, but they simply don’t work to get me to act.

- I don’t golf or go to meetings at 7:30 am. For years my alumni association has been baiting me with getting more involved with the school through one of three options: Golf, ridiculously early networking events, or “young alumni” gatherings at bars I would NEVER go to.

You get the picture. The overall theme here is that the college is using number of techniques that they’ve used for years to try to solicit funds, but not much thought has been given to audience. For example, I happen to know that a lot of thought goes into whether or not people will be home to receive the phone call at a given time. And yet no one ever asks “should we even be calling these people?” Often the answer is that the telethon at least brings in SOME funding, so we should keep going even though the actual percentage of people who give vs. hang up, get mad, refuse, tell you to never call again, etc. is quite low.

Which brings us back to the original question. Are you really thinking about your audience before you start a particular marketing program? Sure you might think that because someone attended the university they have a greater feeling of association to the institution than, say, a car insurance company. That does NOT mean they want to get a phone call from you. The feeling of rapport with the institution is not aided by what most people have blocked from their phone lines: unexpected and unsolicited phone calls asking for money.

Thinking about your audience then is not just about the content of what you’re trying to communicate (the callers from the university are usually very nice and loaded with tidbits of info on how far the school has come and how my tiny gift could help.) No, in fact, the method of delivery is JUST as important, if not more so. Getting to know your audience is as much about context as it is content, and paying attention to that will allow your campaigns to be much more effective.

  • rickahardy

    Anya, well said. Your point of view is important. Tactics such as telethons tend to be used across generations. It's no wonder that for many institutions, the results are poor to mediocre. Institutions tend to think that alumni care about their alma mater, enough to give back. But the reality is that most alumni are frozen in time with their alma mater and really only care about their memories and former classmates. Institutions have to figure out ways to connect yesterday with today. But in order to have a shot at doing that, institutions have to do something rather simple, as you've stated: just think of the audience, what they care about, and how to communicate with them.

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  • http://www.alumnifutures.com/ Andy Shaindlin

    Thanks for mentioning my post about Twitter. There are certainly some complimentary and positive comments on Twitter that people make regarding their alma mater. And there are (believe it or not) people who want to get a call from a student and who will donate over the phone. But as you suggest, even those people should be asked: “Is there some other way you would prefer us to communicate with you?” or some similar question.

    By the way, if you want your alumni association to offer activities other than the three (unappealing) ones you mentioned, I recommend that you volunteer to organize something YOU would like to do. It's another way to send the message about relevance back to your school. (Of course, I would say that – I'm an alumni director!)

  • http://www.alumnifutures.com/ Andy Shaindlin

    Thanks for mentioning my post about Twitter. There are certainly some complimentary and positive comments on Twitter that people make regarding their alma mater. And there are (believe it or not) people who want to get a call from a student and who will donate over the phone. But as you suggest, even those people should be asked: “Is there some other way you would prefer us to communicate with you?” or some similar question.

    By the way, if you want your alumni association to offer activities other than the three (unappealing) ones you mentioned, I recommend that you volunteer to organize something YOU would like to do. It's another way to send the message about relevance back to your school. (Of course, I would say that – I'm an alumni director!)

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