A few weeks ago a very dear and very techie friend of mine came to visit. He criticized that most prized 21st century asset – the TV in my living room. Now to be fair to my friend, the TV was possibly the last functioning example of the cathode ray tube in the south east of England. Replacing it had been on my mind for some time. With my techie credentials impugned TIVO newly nestled beneath, it was evident that the time had come to plunge into the bowels of John Lewis and buy a new TV.
My partner and I trotted off to Westfield John Lewis and located the TVs, at the back of the basement all lined up like a motley regiment of badly drilled chalkboards. We peered at the various TVs, noting the stand (not my first requirement), the size and so on. After fifteen long minutes of staring at a gallery of silent canvasses, we decided to withdraw to the café for contemplation. Sandwiches consumed and loins girded we decided to give it another go and off we slalomed down the escalator pairs back to the basement.
My better half attempted to engage someone who looked like they might know something about TVs only to find herself in an earnest discussion with the security guard. He temporarily reinforced our ranks and attempted to identify someone who might look like they knew about TVs. After a short while, nothing very much happened. So, we resumed our staring and pointing until a young man appeared at my side and we had a reasonably uninformative conversation about panels.
In the end, I bought a TV and sound bar. I hasten to add that this happened because I was playing chicken with my tech-ego and lost. Neither John Lewis nor the manufacturer of the TV played a part in my buying choice. They didn’t even try. This is where I get to the point about communications.
Of all the many rich and varied ways that the store or the TV manufacturer could have chosen to tell me a story about how their TV might fit into my room, my viewing habits or my life, they didn’t use one of them.
From the layout of the department to the knowledge of the staff to the absence of anything interesting on the screens, they failed at almost every level to demonstrate that they had any insight into what their products might be used for.
So, here are some ideas for the stores and the manufacturers and hopefully some lessons on how to think about the biography of your audience in the wider sense.
My better half was concerned about the size of the TV and how it would fit into our living room. Surely the technology exists for me to take a picture of my living room and one of the staff could drag and drop a scale image of the new TV into its final resting place. We could then see what it might look like and visualize its place. That would have helped us to choose.
Second, I wanted to know what the TVs were good at. For the record, sci-fi would have scored a hit for me and sound quality for my partner. So, how come the manufacturers don’t make a video to extol the virtues of their TV on the screen. There doesn’t have to be volume as this would be dissonant with so many TVs in one place. There are very few occasions on which a company gets the undivided attention of a customer – I was literally staring at blank screens yearning for information. There could have been previous customers explaining things to me via my phone. There could have been screenshots of different types of TV and explanations of how the technology could make me see a Newcastle United goal with even more glee than would otherwise be the case. They could be explaining how to use the parental settings. Hell, they could have been explaining that you don’t have to dust it much. I just wanted some comparative, credible evidence that this product would do what I wanted.
Come on TV people – you get to make these sales but once every five years or so. It’s no good just sticking the TV on a stand among a little forest of very similar products, you’ve got to show that you get me. You might even get a good PR campaign out of showing the extent that you understand your customers.
And this is where a retail trip of a slightly different nature comes into play. There has recently been a new addition to my household, a dog (Inca, Sprollie, 1 yr old) who required a place to sleep. In Pets at Home this time, rather than John Lewis, we were again confronted by stacks of product – this time dog baskets rather than TVs. We were trying to figure out what would be best when my better half literally stumbled upon a very helpful diagram on the floor (see the picture, feet are mine). This was a little instance of communications genius – the Sleepeazy ‘Dog Bed Sizing Chart’. I am sure there is no need to rehearse the reasons that this works, it is evident from the photograph. One little comment, though. Instead of just using the dimensions of the basket, they use breed names to illustrate the size. I, as their potential customer, can immediately identify with one of those breeds as mine or being like mine. They are straight away on my and my dog’s side. They get us and they have shown it, I am more likely to buy from them as a consequence. The breed names use is a great example of where a ‘case study’, for that is what the names are, can help to bring a product alive for a customer.
So, what can you and your company do to be more Sleepeazy than the TV people? Well, here’s a quick exercise that any Comms pro or commercial leader could do start thinking in a systematic way about the interests of your audiences. So, help yourself to the questions below as a very basic way of starting to categorise and then empathise with your audiences.
• What is name of this audience? (New TV buyers, previous basket owners etc…)
• Size of the audience (Tens, hundreds, thousands)
• Key influencers of this audience (Blogs, tech websites, ‘Me and my Dog’)
• What has research shown influences this audience? (Polling companies, trade magazines, focus groups)
• Is the audience polarized and if so what causes this? (Look at the debates in play – plasma vs LCD, where does the dog sleep?)
• What are the 5 key issues for this audience? (Is it price, delivery charges, availability, the list goes on for a while but you should know the answers)
• Is there any evidence about you or your company’s existing perception with this audience? (Polling evidence, customer research or satisfaction surveys, examples of how other companies do this well?)
These questions are but a small snippet from the introductory workshop on Audiences in Leadership Communications from Storeys. For more information about how to think about your audiences for PR and Comms get in touch.