Last year on fall break, we vacationed on St. George Island, Florida. My father-in-law, my son and I had big plans to catch some fish. We had everything we needed—fishing poles, full tackle box, snacks, drinks, sun block, and time. Let the fun begin, right?
Hours later, all sun burnt and tired, we had no more snacks, no more drinks, no more patience, and no fish. What happened? We were so prepared. Or so we thought.
We all went out to dinner that night (since we had no fish to eat). On our way to the restaurant, we stopped at the local bait shop. We struck up a conversation with the gentleman behind the counter.
“We can’t catch a thing out there,” we tell him. “We see the fish, but they just pass on by. Nothing’s biting!”
“Well, what are you fishing for, anything in particular?” he asks.
“Anything and everything,” we reply. “We just want to catch some fish.”
“Ok,” he says. “Where are you fishing, in the bay or the ocean? What time? What are you using for bait?” he asks us.
“Our cabin is on the bay side,” we explain. “We got out there at first light and stayed until lunch, when we gave up after not getting a single bite on our lines. We were using hot dogs for bait.”
“Ok…” he says. “I think I know what the problem is. Late afternoon is the best time to fish this time of year, once the water warms up a bit. And you’re probably seeing mullet out there. They eat a mostly vegetarian diet. And the best way to catch mullet is with a cast net.”
“Oh,” we say, a little embarrassed. “That explains a lot…”
Clearly, we did not know our audience.
This experience got me thinking. How often do we do this when trying to communicate with our nonprofit audiences? We dive right in to tactical, get-it-done mode, without taking the time to research and plan, to get to know our audiences—who they are, where they are, when and how they like to hear from us, what they’re hungry for. The result is a hodgepodge of communications materials that are not targeted or personalized, that don’t consider the audience or their needs, and are thus not effective. Successful communications are the result of a strategy that is informed by research and a solid understanding of our audience, so that our efforts can be targeted and tailored to their needs. If we lose focus on our target audience, or don’t take the time to figure out who our target audience is to begin with, we end up fishing with hotdogs. And we know how that story ends.