Cafe Witness

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fishbowls and Treehouses

Quick: who's your audience?

Most of us know who our TARGET audience is. We know who we're EXPECTING to interact with our product / service / message ("PSM"). We may even have demographics that PROVE whom our audience actually IS...

What we're forgetting is everyone ELSE who may stumble across our PSM by accident... or through the back door... or on referral... or any of a million ways we didn't plan for.

Does your PSM "work" for the people OUTSIDE the fishbowl?

Even The Pros Get It Wrong

To wit, the photo above. How many of you noticed that "Vanilla" is misspelled on the Glade packaging? Apparently, no one at Glade did, either...*

Odds are, no one at Glade lost their job over that gaffe. The people who already buy Glade vanilla spray know what the canister looks like. They don't even stop to read the label.

But what about potential new users? Will they be dubious of a product from an industry leader who can't even spell the product's name right?

Industrial Shorthand

At my old job, I edited industrial safety videos. Due to time constraints, these videos are pumped out quickly, which means it's vital to get the information across as CLEARLY and QUICKLY (in regard to production time) as possible.

While on a recent visit to the old office, I realized just how UNCLEAR some of the information in these videos would be to anyone without a working foreknowledge of the subject covered.

With a few extra graphics, more explanatory video clips and some clarification of the actual script -- all very small investments in actual production time -- that video would be FAR more valuable as a learning tool.

But why make those changes? After all, their target audience is already paying for them as-is.

A Ladder to the Treehouse

Very often, we as creators of social media -- whether we're writing text, making graphics, shooting video or communicating in general -- make presumptions about our audience.

If we're proactive, we assume they know at least as much about our subject as we do.

If we're cynical, we presume the general public doesn't CARE about our subject as much as we do.

And if we're ignorant, we presume our audience will stick with us even when we sell them short, take them for granted or deliver less than our best.

In all cases, we don't take the trouble to make our conversations accessible beyond the immediate, expected audience -- our personal fishbowl.

We might therefore blame the audience when they can't follow our line of thinking. We might accuse them of being lazy, or having short attention spans, or simply bad taste.

What we're losing sight of is that our audience, by and large, WANTS to like what we do. People who stumble across us WANT to be entertained, WANT to be informed, WANT to be pleasantly surprised. If all we do is reinforce THEIR presumption -- that we're of a treehouse mentality, uninterested in admitting them because they're "not as cool" -- then we certainly can't complain when they don't take an interest in what we do... or tell their friends... or subscribe to our RSS feeds... or pay our bills.

Granted, your existing audience may love what you do despite -- or even BECAUSE OF -- the fishbowl you've created. But for everyone who blindly follows your lead because they've become complacent in your fishbowl, there's another person who actually knows how to spell "vanilla" -- and they'll do business with someone else who bothers to do the same.

* UPDATE: As has been mentioned to me off-blog, "vainilla" is a Spanish spelling of "vanilla," and "spray" translates bilingually as well. Fair enough. But, by that rationale, if "spray" translates bilingually, why doesn't "vanilla"?... Someone find me a bilingual French canister that says "chocolat spray," please...

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