No One is Paying Attention: How to Listen to Your Audience to Drive Change

No One is Paying Attention: How to Listen to Your Audience to Drive Change

Karen Ong Barone Feb 14, 2023 3 MIN READ

The days are long gone when you could develop a clever ad, air it on whatever program your audience watches and pat yourself on your back for doing a good job. Advertising and marketing isn’t what it used to be. Our culture doesn’t want to be advertised or marketed to. Today’s “consumers” are savvy about traditional advertising. They’ve been marketed to all their lives. Fictitious characters like Don Draper and Emily in Paris have shown them just how much effort (and drama) goes into it all. And our culture is sick of it. Rightfully so. No one wants to feel like they are being manipulated or controlled. 

In addition to the general disdain of advertising, the media world is noisier than ever. Advertisers don’t just need to figure out which of the five major networks their audience is watching. There are countless voices and platforms that people are streaming, subscribing to and sharing at any given time. Notifications are endless text messages, ongoing group conversations on WhatsApp, the million push notifications you can’t seem to figure out how to turn off on your phone, the DMs through Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and any other platform you are on. Those numbered unread red bubbles haunt you from your personal email inbox, your work email inbox, your LinkedIn inbox, your Slack account, oh and your actual physical mailbox. Just writing all that makes me want to get up and go for a quiet walk in the woods. 

So, how do you get a word in edgewise? How do you get the attention of an audience that has been advertised, marketed and notified to death? You have a good and important cause and you need people to listen. More importantly you need people to change. What do you do?

My advice may seem simple: Instead of trying to shout  listen to your audience. 

Stop thinking about how to be clever or challenging yourself and your creative team to come up with the best interruption by being the loudest and funniest. Listen to your audience. What do they need? What do they want? What will help THEM? 

I often call this thinking backwards. Stop thinking about you and your cause for a moment and think instead from your audience’s point of view. 

Aligning what they need and are looking for with your cause greatly increases your chances of being heard. You won’t have to shout to be heard because you will be helping your audience with something they already need. 

Let me give you an example. In our Be Floridian campaign we wanted people to stop fertilizing their lawns during the summer rainy season. People had been sold on the idea for years that what they wanted and what they needed was a perfectly green lawn that had to be fertilized at all times. Our campaign gave them something else they wanted even more a break. Time to relax. Time to not be working in their yard. Something they could easily get by choosing landscaping that didn’t need so much watering, mowing or fertilizing.  

Need some inspiration? Looking at behavioral determinants might help spark your thinking and gain an understanding of what will influence your audience’s behavior.  

And then go forth. Think backwards. You don’t need to shout. Just listen then talk smarter.

Karen Ong Barone is Principal + Executive Creative Director at Marketing for Change.