Toolkit: How to get your messages heard

In the day-to-day, we are constantly bombarded by information. While scrolling social media feeds, we get ads in the sidebar and in between Instagram stories. We do our best to tune out radio advertising on the drive home while watching another cheesy accident lawyer billboard careen by the window. In our inboxes, we receive e-newsletter after e-newsletter, “Buy this!” “Donate to this!” “Come to this event!”

All this noise makes it harder and harder for nonprofits to get their messages heard. People are becoming increasingly selective about what’s worth noticing and what, with limited time and too much information, they should actually be listening to.

If your goal is to get your messages heard, these three points are particularly important:

  1. First and foremost, if you are talking to everyone, you are speaking to no one. I think we can all agree: no one wants a canned speech.
  2. Attention is a commodity. It is something that has to be earned. What do your audiences value? What can you offer in exchange for their attention?
  3. People thrive on personal connection. What do your audiences care about? Find ways to connect into what they believe, value or seek.

Communication is most effective when you know who you are speaking to. This means understanding your audiences as people. What do they believe in? What keeps them up at night? What’s their life like? Once you can relate to your audience on this level, it is possible to develop effective communications strategies with a greater chance to succeed.

Understanding audiences is no small task; it happens over time and through experiences. But one conceptual tool that we’ve found to be particularly useful as a starting point is the Customer Persona.

Customer Persona – How To:

Customer Personas are semi-fictional characters that represent key traits of a large portion of your audience (or target customers). Like characters in a book, they are meant to be believable and unique. These personas can help you brainstorm creative tactics and messages that can cut through the noise to reach your target audiences (think right person, right message, right time).

When creating a Customer Persona, do your best to imagine a realistic person — an individual — that can represent characteristics of your target audience. We recommend drawing out a character and writing traits around them.

Here are some good starting points for your persona:

  • How old are they?
  • What is their level of education?
  • Where do they fall on the gender spectrum?
  • What is their family life? (If they’re an adult, are they married? Single? Do they have kids? If they’re a young person, what’s their home life?)
  • Where are they from?
  • What are their finances?
  • Do they work? What is the job? Do they enjoy their job?
  • What do they enjoy? What do they do in their free time?
  • What are they looking for in life?
  • Who do they trust?

After brainstorming, the Customer Persona can be converted into a brief paragraph description. Yours will likely be more specific, but this is an example of a generic, short Customer Persona written out:

The Potential Board Member: She is a well-educated 63-year-old and has a graduate degree. She is a transplant to New Mexico but is not new. She is married, with two adult children. She has disposable income and works part-time, not because she needs to but because she finds purpose and meaning in work. She enjoys the outdoors and is intellectually curious. She is looking for connections with like-minded people.

With this Customer Persona in mind — this ideal target audience — we can begin to imagine what this person values, where they spend their time and how we might be able to tailor what we have to say in a way that will resonate with them.

Did you find this information useful? Share it with your colleagues and workshop some Customer Personas together!


P.S.  We don’t usually like to use stock images … but the one on this blog is kinda special. It comes from OB’s apology letter to their loyal clients. Check it out — it’s pretty genius and a total technological feat.

Banner Image:  “Viral OB A Personal Apology” by Christian Langlois.
Licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0