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On Pizza and Audience Segmentation

Imagine, if you will, that I asked you to order a pizza.

“Sure. What kind of pizza?” you ask.

Whatever people will like.

OK, who are these “people”?

Everyone at our meeting!

Can you be a bit more specific?

Um, OK. So, it’s for a meeting of vegetarians. Some of them are vegan, some of them aren’t. And actually, some of them eat fish. What are they called? Fishiterians?*

Can I order a few different pizzas?

No, I’m sorry, I only have enough money for one pizza.

So, what do you order? Vegan cheese? No cheese? Pineapple?** Sardines?** Regardless of what you order, you’re not going to thrill everyone. You may order a pizza that is exactly what a few people were craving. Everyone else is going to eat without any particular joy,*** or pick off toppings, or decide that they’d rather go hungry than eat that pizza.

Imagine instead that I’d said:

The pizza is for me! I like a nice, thick crust. Vegan cheese, because I like dairy but it doesn’t like me. It definitely needs to have mushrooms. And then some kind of meat…ideally sausage, but pepperoni or meatball are fine, too.

That makes your job a lot easier, right? And you can rest assured that I will polish off that pizza within 24 hours.

Sometimes, with their communication products, my clients will want to reach a really broad audience, or multiple smaller audiences. And I get it…it would be great if a single thing, whether that thing is an infographic or a pizza or a law, could satisfy everyone’s wants and needs. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world (or pizza) works.

Your research communication product will be most effective if it’s tailored to a single audience. Let’s say I wanted to create an infographic about addressing underage drinking:

  • An infographic targeting parents might highlight topics like potential health and social consequences of underage drinking, the importance of locking up alcohol at home, or that parents can get in trouble for hosting parties where teens drink alcohol. We could circulate the infographic through social media or school newsletters.
  • An infographic targeting high school teachers might cover signs that a student has a drinking problem and directions on referring those students for support. We could print this infographic and distribute it at teacher professional development events.
  • An infographic targeting local government officials might share the economic and health costs of underage drinking, as well as information about policies and programs that can help. This infographic could be part of a fact sheet that is mailed to officials.

If we could only produce a single infographic for parents, teachers, and policymakers, what would it include? If we try to meet everyone’s needs, will we end up with a big, unwieldy product that no one will want to read? Do we risk turning off readers with chunks of content that they don’t care about? And then, do we have the resources to distribute a product to places where all audiences will see it?

When a client wants to target multiple, diverse audiences, I typically recommend one of two approaches:

  1. If resources are limited, develop a product for the single most important audience. This doesn’t prevent you from sharing your product (and possibly having impact) with other audiences; it just increases your chances of developing a product that has big impact with the people you most care about reaching.
  2. If resources allow, create a separate product for each key audience.

Which audiences are most important for your work? (Or, if you’d rather, what are your must-have and deal-breaker pizza toppings?) Comment below!

* Thanks to my friend and former co-worker, Sam, I know that they are, in fact, pescatarians. You’re welcome.

** The correct answer is no. Neither pineapples nor sardines are an acceptable topping choice. Sorry, not sorry.

***Pizza should always be eaten with unbridled joy.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great blog, Lori! Please keep it going.
    One other advantage of focusing on a single audience to start is that it helps you validate your solution, polish it and gain traction on one segment to build on for other segments. This is particularly true for an early startup.

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