Do You Know What Your Audience Really Wants?

Wendy Kelly
Jun 25, 2014
Do You Know What Your Audience Really Wants?

Lies, Damned Lies, and...Surveys

A recent article in The Economist called Lies, Damned Lies and Surveys reminded me of a problem I have been faced with recently in trying to suss out who the audience is for a client. 

You want to know what your audience really wants, what really moves them. You want the truth. Of course you do. You also know people lie. They lie a lot. They lie to protect you, to protect themselves, to make you look good. To make themselves feel better. Sometimes lies are in the form of rationalizations. Sometimes they are just outright lies. Men lie three times as often as women do, apparently, but both sexes lie at least a few times a day, according to Dan Ariely, a Behavioural Economist at Duke University. In fact, 60% of us cannot go more than 10 minutes without lying.

So you want to talk to your customers, or prospective customers, and find out what they think of your brand. You want to know how often they might buy what you sell, or if they'd tell a friend about you. You want to know the truth.

So You Ask Them

Let's say you're a nice guy. Likeable. You want people to like you, or you probably wouldn't be in business. That's a guess. But I am pretty sure about it, so let's just go with it for now. 

The thing is, just as much as you don't want to hurt your husband/wife's feelings when s/he asks you if you like their new haircut, no one wants to be the guy to tell you the obvious (glaring) thing wrong in your business. The best kinds of people lie. We all do this.

There are several methods to learn more about your audience. Research into their worlds, reading industry reports, searching public Facebook pages, creating surveys and getting people together for a focus group are a few. Depending on the size of your organization, the methods can vary, but when it comes to asking actual people, either via a survey or one-on-one, there are a few methods that you can use to elicit more honest answers. Here are a few:

  1. If you are using a written survey, ask them to sign their name at the top assuring you that they have told the truth. As simple as this method is, it works. When reminded that they should be honest, people generally speaking rise to that and answer honestly. Since you are not asking them to take a test and you don't want anyone to feel intimidated, this could be worded in a way to engender empathy from your customers.
  2. If you are speaking one-on-one to them, at the beginning of the conversation, add in a small story about the importance of honesty to you. Perhaps a joke or something light hearted. Again, when people are subtly reminded, they behave more honestly.
  3. Whether you use a survey or talk in person, cut the jargon. All of it. Use words that your customers can relate to. You may even want to write things out twice: Once in the language of your business, and then translated into language your potential customers will open up to. Think about it. When someone starts talking to you using words you are not used to hearing, you immediately become more formal, on edge, not yourself. This can apply to using words that are too colloquial as well as words that are jargony or highly specific to your industry. 
  4. Don't lead with your questions. Really. You will try to, because you are human. Get someone to make sure your survey does not use leading questions, and if you are speaking to your customers, really practice before hand to avoid using language that might elicit a certain answer you think you want.
  5. Consider using an online survey if you do use a survey. People seem to be more honest this way.
  6. Ask direct questions. Don't be vague and general in your questions, or you will give your respondents room to fudge the truth or avoid it. If you want to know something, ask directly and give room for the answer. If you are using answer choices, make sure to give an option for them to write their own answer in or answer "none of the above".
  7. Spend time building empathy. Not sympathy. Or pity. But genuine empathy. Whether this is in a short paragraph before the survey starts where you explain why you'd like the responses, or in the time you spend with your respondents in person, let these people, whose time you are taking, understand how important their answers are to you and that you value their time.

The Truth, The Whole Truth...

Do you think people lie to you? Do you lie to other people? Will these methods work for you? Try a few out and see if you notice a difference in responses people give you. And one last method to leave you with: Observation. Whenever you can, juxtapose what people say they want with actual data. Sometimes you'll be surprised by the chasm between the two.

Good luck!

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