IABC has joined forces with the internal communication consultancy Gatehouse to convert the popular Accelerate program into an online learning opportunity. Here, Gatehouse goes back to the basics of great communication, starting with the fundamentals dating back to Aristotle’s time.
Hooked on Classics: The Philosophy of Segmentation
If we were to ask internal communication (IC) pros to name the most vital element of strategic internal communication, it’s safe to say “the audience” would top the list of responses.
And rightly so — the role of the audience has been acknowledged since the 4th century B.C., when Aristotle presented his rhetorical triangle and proposed that communication has three elements: the speaker (ethos), the message (logos) and the audience (pathos).
But you don’t get to be named one of civilization’s greatest thinkers for nothing. Aristotle’s teaching recognizes that, as communicators, we’re in the business of change, be that changing opinions, attitudes, knowledge or behavior.
Although we could wax lyrical about the classics for days, when you consider how essential this thinking is, it’s a bit of a buzzkill when you realize how much audience needs and communication techniques differ on a case-by-case basis in modern-day communication.
Back to Basics
Although there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution these days, one thing we can all agree on is the importance of audience insight. It helps us target our communication toward the right people, get the message right, choose the best channel, understand how our IC is likely to land and predict how people will respond.
Put simply, it helps us be more efficient, and it enables us to win much respect internally too, as stakeholders come to appreciate our knowledge of what makes employees tick.
Where do we start? Let’s go back to basics for this one.
Think about the key audience information you already have (the stuff you can get your hands on most easily) — how many employees you have, where they’re based, what department they’re in, what type of roles they hold, level, age, tenure, gender, first language, shoe size. (Well, maybe not shoe size, but you get the gist.)
With this type of info in your arsenal alone, you can really wow those stakeholders with your understanding of the organization and its people. Gotta love those brownie points!
Give Your Audience the Chop
Gathering an encyclopaedic knowledge of your organization’s genetic make-up might be a good place to start, but it doesn’t quite cut it when operating strategically.
Want to flex those IC muscles? Segment, segment, segment.
There are lots of techniques to draw on, but, in the spirit of keeping things simple, we like to start here:
- Channel use and access: Is your audience online? How much downtime do they have? Do they work from home? How do they like to consume information in and out of work? Are they part-time or shift workers?
- Attitude and disposition: What does your audience think? How do they feel about things? What do they want to do? What do they want you to do? What’s their appetite for IC and your themes?
- Outcome: How does your audience relate to the required outcome? What do you need each group to know, feel or do in order to deliver your goal? Where are they currently? Where do you need them to be?
That might seem like a lot of questions — it is.
So What’s the Point?
Good question. Gathering these answers will help you target your communication more efficiently.
For some groups, awareness alone is enough; for others, a greater level of understanding is needed. Likewise, we’ll need some groups to take action and others to advocate.
It’s all about asking yourself what groups need to be where, then deploying your findings to build a rich understanding of your audience groups.
A powerful way to do this is to create a series of personas — fictional representations or pen portraits of your key audience groups.
This is about putting yourself in the shoes of your audience and having a specific “type” in mind, then using this to educate those around you about the complexity of the task and the differing needs of employees.
The easy route when building personas is to go with your gut and rely on what you already know about your organization. But when you throw the real insight you’ve gleaned through segmentation into the mix, your fictional-people profiles have far more impact.
When you combine hard data on employee demographics and behavior, with educated speculation based on your own knowledge and experience, you’ll be able to paint a genuinely useful picture of each group based on who they are, how they feel, what they see and hear, how they behave, who influences them, what motivates them and what causes them pain.
After all, as Aristotle said, “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives — choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”
He really was wise, wasn’t he?