August 05, 2014

The Mistake That Could Alienate Your Audience


No matter how well you think you know your audience, don’t assume they own an iPad or that they’ve seen certain movies. In doing so, you risk alienating them or coming off as condescending.

A recent article on a national housewares retailer’s blog, for example, asked, “Remember how much you loved the ‘Berenstain Bears’ books loved as a kid?” While it’s true that this retailer’s main demographic probably is of the generation that grew up with the popular series, it’s unlikely the company had data showing their audience identifies with or has any emotional connection to it.

We all make assumptions — it’s hard to see the world from another person’s perspective — but by learning as much as possible about your audience before publishing content for them, you can avoid pushing customers away.

As well, here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

‘Yes or no’ questions: The example above poses a “yes or no” question. The problem with this is that there’s a 50/50 chance the reader will answer “no” — then you’ve lost them completely. Perhaps the person on the other end of the screen has no recollection of the Berenstain Bears (they could be too young, too old or from another culture) or worse, has an unpleasant association with the Berenstain Bears. Asking a “yes or no” question runs the risk of alienating readers.

The “curse of knowledge”: Some experts are so immersed in their industry that its jargon because engrained in their language. Oftentimes, what they think of as common knowledge isn’t at all. They communicate using industry terms, acronyms and buzzwords they don’t bother to define, ultimately confusing their audience. This pitfall is hard to navigate: you don’t want to assume they know everything you know, but you’ll come off as condescending if you assume they don’t know things they do know. And while we’re on the topic, cut out any obtuse, ambiguous or pretentious words from written content — if you wouldn’t use it in everyday conversation don’t use it on the page.

Generalizations about gender, generation or values: Not all Baby Boomers are late adopters of technology. Some Millennials hate social media. There are exceptions to every rule. Don’t make your reader feel pigeonholed into a group that they don’t necessarily identify with.

Editing “yes or no” questions, jargon-y language and generalizations out of content isn’t a fail safe (again, we all make assumptions from time to time) but in being self-aware about these tendencies, you’ll produce messages that appeal to more individuals in your target audience.

Mario Medina

Mario is the Creative Director of madison/miles media. He has a wife, two kids, a dog, a fish (but it might be dead — hard to tell) and an unhealthy obsession with Batman.