Is working out your brand positioning and your brand’s target audience a waste of time?

Well, there’s a provocative question or two. But I’d suggest the answer is yes, it probably is.

It all started with a throw-away comment from a client, that a year after working out their ideal target audience, only 17% of their newly-recruited supporters had actually fitted their desired demographic profile. Bad? You’d think so, when that’s probably little better than the normal distribution of the population at large. What on earth can have gone wrong?

The thing is, marketing in the commercial world starts from a different place than it does in the charity sector. In commercial marketing, which is essentially about selling stuff, you have to work out who on earth might be in the market for your stuff (your target audience), and then you make sure your brand, as the wrapper for your stuff, is attractive to that target audience. Then you advertise it to those people, where they will tend to see it. Advertising drives your target consumer audience to a point of sale and tries to influence their choice of brand for the stuff they are thinking about buying anyway. However, at that point of sale is all the other similar stuff you are up against, which is where your brand positioning comes in. You have to set your own stuff and wrapper apart from the others. You have to make yours stand out, so you get chosen.  (I simplify, obvs, but that’s pretty much how it works).

Charities, however, have no stuff to sell. They have no point of sale. They are not lined up on a shelf waiting for a consumer to choose between them because no-one goes shopping to give. Advertising doesn’t help much, but direct marketing does, with its immediate call to action and response, and that’s why charities are pretty good at it. We need supporters to make their decision now, to respond now, to do it now, because otherwise, the moment is lost and they won’t. With charity fundraising, that first interaction IS the point of sale.

Back in the day direct marketing was just about direct mail and mailing lists, with a few print ads thrown in. Before we knew it, we had an idea of our average charity donor – mostly female of an age either side of retirement, and of a certain level of affluence. And they became our target audience, because they were the ones who gave and we wanted more people like them. Except the logic was flawed. They were the ones who gave in response to direct mail, because they were the ones on the catalogue and magazine lists we used. It came as something of a surprise to find that people who responded to TV were more diverse in age and less affluent (people who watch TV during the day or late at night – figure it out). And face-to-face can’t attract those people for love nor money, they are altogether younger, and if the talk on the street is anything to go by, often the opposite gender to whoever is asking.

So, having a target audience in mind doesn’t really help, if you don’t have the means to reach them. And that’s the story of my perplexed charity client’s 17%.  Their supporter recruitment was all TV and face-to-face. These methods didn’t reach their ideal target audience.

Of course, I’m not saying all targeting is a waste of time. It’s essential to have an idea who you’re communicating with. And with products, such as events, doing that classic approach does work. You create an event for an audience, and give it a brand that will appeal. Think of Movember for men, or Race for Life for women, or even the built-from-scratch charity brand FXCK CANCER for the cool kids on social media.

But on the whole, who you get is largely a function of who you can reach and the channels that work when you recruit. So worrying about the ideal target audience for your brand might be interesting, but not that useful. And rather than worry about standing out with a differentiated brand proposition, you’d do better concentrating on working out your story so it powerfully stops the person you’re talking to in their tracks, and leaves them no alternative but be moved to support your cause.

What do you think?


Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *