No-ing Your Audience

Marketing is about knowing your audience – who they are, what to say to them and how to get them to listen and care.

Quite often though, companies will make the wrong assumptions about potential customers and haplessly slide from know-ing their audience to no-ing their audience.

For those of you who don’t yet know me, I’m a transplanted Calgarian now living, working and traversing potholes ‘up here’ in the capital city. Recognizing that the differences between the two cities might extend beyond the colours of our shirt collars and hockey jerseys, and knowing that to best serve the marketing and communications needs of my new northern clientele, it’s critical that I know MY audience, I conducted a little market research of my own and stepped inside a few boxes in order to look outside of one…

A large portion of my career has been spent branding for homes and land, and community / municipality clients. As a result, I’ve become quite familiar with differing buying cycles between audiences with various lifestyles across the country. This then served as my initial benchmark in understanding the psychological and sociological differences between the two (general) audiences. What better way to understand how to market in and for Edmonton than by identifying how, why and where an Edmontonian chooses to hang their toque.

Over the course of a few weeks I mystery shopped a number of showhomes and sales centres in and around Edmonton, and while I was impressed by the genuine warmth, interest and intelligence I encountered with every sales manager, we each made startling discoveries about our hometowns that proved just how vast the gap up or down the QE2 really is. A summation of nearly every one of these conversations is as follows:

Me (incognito as an interested buyer): Hi, I’m looking to build a new home. Can you tell me why I should buy into this community?
Them: From here you’re only minutes from the Henday. Hop on there and you’ll be at work in no time.
Me: Uh-huh, uh-huh…but I’m actually from Calgary and we just expect a long commute. Distance to work doesn’t matter. Can you tell me why I would belong here?
Them: Well what do you like to do? Perhaps you’d like to live in a community that’s close to major activity centres. There are many nearby and even more that are easily accessible from the Henday.
Me: Okaaaay…but assuming I have a car and don’t mind touring the city for work or leisure, is there any reason why I might feel a sense of belonging to this particular community? Can you sell me the story of the community and tell me what makes everyone feel that they need to be here?
Them: No.

Now obviously I’m over-simplifying, but actually not by much. I was stunned to discover that in Edmonton, home buying decisions are largely based upon such practicalities as proximity to work or leisure and (gasp!) affordability! The difference, in general, is that Calgarians like to buy into a story, both literally and figuratively. They want to put down roots in a community of like-minded people and feel like they have “arrived.” And they’ll pay big dollars for it. Edmontonians I’ve found to be much more frugal and practical. They shy away from a grand, collaborative story in favour of a more tailored experience that suits their budget and timelines.

In both cases the brand story is theirs – and each is equally valid. Knowing exactly how to write yourself, your product or service into it, based upon the nature of the audience reading it, is your responsibility (or the responsibility of a worthy marketing firm…) While the experience was incredibly valuable for me, each builder lost a potential sale (had I actually been in the market to purchase) by failing to proactively address or respond to my particular plot twist. It’s the difference between know-ing your audience and becoming the hero in their story and no-ing your audience with the realization that you’re reading from a completely different book.

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