Attitude Not Audience…

‘Tank man’ standing up for what he believed in.

I am in the midst of trying to gather information and write an APG paper for work I helped plan in the last year or so. We’ve got what I think is an interesting angle on the business problem, and how we tried to treat the audience, which is good. It’s something which i’ve tried to do across all of my briefs and any business problem I have looked at in the last year or so.

So, I thought to help better flesh out what I mean, I might as well blog some of the general thinking in my mind before it’s submitted. I’m sure a lot of it will seem as obvious to a lot of people, but I wanted to note it down.

After cocking a squint at JWT’s Planning Begins at 40, a celebration/look to the future of the discipline (watch the videos, they’re good), I was struck by just how many folk called for a fusion between old school data collection – quant, qual and all of the above – and new school, digitally led, adaptable, creatively and intuitively led thinking.

Rather like this word document on what’s next for planning, provided by the APG (I think Russell wrote it, but I’m not sure, it’s not attributed), it all seemed to call for planning to be more adaptive, to help clients not be so short termist and to not get stuck in the sheet music approach to planning and strategy that many practice – to tick boxes and make things fit at all costs.

And, I’d suggest there’s still a problem between the more formulaic approaches of the old (which seem to lead certain clients easily to box ticking) and the new style (which still can’t adequately be quantified, or obviously led back to ROI).

I have been told in the past to not get too focused on target audience, for that way leads to generic ads (ads about togetherness for main shopper mums, anyone?). However, what if we went one step further?

In a world where target audience definitions can’t really be trusted, regardless of what segmentation data tells you – because things are moving too fast on and offline with the changeable economy, the digitisation of content and the exorable rise and rise of opinion being able to destroy brands and new product launches (witness Stephen Fry and the Blackberry debacle – I’m not sure i’ve met anyone who owns an iPhone, for example, who wasn’t aware of this before they chose it), is it wise to rely on it in any way shape or form?

Yes, your client will tell you (or the media agency’s crafted TGI, in my experience) that buyers are ABC1’s who live in the South East, are University educated and are ‘heavy users’ of the internet. But then, next month Hitwise will tell you that your supposed technologically savvy audience are outstripped by a far older demographic than you thought, who upload more and interact more with the brand’s channel.

So don’t stop at the target audience. Build on it.

I’m suggesting we remove the target audience box, and replace it instead with attitude:

What attitude are we trying to convey?

It’s NOT tone of voice, though that is important to the work. Witness APG papers like the Coke Side of Life from 2007 – which worked hard to work to discover an attitude, used research on and offline to establish where that attitude is shared, and targeted those people. It’s a long term, targeted approach. Far better to use sniper bullets than tommy gun fire in this instance.

Interestingly, at the planning event, Jon Steel quoted an something that Stephen King said about “the end being a certain state of mind in the potential buyer”. I’m suggesting we move straight to the state of mind – we tie ourselves to not just a point of view (which is static), but a attitude, which is fluid, and able to adapt and have a point of view about various news/economic/consumer responses.

I’m hypothesising, but what if, say, Blackberry’s attitude was one of convenience – allying itself with those people who wanted the easiest access to email, and didn’t want the inconvenience of a battery poor phone, nor the latest bells and whistles? Their PR strategy writes itself from this, and they could have batted off Stephen Fry’s assertations – his attitude would never ever have allied with this.

I think it’s capable of marrying old and new styles of planning. You have to undertake research to help discover who buys into this attitude, finding out your audience (which may change over time) – but you don’t arrive at it, necessarily, from a static process of researching ads. You do hard yards with the consumer, segment, look at historic data and pay a lot more attention to discovering just what attitude the majority of consumers would like your brand to have. It should be the definitive approach to the communication, and work should flow from it. Circumstances may change, but attitudes don’t easily.

Crucially, it’s not a short termist approach; it doesn’t just latch on to what’s cool and trendy this week, month or year. I think prevailing brand attitudes are best arrived at through detailed ethanography, from the company itself or a combination of the two – this leads to a fluid, culture centric approach in both cases.

And you could perhaps use the ‘attitude’ approach when performing NPD – it lends itself to more purposeful thinking than just a straight segmentation, for who knows how they’ll react to a new product and a new environment? Importantly, it can bear in mind the cultural mindset, but doesn’t kow-tow to it in the same way just using a target audience might.

I’m aware this thinking could come across as a little woolly, but by using something like NPS, by factoring out things like price increases, and using prevailing attitudes that don’t tend to change regardless of context, you’d have a way of quantifying just what the work’s done. I like to use year on year market share as a first step to answering whether the activity has worked and qualifying its effectiveness.

Anyway, that was my random twaddle for the day. Let me know what you think.