TELE is unabashedly audience-focused. Tailoring your communication to your target audience is fundamental for reaching, engaging and persuading them. In fact, we even advise you to send your messages via sources and channels that are likely to be more effective with your audience members (see, for example, 2018 Summer Marketing Tip: Who Delivers Your Message?)
But that doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to be like your audience or don a fake persona. In fact, inauthenticity dooms any efforts to connect. If you try to speak in a voice that is inconsistent with your organization’s brand, you’ll be seen as untrustworthy and desperate, rather like a parent who adopts teenage slang to be cool.
So, how can you connect with audiences while remaining true to your own brand? Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Science-based ≠ Hard to Understand
As any good teacher will tell you, any scientific fact or concept can be explained in many different ways based on students’ prior knowledge and interests. You should rely on science to explain how things work and why you’re asking landowners to take certain actions. But use the right language, level of detail and analogies that will make sense to your target audience.
2. Expert ≠ Boring or Intimidating
People want to get information and advice from knowledgeable experts. But they don’t necessarily want to be experts in forestry. So, resist the temptation to share everything you know about the topic. Instead, give landowners the specific information they need to make a decision or solve their current problem. Some landowners will require more information—but it is usually better to start with less information and respond to queries rather than overwhelm people with too much information.
3. Inclusive ≠ Uniform
Wanting to be inclusive is both an organizational imperative and a personal preference for most of us. But that doesn’t mean that every single program or communication has to be equally appealing or equally applicable to all audiences. That is not possible if there are meaningful differences among your audiences. To be truly inclusive, it is not enough to have an open door—it is about creating specific pathways to bring different types of people to your organization. In other words, it is about tailoring your communications and programs to attract your core audiences.
4. Likeable ≠ Gregarious
This last one applies to personal interactions more than mass communications. Many foresters lament that they have a hard time doing outreach because they are introverts. But you really don’t need to have a gregarious personality to connect with other people on a personal level. You don’t even need to talk too much at first—just ask good questions and listen intently to understand their perspective. And you are likely to find one or two shared hobbies or values (like your love for hunting or your wish to raise your children to love nature) that can form the basis of a trusting relationship.