June 2005 Vol. 10 Issue 2
Investigating new audiences
Q&A with Steve Cain

During several recent meetings, many Purdue Extension county staff expressed frustration that not enough people know about Purdue Extension programs and what they have to offer. Here's one question I've heard more than once.

Question: How do I reach new audiences to tell them about Purdue Extension programs?

Answer: When people ask this question, I tell them they may not realize it, but they are addressing the first step of marketing: research (an On Target article about the four steps of marketing appeared in the April 1996 issue).

Research! When I say that, people usually repeat the word with a look of anguish. When they are ready to market, they don't want to take more time for research. They just want to put their names on pencils and hand them out.

But without marketing research, you are blind to what new audiences want. Ideally, you should research your intended audience while developing a product or program.

Conduct marketing research to find out what people think is important. That includes finding out where they get information, how they use it, and when it is best to reach them. By learning more about the people in your intended audience, you can explore ways to:

  1. Provide educational materials that meet their needs.
  2. Create marketing plans tailored to that group's interests.

Deep pockets not required

Don't have a marketing research budget like Wal-Mart? That's OK. You can still get results if you're willing to invest some of your time.

When I want to research a new audience, I start by looking at advertisements, magazines, and Web sites that I know appeal to that audience. I learn what interests them and the language and style they use. These things help me tailor a marketing message (and program) to suit their interests.

Next, I seek out people who represent that audience. I try to find out where and how that audience finds local information. Is it radio? Meetings? Chat groups? These things help me chose the best medium to reach that new audience.

Easy?

No. Reaching new audiences is work. But by periodically focusing on a few new audiences, you continue to spread Purdue Extension's message.

Where to begin?

Let's look at some examples. If I have information on healthy living through diet and exercise, I may want to target young people who are concerned about their health but don't know where to start a new plan.

To learn more about such people, I might talk to experts who may already know something about this audience, such as health care providers, health club officials, health food vendors, and others. Such people probably have some ideas about reaching this audience since they already know them.

Maybe you'll learn about a local retailer, factory, or office's “healthy living” newsletter that these people read. Writing for this newsletter would be a more effective way of getting the word out than handing out carpenter pencils your audience might just throw away.

You also might find church bulletins are a handy resource to help you reach new audiences. In my research using these techniques, I've found them to be trusted sources of new information. If you just can't find a common medium to reach that new audience, you might choose direct mail. That may take some research to collect addresses, but could be a valuable list.

Reaching new audiences demands research. It may sound like a cliché, but walk a mile in your audience's shoes, and you'll begin to see new ways to reach out and talk with them.

Steve Cain, cain@purdue.edu

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