Why the 'general public' isn't an audience for your campaign

I’m on a train heading back from Birmingham where I’ve been sitting in on some focus groups that we’ve been running.
It’s been literally the most interesting few hours of my week, and I’d recommend to any campaigner that they get themselves in to view a focus group (or do their own impromptu research in the street) on occasion because it’s brilliant.
But sitting in the groups also got me to think about how as campaigners we approach audiences, it’s a theme that I picked up when I shared at the NCVO Certificate in Campaigning just before Christmas, and I thought it useful to share a few different ways I’ve been thinking about audiences.
To start with, we need to stop thinking that the ‘general public’ as an audience. It’s something I hear campaigners talk about but its such a massive audience it’s – even at election time the parties don’t target the ‘general public’ because not everyone can vote, so they’re working with a narrower audience than the public.
Instead, we need to start to think about audience in the context of what our strategy tells us that we need to achieve, and focus on who we need to be engaging, mobilising or shifting the attitudes.
Thinking about it that way and you can start to cut your audiences in a range of different ways – here is a quick guide to get you started with some common approaches;
Geographical – based on the location of your audiences, it might be that you decide that specific parliamentary constituencies are going to be important for your campaign, so you want to focus on those who live in a number of key seats. Incidentally this recent NFP Synergy research of what influences MPs highlights again the importance of smart geographical targetting as a way of building relationships in Parliament
Political Influence – this can be as narrow as those that are likely to vote for a specific political party, but it can also be the groups of the population that parties want to appeal to as they seek to win votes and support. In recent years, that means considering focusing on certain demographic groups that the parties have competing to reach, like the JAMs (Just About Managing) or ‘squeezed middle’ from recent years, or Mondeo Man or Worcester Women
Attitudes – Depending on what you’re looking to achieve, you might want to focus on the attitudes that different audiences hold on a specific issue. For example, on overseas aid, you could categorise people as supportive, swings or sceptics. On this, the risk can be that it’s very easy to spend lots of energy on either energising those that are already supportive or getting worried about the sceptics, but the value is often in focusing on the swings.
Behavioural – if you’re campaign is about volume then focusing on behaviours can be  a good place to start, if you can find a way of energising existing activists then that can be an effective way of growing numbers, but again the pitfall here can be that you can end up risk preaching to an existing choir to the detriment of presenting wider support for your campaign.
Values – there has been lots written in recent years about starting with the values and beliefs that people hold. Chris Rose writes about the role of pioneers, prospectors and settlers in his work on campaigning audiences, while Common Cause has approached this through the lens of frames + values. This isn’t always the easiest approach to get your head around, but it can be valuable for thinking more deeply about your audience.
Economic – I’m not sure that campaigners spend enough time thinking about possible economic audiences, but there can be a real influence in mobilising the grey, purple or pink £s or focusing on those who hold shares or investment in a specific company, something that Share Action do brilliantly.
I’d love to know what you are thinking about when you approach thinking about audiences for your campaign.

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