Target Audience Interviews: How to Tell the Right Stories to the Right People

Nonprofits: Download interview questions that lead to impactful insight. Knowing more about your target audiences will inform your entire strategic process.

February 5th Articles 6 min read
Target Audiences Website

By Eric Ressler

Social impact organizations naturally measure the success of their activities in terms of impact. That’s certainly true of program work. But it also applies to marketing activities. When it comes to making an impact, your organization’s marketing and communications will only succeed to the extent that you tell the right stories to the right people. And that means understanding who you are speaking to and what matters to them.

To begin, you must develop an understanding of your key audiences. These are the key groups of stakeholders who are impacted or influenced by your organization and cause. Depending on your area of focus, your key audiences might include groups like donors, volunteers, activists, local residents, and clients.

Of course, most organizations have a working understanding of their key audiences. But they often make assumptions about how their constituents perceive their organization and what motivates them. Assumptions like these can set you off on the wrong path in the way you manage your brand and messaging.

Target audience interviews are a critical precursor. They help you understand your core audiences and how best to activate them. In our work with social impact clients, we’ve established these interviews as a key element of our discovery process. The information they surface inevitably shapes our strategy and enables our clients to achieve greater impact.

The Benefits of Target Audience Interviews

Target audience interviews are incredibly useful for a number of reasons.

For one thing, they give you a 360-degree view of how your organization is perceived. It’s all too easy for organizations to develop their own ideas about how they are seen by donors, funders, and others in the social impact space. But without the input of external audiences, these impressions are little more than self-perceptions. They may contain kernels of truth, but they aren’t complete.

Target audience interviews allow staffers and representative external stakeholders to offer their perspective on your organization and cause. Together, they give your nonprofit a grounded and well-rounded view of how it is viewed. They also shed light on gaps in awareness.

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Second, target audience interviews help you gain a much deeper understanding of the different groups who are impacted by or support your cause. They give you fresh insights into why certain people feel connected to your organization and its cause. In addition, they clarify the values and motivations behind those connections.

Finally, when we conduct these interviews on behalf of nonprofits, they enable us to deliver better, more effective recommendations. Through the interview process, we develop a deep understanding of our clients, how they are perceived, and what’s happening in their space. We get up to speed faster than we otherwise could. This means we come away from the interview process with a clarified perspective about how to proceed with a client’s branding and marketing strategy. In short, target audience interviews translate to stronger strategy and greater impact.

How to Conduct Target Audience Interviews

The quality of the feedback you receive in your target audience interviews is directly correlated to the way you approach these important conversations. When we partner with social impact organizations, we take the lead in conducting target audience interviews and formulating takeaways. We've found that the following ingredients are key to getting the most out of target audience interviews.

  • Identify your key audiences. The first step in planning for target audience interviews is to decide who to interview. In order to make the most of your interview process, you must start by identifying your organization’s target audiences. Most organizations already have a good idea of who their main audiences are, even if they haven’t formally defined them yet. For example, if your organization is focused on adult literacy, your audiences might include major donors, individual donors, volunteers, partners, board members, and adults in need of literacy services.
  • Plan to interview 1-2 representatives from each audience. You should strive to get a variety of perspectives and avoid individual bias in your interview process. But when it comes to the number of interviewees, more isn’t necessarily better. Remember, these interviews are meant to be qualitative, not verbal surveys. You don’t need dozens of interviews to yield important insights. Just one or two individuals from each of your key audience groups will do.
  • Select interviewees with a range of perspectives. From a logistical standpoint, it may be easiest to go through your list of contacts and select a roster of interviewees you already know and like. But you should resist this urge if you want to get the most useful feedback. Instead, strive to interview people with a variety of different opinions and perspectives.
  • Plan to spend roughly one hour per interview. We find that a one-hour interview time makes room for plenty of depth and shared insights. Most interviews are unpaid. Respect your interviewees' time by giving them a realistic expectation of how long the process will take and stick to it.
  • Record your conversations. Plan to record each of your interviews so that others on your team can review them and draw out their own insights. We transcribe our interviews so that they can be easily perused.
  • Check your biases at the door. Go into the interviews with an open mind and don’t be surprised if you hear feedback that goes against the grain of how you think your organization is viewed. Avoid leading questions and make sure you don’t put words in your interviewees’ mouths. Enter into the process with curiosity instead of using the interviews to confirm your pre-existing perceptions.
  • Put your interviewees at ease: Make sure you approach the interview process with empathy for your interviewees. Explain that there are no wrong answers to your questions, but that you simply want to understand their perspective. When we conduct interviews for our clients, we tell interviewees that their feedback will help our client further their work. At the beginning of each interview, we offer to keep our their feedback anonymous. Then, at the end of the interview, we circle back and ask if they would be willing to share their identity along with their feedback.
  • Consider working with an agency to conduct your interviews. If your staff conducts your organization's target audience interviews, you're less likely to receive unbiased feedback, especially from individuals you know personally. When we conduct interviews on behalf of our clients, we find that interviewees are more likely to speak freely and provide honest feedback.

Leveraging Target Audience Interviews to Refine Your Nonprofit’s Marketing and Communications Strategy

Target audience interviews have the power to impact an organization’s entire brand strategy. In order to fully leverage the interviews, you must first plumb the responses for key insights.

When we work with clients to analyze their target audience interviews, we ask the following questions:

  • What common themes or patterns emerged in the responses?
  • To what extent do these patterns match our expectations? What was surprising, new, or insightful?
  • Did the interviewees suggest any innovative solutions? Does it make sense to pursue them?
  • How did the pre-interview list of target audience segments hold up in light of the interviews? Do we need to re-segment an organization’s audiences groups?

These questions (and others like them) enable us to draw out useful observations that go on to inform the entire strategic process from branding to messaging.

Target audience interviews are an indispensable source of valuable information for your nonprofit. Want to learn more about how they can help you refine your brand and marketing strategy? We'd love to talk.

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