Communicating to “the general public”?

So who is your audience? Is it the “general public”? Is it the ten year old Girl Guide looking to earn her merit badge, or the 78-year old grandfather taking his grandchild to the zoo? Or perhaps you are thinking of speaking to the 38-year old migrant worker who holds down 3 jobs to support his family of four? Or the young mother deciding what is best to feed her newborn child?
As you can imagine, the variations are endless. While our research shows Americans as a whole are often motivated by similar values, the wide range of backgrounds and interests mean your visitors identify differently, are preoccupied with different concerns, and view issues in vastly different ways. Consequently, the idea of the “generalpublic” is misleading. Effective communication is predicated on clearly identifying the values and concerns of each group – the more clearly defined the target audience the better the chances of communicating effectively – and then figuring out the best medium by which to reach them.

Targeting a narrow audience might be scary, but it can have significant payoff. Take for example one narrowly-defined, non-traditional audience that is gaining traction since it was started in 2007: Christians observing Lent. “CarbonFast” taps into a shared value (Christianity) and experience (period of sacrifice) of a specific group of people (observant Christians) during a very specific time (Lent) and transforms that into a call for action. Guiding with a listof daily actions, Carbon Fast is focused on “changing climate and care for God’s good creation”. From its start in England, it is now an international movement.
Another iconic and really effective movement that targeted a very specific audience was the Chipko movement, some of the earliest (literal) tree huggers. Identifying the concerns of women in rural India who were spending increasing amounts of time gathering firewood to cook, the organizers effectively inspired one of the most successful protests against deforestation – a ban on deforestation in the region – as well as many future environmentalists.
So, who is your audience?