Step Three: Knowing Your Audience

In this page

  • How to Research Your Target Population
  • Read about Best Practices
  • Consult the Experts
  • Learn About Cultural Influences
  • Conduct Surveys, Focus Groups and Interviews
  • Be as Specific as Possible
  • Apply the “Stages of Change” Model


How to Research Your Target Population

Most of the effort needed to produce good materials occurs in the preparation stage, just like when you get a room ready to paint. And the most important part of your preparation is to thoroughly understand your audience. Your messages will be most effective if they’re aimed at the specific needs of a specific audience. For example, someone who needs to develop skills to quit smoking will likely need information about the effects of smoking on their health.

In order to reach your audience most effectively, you need to know who they are, what exactly they need, how to get the materials to them, and what would help them pay attention, understand your messages and act upon them. Here are some steps you can take to learn about your audience and their needs.

Read About Best Practices

Begin with a literature review. Use tools like Google Scholar to find reports and journal articles on the target population.

Consult the Experts

Next, consult target audience experts from TEAM Lab, community agencies, health organizations and any contacts who have helped you in the past. You can also contact Statewide resources such as Capacity Building Network through the PARTNERS website. You can also find audience research at the Centers for Disease Control audience insight series or from Nielsen and other media audience databases.

Learn About Cultural Influences

Be sure that you learn the role that tobacco plays in various communities. For example, tobacco may be used:

  • for religious practices and beliefs;
  • medicinally or for healing;
  • because of peer pressure (youth/adolescents);
  • secretly (men vs. women); or
  • only at festivals, parties or events (social smoking).

Your materials need to be sensitive to these influences. Also remember that symbols, images, and colors can hold great cultural significance and that such significance can vary greatly from community to community.

Conduct Surveys, Focus Groups and Interviews

If you have the time and resources, conduct research such as focus groups and one-on-one interviews before you begin to write and design your materials to get the specific feedback you need to effectively tailor your project. Such research can help you narrow your audience segments by learning what they already know, and what they are lacking, in order to accomplish the desired outcome—then you can aim your material at that specific gap.

Along with demographic information, try to learn such things as:

  • Sources your target audience trusts to tell them about an issue (could range from university researchers to a peer who has personally experienced the problem).
  • Communication channels they typically use (newspapers, published reports, websites, podcasts, person-to-person contacts, classes).
  • The types of messages that capture their attention.
  • Their concerns surrounding this particular issue.

Use this opportunity to also ask your audience about how and where they get their health-related information and services, and where they work, shop, study, dine, recreate, pray and congregate.

When it comes to policymakers, “key informant” surveys can be effective tools in understanding their current attitudes and what messages might best resonate with them.

Be as Specific as Possible

Since there is such great diversity within each subgroup of a population it’s rarely sufficient to define your target audience in broad terms such as youth, African-American, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual, rural, etc. Clearly define your audience by also identifying their level of education, lifestyle, beliefs, health behaviors, and specific attitudes and usage around tobacco.

  • Inadequate target audience definition: “Our cessation poster will have a Latino youth target.”
  • Better target audience definition: “Our cessation poster will target Latino teens aged 13-17 who are still in school, whose primary language is Spanish, who view themselves as social smokers, are active users of cell phones/texting and social media, are easily influenced by advertising and cultural icons, and have made few or no quit attempts to date.”

If your target audience is policymakers or other decision-makers, community leaders, members of the media, business owners, local residents, visitors or workers, attempt to provide some depth to your target audience description, such as identifying how educated local elected officials are or how predisposed they may be to your messages about tobacco.

Apply the “Stages of Change” Model

Identifying where individuals currently stand along the”stages of change” continuum will help you understand how and what to communicate to individuals to motivate positive attitudes and behavior shifts. An individual who is at the “pre-contemplation” stage might be receptive to a radically different cessation message, for example, than someone at the “preparation/ready for action” stage. The same theory could apply to elected officials and other key decision-makers in terms of their readiness to adopt new policies and embrace social-norm change in their communities.

For more information Stages of Change Model visit Prochaska and DiClemente Stages of Change Model.