Designing for multiple audiences

01 Feb 2014 by Brian Slade

Communications need to be dressed differently to communicate effectively to different audiences however they should clearly come from the same source, writes Brian Slade.

Coming into a project with a new client, it can be disarming how ‘off’ you can be with your perceptions of what they do and the people they talk to. I first met Ross Bell, CEO of the New Zealand Drug Foundation in 2006 at the top of some slightly suspect stairs leading to a mismatched office space in a slightly tired part of Wellington. He was dynamic and engaging.

I had headed into our discussions with a somewhat simplistic viewpoint: ‘the law’s the law’. In time, I came to recognise that the Drug Foundation is a complex and multi faceted organisation with a raft of stakeholders, including government, investors, lobby and interest groups, corporate funders, sponsors, the medical profession, drug users and their families – all of whom must be successfully engaged. Even within these groups there are sub-groups. For example, drug users include pot, pill and meth users.

Whether we like it or not, New Zealanders use drugs and drug use causes social, health and economic harms and costs individuals, families and communities dearly. Preventing and reducing harm is a big challenge; one the New Zealand Drug Foundation has successfully taken on.

We knew we needed to get some order and clarity into their brand visual identity and structure. A core strategic intent of the New Zealand Drug Foundation’s brand identity was to establish an authentic voice and position for the Foundation as the single authority in evidence based national drug and alcohol policy. This was articulated in a series of ways, including the positioning line ‘At the heart of the matter’.

At the same time, we recognised that we needed an identity that was flexible enough to reach people of very different backgrounds. The politically ‘neutral’ but highly visible colour combination of orange and black formed a solid visual platform for a consistent and considered ‘brand language’ that was bold, clear and single minded with flexibility created in secondary visual executions. For example, it can be combined with evocative textural graphics and typography for conversations with users, or used with restraint for communications targeted at politicians, policy makers and health educators such as the ‘Matters of Substance’ magazine, website, social media and corporate communications.

“Businesses have multiple stakeholders. Design applications that appeal to customers may not be right for investors, community groups or other stakeholders.”

Understanding audiences, who they are, what they think, what we’d like them to think and what it will take to change their minds and actions is critical to successful design. We often hear of the importance of applying a brand consistently but this can be very difficult when audiences are so varied. What resonates with one audience may not with another. By getting to know the different audiences well you can develop a tool kit of design elements that can be ‘dialed-up or down’ to appeal to specific audiences whilst allowing the brand itself to have consistency.

I love the idea of personas in online design and it has a place with offline design as well. They turn nameless, faceless audience segments into real people, making it easier to keep the audience in mind as you design. We can consider an organisation like a person. We have values and principles and a core visual appearance yet we dress differently for a business meeting, for cheering on the children at Saturday morning sports or going out for drinks with friends.

Well thought through brands will have audience considerations as part of their DNA. Their brand guidelines have been designed to allow different core elements to be introduced, removed or applied somewhat differently to allow the design communication to match the audience need.

Ross Bell says our thinking on how to best apply their brand positioning across the various audiences has helped establish the Foundation at the forefront of drug and alcohol policy nationally and internationally. 

This article appeared in Marketing magazine, January /February2014

Tags: Creative
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