Audience development planning - using evidence

The use of evidence as part of the audience development planning process...

Audience development planning is more effective, both at engaging people and in the use of resources, where the target audience is clearly and specifically defined through evidence. This article highlights the types of evidence you will need to gather to help you in that task when completing our online audience development planner here.

What we know about successful audience development

Organisation-wide: evidence tells us that the organisational ‘holistic’ approach to audience development might mean reassessing priorities, questioning assumptions and being prepared to try-and-fail, as well as to try-and-succeed.

Purposeful: whilst activity should be planned and lead clearly to the delivery of an organisation’s core objective, organisations require evidence on current and potential audience behaviours to inform a great plan.

Required: activity based on sound market intelligence and developed through dialogue becomes “audience-focused” - shaped by evidence on what audiences need and want.

About relationships: communicating consistent, clear messages to ensure open and two-way communication internally and externally leads to the development of long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with audiences, rather than single transactional ones.

Sustainable: Use of evidence is a measure of success in sustainable audience development. This is an important principle as we know it is comparatively easy to attract someone once, but the investment in developing long-term relationships with individuals – the time, energy and resources to generate a new, larger and more diverse audience - requires an on-going commitment to them.

Using evidence for decision making

So if we know that audience development activity is most effective when it is based on evidence, the type of information an organisation holds on its audiences may differ depending on its artform or sector, but the essentials are the same. Where an organisation has baseline information of one type, it will still need to fill the gaps with other types of information to complete a meaningful picture.

The most effective use of any organisational data is to use it in combination with other knowledge to present as full a picture as possible of potential opportunities for development - whether box office data, visitor surveys, comment books, anecdotal etc. By using the evidence in combination, organisations can increase their understanding, identify issues and, with an eye to the information’s reliability, develop their own intelligent targeting confident in their decision making. Use of evidence in this way makes an audience development plan more effective, both at engaging people and in the use of resources, as the target audience is clearly and specifically defined.

Evidence from data comes in a variety of forms, the most simple and straightforward is a set of name and address data (including full postcode) about a customer. This in itself is an important indicator of an organisation’s potential to analyse and understand its customers. The evidence from this data may result in an organisation testing assumptions, answering questions, measuring progress, identifying new targets but ultimately doing things differently to be more effective in the market place. Bits of data will be used at different times to inform a strategy and an organisation will be constantly topping up the information that they hold about audiences in order to build an effective plan. However, it is the insights developed from the data that shed light on the current levels of an audience’s engagement and its future potential.

Using evidence in creating a plan

Learning about audiences is therefore at the heart of effective organisational practice and an audience plan

comprises aims, insight and a course of action to respond creatively to the analysis. Whichever planning template is used we suggest that evidence is required at every stage. Put simply, the better the evidence, the better the plan. Evidence can be used to establish an overview of what could be achieved by:
  • articulating a shared understanding of and commitment to audience aims throughout the organisation
  • testing whether aims are realistic and achievable
  • establishing realistic audience objectives and targets

We advocate a flexible yet straight-forward approach to applying evidence through the planning process – with bespoke resources to accompany it – focusing on the audiences you want to reach and strategies for reaching them as part of either short, medium or long term plans. Evidence as part of audience development planning can:

  • Standardise planning methods
  • Inform the setting of objectives - a baseline against which to measure success
  • Demonstrate how it addresses audiences’ needs
  • Instill confidence – it’s data-led and evidence-based

Where do I begin?

The online Audience Development Planner can be used to input your own organisation's data to generate a bespoke plan, which can be saved online and downloaded. The key stages of this are set out below:

Mission and goal setting Where you outline what your organisation does and what you want to achieve. What you currently know about your audiences and potential audiences

Strategy and approach Where you set out the broad direction you plan to take to achieve your audience goals

Objective setting Where you set SMART objectives defining what you want to achieve and how it will be measured

Action plans The tactical delivery of your audience development strategy, including capacity and resource requirements

Evaluation and monitoring Where you set out how you will know whether you have met your SMART objectives