Know Your Audience

‎”We advertisers must take the world as we find it. Our business is to win people, not to make them over.” – Claude C. Hopkins

Claude C. Hopkins is considered by many as the father of Direct Marketing, the “reason why” copy style, and marketing analytics. Over 120 years ago he ignited what is considered the true first “creative revolution”—long before Bill Bernbach, and Digital agencies—by positing that advertising was “salesmanship on paper”.

Hopkins believed that advertising agencies needed to absorb the culture and habits of their audience, learn their “language”, and communicate with them in a way that wins them over with familiarity. In the late 1800s this was revolutionary.

Today there is much debate as to the future of advertising and marketing. Will digital and social kill traditional media? Are we on the verge of another creative revolution? Is mass marketing over? We’ll leave that to the business pundits and industry watchers to sort out, but the fact remains that success in our business is dependent on a notion that transcends all media: know your audience.

In Hopkins’ time, magazine ads were considered “new media”. And they were—the idea of placing ads in magazines was considered lowbrow, because the publications were literary outlets, supported solely by subscribers and their interest in the content. So people like Hopkins (and Albert Lasker, J. Walter Thompson himself, and many others) turned their focus to the audience, and crafted their communication and style appropriately.

By focusing on the audience they were trying to reach, the new strategies for developing effective creative in magazine ads revealed themselves. Hopkins was a true believer in communication with context—magazine readers reacted differently to ads than newspaper readers because of context. In the early 20th century, selling soap in a magazine such as Harpers required a different approach than selling that same soap in handbills, circulars, outdoor signage, and especially newspapers. Knowing your audience and knowing why they read magazines, or newspapers, or neither, was key to taking a big idea and communicating it effectively.

The same is true today. At The Weinstein Organization we approach every project with our focus on the audience first. What we might do in a direct mail piece is not necessarily what we would do in an email campaign. The message may be the same, but the audience and the context are far different. And when you know your audience you will know what to say, how to say it, and when.

Marketing agencies that worry about so-called new media and its supposed “threat” to our industry are focusing on the wrong aspect of our business. It’s all about the audience, not the media. If you know your audience, you will know what to do regardless of the media. And it’s been that way for over 100 years.