Since I first entered the Communication Arts program as a freshman, it’s been drilled into me: know your audience.

In any communication, it’s important to know what message you’re sending, as well as where it’s going. In many cases, your audience will need a message tailored to their specific needs in order to get the most impact. While this may seem to be a very simple concept, I have a nagging suspicion that many brands and companies have forgotten about us.

We are the audience. We are people who spend money, make decisions, and hold opinions over everything from politics to shoelaces. We have wants and needs. We deserve to be treated with respect.

So when did it become acceptable to ignore our needs? To look at us in terms of metrics and dollar signs? Don’t we matter to you anymore?

Some will argue that we don’t, and there are days that I have to agree. Despite the growth of social media, some companies have chosen to ignore all of the signs of change (in the consumer’s favor) and continued to commit highway robbery with poor quality, high prices, and empty promises.

But on the other hand, there’s the power of engagement. Companies who have embraced social responsibility, open communication, and social media are flourishing, despite economic turmoil. We put more trust in them. We listen to their messages. We read their blog posts and become fans on Facebook. We actually listen.

The other day, my friend and I were chatting about how the traditional model of all advertising (buy space for ears and eyeballs) just isn’t sustainable. I agree. There’s enough clutter and crap advertising out there already – why add to the din? Smarter brands and businesses look to inbound marketing solutions to attract audiences and – gasp! – actually build relationships with customers.

Knowing your audience isn’t just about knowing how much they make, where they live, and what years they were born in. It’s about listening to their feedback. It’s about getting really “know” them.

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