3 Audience

Getting to Know Your Audience

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this chapter, you should be able to:

  • categorize specific elements of a given communication scenario to the stages of the acronym AUDIENCE;
  • write a complete audience analysis detailing each part of AUDIENCE for a given communication scenario by briefly describing the purpose of a communication and the characteristics of an audience;
  • write a complete audience analysis detailing each part of AUDIENCE for a specific communication task (e.g., letter writing, presentation, etc.).

Framing the Audience Analysis

The communications landscape changes rapidly over time, but one criterion for successful communication remains the same: the importance of knowing who your audience is and understanding their needs. Imagine you want to give a presentation to people in your department at work. You likely know your colleagues’ personalities and what they expect of you. You might know their education levels and you are sure they understand all of your company-specific jargon. You think delivering your message should be easy, except many of them are so comfortable with you, they decide to skip your presentation because you took for granted that they would be interested. On the other hand, if you had to present to the board of directors, you might need to do more homework on who they are and what they expect from you. In other words, it is always important to get to know your audience as much as possible to give yourself the best chance at communicating successfully.

In this chapter you will begin to examine differences between primary, secondary, and hidden audiences. Then, using the AUDIENCE acronym as a tool, you will participate in activities that will help you flesh out information you need to know about your audience in order to persuade, inform, or entertain them. You will have at least three chances to practise your audience analysis skills and get peer feedback. Then, near the end of this chapter, you will craft a message that considers your audience’s needs and expectations. This process will lay the foundation for you to become a communicator who is effective in persuading, informing, or entertaining an audience because you have done your best work in getting to know them, their needs, and expectations first.

Identifying Your Primary, Secondary, and Hidden Audiences

Your audience is the person or people you want to communicate with. By knowing more about them (their wants, needs, values, etc.), you are able to better craft your message so that they will receive it the way you intended.

Your success as a communicator partly depends on how well you can tailor your message to your audience.

Your primary audience is your intended audience; it is the person or people you have in mind when you decide to communicate something. However, when analyzing your audience you must also beware of your secondary audience. These are other people you could reasonably expect to come in contact with your message. For example, you might send an email to a customer, who, in this case, is your primary audience, and copy (cc:) your boss, who would be your secondary audience. Beyond these two audiences, you also have to consider your hidden audience, which are people who you may not have intended to come in contact with your audience (or message) at all, such as a colleague who gets a forwarded copy of your email.

Check Your Understanding

A Tool for Analyzing Your Audience

To help you get to know your audience even more, we will begin by working through a set of steps that, together, spell the acronym AUDIENCE. These steps will give you an idea of what questions to ask and what information can be useful in better connecting with your audience.

A Analyze Who is/are the recipients of your message?
U Understand What is their knowledge about your intended message?
D Demographics What is their age, gender, education level, position?
I Interest What is their level of interest/investment in your message (What’s in it for them?)
E Environment What setting/reality is your audience immersed in, and what is your relationship to it? What is their likely attitude to your message? Have you taken cultural differences into consideration?
N Need What information does your audience need?
C Customize How do you adjust your message to your audience?
E Expectations What are your audience’s expectations?

These categories of information have been assembled into a job aid to help you conduct your very own audience analyses. As you review the tool, list the traits that apply to you for each section. If you would like to expand this reflection, consider how you might fill this tool out with traits that apply to you in your personal life versus your worklife. What are some methods you might use to find out more about an audience?

For your audience analysis, choose one of the scenarios and fill out the following form. Submit it according to your instructor’s directions.

Now let us take a look at putting this tool to use in a scenario. Read the following news story about an executive at a company [http://bit.ly/1Qyqdyy]. Reflect on these questions regarding his email:

  1. Who was the primary audience for his original email?
  2. Who was the secondary audience?
  3. Who was the hidden audience?
  4. Assuming he did an audience analysis, was it effective? Why or why not?
  5. What elements of AUDIENCE might he have considered in advance to get a better outcome?
Category of Analysis Description/Notes
Example:To further answer the questions above, we can use the AUDIENCE form to analyze the audience in this scenario and provide a revised message.
AnalyzeWho will receive your message? Primary: Yahoo employees working on the Daily Fantasy Football development team.Secondary: Other Yahoo employees.

Hidden: Anyone the email could be forwarded to.

UnderstandWhat do they already know or understand about your intended message? Primary: Understands the technical details of Fantasy football.Secondary: May have heard of the project.

Hidden: Knows little of the technical details.

DemographicsWhat is their age, gender, education level, occupation, position? Primary: 20s, 30s, 40s, White/Asian male, educated with bachelors’ or technical degrees and above; mostly IT developers.Secondary: Various ages, gender, mostly educated, and in various positions.

Hidden: Likely an American resident

InterestWhat is their level of interest/ investment in your message? (What’s in it for them?) Primary: Very invested (I’m their boss!).Secondary: Mild interest if they like Fantasy football or the technology behind it.

Hidden: Not very invested.

EnvironmentWhat setting/reality is your audience immersed in, and what is your relationship to it? What is their likely attitude to your message? Have you taken cultural differences into consideration? Primary: Developer setting. Can speak the same IT and corporate culture jargon. Likely to be open to my message because of my position.Secondary: Corporate setting; professionalism expected because of my position. Some may find it funny, others may find it offensive. There may be different corporate cultures in different departments.

Hidden: Could be anyone in the world. Some Americans might find it offensive, others might find it funny. Could potentially include Ice Cube, or other Black people.

NeedWhat information does your audience need? How will they use the information? Primary: Links to get others to participate in the contest staging.Secondary: Instructions on how to get to the staging area for the fantasy football preseason contest staging and explanation of deposit bonus.

Hidden: Information consistent with what they already know about Yahoo’s brand values.

CustomizeHow do you adjust your message to better suit your audience? Primary: Revise to create a more professional tone by removing all references to Ice Cube, hip hop culture, and racially charged elements like Ebonics and the N-word.Secondary: Ensure the contest speaks to the widest variety of employees who can help test the system.

Hidden: Ensure Yahoo’s brand is not damaged, by being above reproach.

ExpectationsWhat does your audience expect from you or your message? Primary: Expects me to be professional and my message to be relevant to their work.Secondary: Expects me to be professional, be competent, and embody company values.

Hidden: Expects me to be professional.

Revised Message:

Subject: Daily Fantasy Football goes live!

Greetings, folks.

Jerry here. I am proud to announce my team is now ready to bring you what you have all been waiting for: Daily Fantasy Football! Starting today, we are going to have NFL preseason contests on staging. Here is how to play:

1) On Desktop: link

2) On iOS: Download the latest dogfood app, which will point to the staging environment.

3) On Android: not yet available

4) Join the Daily Fantasy Football contest before 4 p.m. today: [link]

Please join contests, create contests, invite your friends, and make sure to alert the team at [link] if you find any technical problems.

One more thing: The team is also testing out deposit bonuses! For every dollar you put in, we give you another dollar. If you signed up for Fantasy Football, we give you two dollars. It’s easy money! When you spend money on a contest that runs, your deposit bonus becomes real money at a rate of 4 percent. That means, if you enter a $1 contest, you get 4¢ from your bonus. So try that out and make sure your investment gets returns!

So let’s go for the win-win. Play dogfood Daily Fantasy football so we can all have fun and make some money while we’re at it.



The Purpose of Your Message

When you communicate with an audience, you are normally trying to achieve one or more of the three following broad outcomes:

  1. Persuade – convince your audience to do something or take some action
  2. Inform – raise their awareness and/or understanding about a situation or issue
  3. Entertain – capture their attention in order to distract and delight

Check Your Understanding

Here are two possible use cases where analyzing your audience will help you improve your communication:

  1. You can complete an analysis to make sure you understand your audience comprehensively before you begin crafting your message. This ensures your message has the best chance at landing properly with your audience.
  2. Take an existing message and use your analysis to better customize the message.

Can you think of others? In both of our suggested use cases, the AUDIENCE tool provides a framework to identify key factors you should consider when creating, revising, or reviewing communications.

Below you will find three scenarios that you can use to practise your ability to identify your audience. Using this Audience Analysis Form, complete an audience analysis for each of the three scenarios below.

Fill in the Audience Analysis template below and submit it according to your instructor’s directions.



In this chapter you have learned what an audience is and why an awareness of your audience’s needs and expectations is important to communicating your intended message.

You learned to define primary, secondary, and hidden audiences, and thought about ways to persuade, inform, and/or entertain them. You also used the AUDIENCE tool to examine an audience and begin to recognize when the audience and message are mismatched.

You should now be able to create messages that more effectively match your objective to successfully persuade, inform, or entertain. You are also well-positioned to get more practice and/or move on to the next module topic.

Key Takeaways and Check In

Learning highlights

  • When you craft a message, it is important to (1) distinguish between your primary and secondary audiences and (2) identify a potentially hidden audience for your message.
  • To better understand your audience and plan your communications, you can use the AUDIENCE job aid to reveal audience characteristics that either facilitate or impede the communication of a message.
  • There are generally three purposes of a message:
    • to persuade
    • to inform
    • to entertain

Further Reading

References and Attributions

Wollert Hickman, D. (2014). Audience analysis: Primary, secondary, and hidden audiences. Retrieved from http://writingcommons.org/index.php/2013-12-30-04-56-15/2014-02-04-20-46-53/audience-analysis-primary-secondary-and-hidden-audiences

Attribution Statement

This chapter is a remix containing content from a variety of sources published under a variety of open licenses, including the following:

Chapter Content

  • Original content contributed by the Olds College OER Development Team, of Olds College to Professional Communications Open Curriculum under a CC-BY 4.0 license

Check Your Understandings


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