Like the body of an iceberg, your audience goes deeper than you can imagine. It’s very easy to see who’s at the tip of the iceberg — those people reading your social media posts, responding to emails, scheduling discussions, downloading white papers, and so on. But underneath them, there’s a huge collection of additional stakeholders involved in making decisions, and you can’t ignore them.
I call these people the invisible audience. You’ll never see them, but you’ll often need to interact indirectly with them.
The Discernible Audience
Here’s a business-to-business marketing scenario that can help you understand the invisible audience and the power it wields. Imagine that your company specializes in a product that helps companies speed up development — who wouldn’t want that? Your audience is most likely professionals at various levels dealing head-on with the challenges of getting products out the door in a timely manner. Perhaps they’ve even lost customers.
You know how to identify, reach, and speak to this audience, which I call the discernible audience. You can talk directly with them about their pain points and possible solutions. You will show them how your product will make them a hero at their organization.
But you can’t stop there.
The Invisible Audience
Now, go deeper. The invisible audience is everyone else in the organization that won’t connect directly with your marketing efforts or see any materials you’ve produced. This audience may include:
- Senior executives: People who control the purse strings are typically most concerned about costs.
- End-users: People using the product care most about the user experience and workflow.
- IT professionals: The IT staff will be most concerned about how easy or difficult it will be to integrate your product into the existing infrastructure.
This invisible audience can make or break a deal, but how do you reach it?
My Approach to Invisible Audiences
I deal with the invisible audience by preparing the discernible audience to act as my advocates. I give them the information they need to present a compelling business case to others. This information can include:
- Return on investment projections
- Videos showing the product in action
- Technical specifications
The discernible audience might not care about these things, but the invisible audience will. When these questions come up, I want the discernible audience to have the answers at their fingertips.
I rarely go into too much depth — the goal is to give just enough to educate the discernible audience without losing their attention. I find that a paragraph, or even a sentence or two, often does the job. A white paper allows me to go into more detail. When I think it’s helpful, I’ll prepare materials and messaging aimed directly at members of the invisible audience, and then make them easily discoverable and shareable so the people I reach can pass them along.
Invisible audiences exist everywhere — not just in business-to-business situations. Consider higher education for people wanting to return to school. Your marketing efforts are probably reaching prospective students, hoping to convince them to enroll and make a sizable investment in their career and personal growth.
But many of the people you reach aren’t making their decisions in a vacuum. Anticipate the questions they’ll get from family members, such as:
- How much less time will you be able to spend with us?
- How will this disrupt our daily lives?
- What kind of support will you need from us?
If prospective students can’t answer these questions, they might have difficulty convincing others to sign on to their decision to earn a degree. Or you might lose a prospective student to a training solution that bypasses higher education altogether.
What This Means for You
Not every marketing effort will involve an invisible audience. After all, a customer doesn’t have to get much buy-in from stakeholders before buying a bag of potato chips. But be aware of conditions where more people might be involved in decisions than meets the eye.
Similarly, not every marketing outreach requires you to acknowledge the invisible audience. There are a lot of touchpoints in the buyer journey that should speak solely to the discernible audience.
Your goal should be to identify those situations where the invisible audience might be engaged in a decision, and then ensure your discernible audience is ready to make a case for your products and services when you can’t do it yourself.