You’ve probably seen it in a brief, heard it in a pitch, or even written it in an email. Audience. We like to ask each other who the audience is and then in some way define that group. But the definition of the word audience itself is “group of spectators.”

Audience

However, we don’t communicate with captive audiences. As humans, we pay attention and that implies investing precious, limited attention to some person or media with expectations of some return on attention. So what value do we as marketers bring to the interaction? There should be emotional and functional value in brand experiences, and understanding the motivators is less likely when we see people as audiences.

If you were planning to catch up with an old friend or even meet a new one, would you game plan for all the things you want to say? More than likely, you would think more about what you can learn about their life. You’d be considerate—giving humans credit for being more than passive viewers. Each audience is a missed opportunity to be more specific and meaningful. Brands must engage consumers, customers, clients, shoppers, advocates, naysayers, tech users, and the list goes on—each with massively important nuances.

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If you’re still paying attention, you’re probably thinking, “Well, what about people watching TV? That’s an audience.” Point taken. But even if we catch someone in a highly “spectator” moment where he can’t reach the remote control and isn’t drifting to a second or third device, the connection won’t matter if you’re ignoring his unique wants and needs.

If anyone should be considered the audience in the modern day (or is it post-modern… I lose track) of advertising, it’s us. Yes, we as marketers are the audience to human behavior. We strive to see and understand choices and motives like digesting a complex plot. (Like reality TV? No, too far.) Social listening, usability testing, customer satisfaction research, and more, all bring us closer to the characters in our brands’ ever-evolving stories.