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The Untapped Potential of Giving Your Audience a Strategic Seat at the Table

The Untapped Potential of Giving Your Audience a Strategic Seat at the Table

A recent conversation with the CEO of a large charity highlighted the transformative power of strategically centering audience insights in organizational decision-making. As they navigates a shift towards engaging the public more effectively to grow their supporter base, they astutely recognize the importance of not just collecting audience data, but deeply integrating those insights into strategy at every level.

Too often, organizations relegate audience data to a secondary consideration, treating it as a siloed tool rather than a core driver of decisions. As Forequest's Ray Tarantino pointed out, this would be like having your data team as "dishwashers in the back of a restaurant" when they should be "at the table with everybody, analyzing everything in real-time."

I've seen this dynamic play out repeatedly in my own career. When I worked at EMI Music, audience insights had a valued seat at the decision-making table, enabling us to shape strategy in lockstep with evolving fan preferences. But in other businesses, I found my team siloed in a separate building, disconnected from key decisions. Similarly, at a global brand, despite being hired to lead a new insights division, I was granted no more than 15 minutes with the executive team, and even that required booking months in advance.

This pattern extends beyond just data to the growing field of AI. Many companies are eager to adopt AI technologies, but aren’t investing in the organizational change and upskilling needed to realize its full potential. The true benefits of AI and data lie not in isolated projects, but in shifting the entire organization to be more responsive, make better decisions and be more insights-driven at every level.

The most impactful organizations understand that audience insights deserve a central role in shaping strategy, from branding and fundraising to program development. Giving audiences this strategic seat at the table goes beyond just reporting metrics. It means cultivating organization-wide curiosity about your audiences' needs, motivations and behaviors, and empowering those insights to permeate decision-making at all levels. It requires integrating audience perspectives into daily operations, not just long-term plans.

When done right, this audience-centric approach acts as a "growth hack," enabling nimble, data-informed iteration that keeps tactics responsive to evolving audience preferences. The result is accelerated growth with minimal waste.

For nonprofits like the one that sparked this conversation, audience-centricity is particularly vital given the deeply human nature of their work. By inviting supporters and beneficiaries alike to shape their strategy, they can forge richer community around their mission. But the benefits extend to any organization. When you give audiences a real voice, you gain an unparalleled resource for innovation, problem-solving, and demonstrating your value.

As more organizations embrace this, those still keeping their audience insights relegated to the sidelines will face a widening competitive disadvantage. Growth comes from only a few places - selling more to current audiences, reaching new audiences, or introducing new offerings. Effectively activating any of those levers requires a deep, nuanced and integrated understanding of the humans you aim to serve.

It takes humility and guts to break down the walls between your audience and your decision-making. But for those willing to bring their audiences to the strategy table and upskill their teams to be truly insights-powered, the rewards are immense - tighter community, sharper focus, and the holy grail of sustainable growth. The question is, will you offer them a seat?

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