People are people, right? Actually, not so much.

Constituency, audience, persona @ethanmccSocial business marketing — and, well, marketing and communications in general, really — starts with people.  As in, who are you trying to reach? What do you know about them?  What do they want to do?  What do you want them to do/believe/understand/buy?

Since the point of departure is understanding selected groups of people, we often start our marketing and communications plans with some kind of description of the people we’d like to engage.  And recently, there’s been a lot of discussion in my world about three different ways of describing people — audiences, constituencies and personas.  I’d like to offer my understanding of these three terms and see what others think.  Again, this is all in the context of marketing and communications, but I’d be interested as well to know if other disciplines or industries have attached other meanings to these words (or words like them).

Audience: An audience is a group of people who may have nothing in common with one another other than the fact that they are all consuming the same piece of content.  I like to think of this as a fairly passive grouping of people since they may not know each other or want to know each other at all.  Just like when you see a movie — thousands of other people may see the same movie (some of them may even be in the same room with you) but you may have little in common with them beyond some demographic similarities.  These similarities can be, however, very powerful for the marketer — the simple fact that you are sitting in front of that particular piece of content can say a lot about you, for example some of your interests, your approximate income level, the language you speak and the region you live in etc.

Constituency: A constituency is an activated group of people with shared ambitions, objectives and/or pain points – they self-identify with a cause or a shared belief and seek change.  While they may have certain demographic similarities among them, these similarities are not a constituency’s defining characteristic.  Instead, it is a psychographic profile that unites a constituency.  The term constituency  is, of course, borrowed from democratic representative politics where elected representatives go to congress or parliament to represent the needs and desires of the people back home who share a common need to see certain things about their lives changed through legislation.  In the world of increasingly personalized and intimate marketing and communications, it can be incredibly powerful to understand which constituencies will most likely affect your organization.  I find it helpful to think of audiences as leaning back & receiving compared to constituencies leaning forward & acting.

Persona:  Personae are useful when planning a marketing and communications program because they allow you to extrapolate from a representative example how you think groups of people might believe.  A persona is essentially a composite of an audience or a constituency wrapped up in one or two people.  So you can create a fictional representative of a certain audience or constituency to run through various scenarios.  It’s helpful to use personae to test your thinking — would a gum-chewing, Facebook’ing, metal-head teenager actually want to learn more about how your Enterprise CRM can transform society?  Um, maybe not.  My colleague, Priya Varadachary, helpfully describes personae this way, “Personae align the content and experiences with key needs and digital behaviors to build a customer model. This means learning and documenting how our targets behave in the digital context (which should then influence usage data, lifestyle need states, device penetration, personas, usability, multivariate testing etc).”

So, as you can see, I don’t view these three terms as mutually exclusive or in competition.  They are just three different ways to think about groups of people when doing your marketing and communications planning.  I’d be interested to hear if you have other ways of thinking about groups of people or if there are nuances here that could be better unpacked or described.