Published: 6 October 2017

Digital transformation starts by focusing on audience

One of the biggest changes digital culture has brought to communications is the move from broadcast (pushing messages out into the market) towards engagement (encouraging a two-way exchange with audiences over time).

However, even if you’re ready to have a two-way exchange with your supporters, in the current noisy digital market you might not even get noticed. That’s why an audience-centric approach to communications is becoming so important. Communications strategies rooted in an understanding of audience behaviours stand a better chance of cutting through and reaching the right people. But these strategies are not just changing how we communicate, they are changing how we work.

How ready is your organisation to (digitally) transform?

Two years ago, I developed a digital maturity test which assesses how ready an organisation is to digitally transform. The digital maturity rating is made up of scores for 14 digital maturity competencies, rated by respondents. The average digital maturity rating from 75 mostly UK charities came out as low – two out of five.

This picture chimes with what I’ve seen over the past few years. At best, organisations have got the tactical delivery of digital communications right, yet are lacking the leadership and skills to take the next step and transform the organisation into one that’s in tune with today’s digital culture. At worst, digital is still seen as a communications and fundraising add-on channel, something to cut when budgets are tight (thankfully this seems to be the minority).

What does a focus on audience mean?

To be audience-centric, we need insight grounded in research and data analysis. Digital enables us to add behavioural information to insight, drawn from data on how an individual interacts with our organisation. For example, in addition to age and location, audience segments can be created based on what links they’ve clicked on in an email, or which Facebook pages they like.

But data is not enough. To make it useful you need the right data strategy and technology systems in place, people who have skills for planning, managing and evaluating audience journeys and processes that encourage integrated planning with the focus on audience. That’s why the implementation of plans that start by looking at and learning from audience profiles can change how the organisation works and, ultimately, the culture of the organisation leading to organisational transformation.

How to start digital transformation – my top tips

1) Help develop an audience-centric culture in your organisation

Paint a picture of the benefits this brings to other organisations, such as retailers or other charities, and what could be achieved at yours. Share it with teams by putting it in the context of their plans. Bring audience insight into context of your colleague’s day-to-day work.

I witnessed the impact of this approach while working with a medium-sized charity. After 18 months of organising training sessions, sharing insights from website analytics, surveys of website visitors, user experience work, email audits and trends in communications and membership models, the organisational culture has changed and staff are now aware how prioritising audiences helps them achieve their objectives. As a consequence, the approach to planning and communicating is changing.

2) Create audience journeys moving away from audience ownership by teams

When one team is the main arbiter of what communications an audience should receive, they can disregard wider organisational objectives or other relevant expertise. The final decision about an audience journey should be made based on input from a team (or a working group) with a range of expertise – from audience insight, analysis of the performance of different products to user experience and digital design.

3) Invest in your customer relationship management (CRM) system

In order to tailor communications to personal and behavioural preferences of your audiences (which will make them more likely to respond to your communications), organisations need systems that can hold and manipulate lots of data – from donation amounts and demographics to behavioural data like email clicks and opens or Facebook likes. This doesn’t always mean that you need to wait for your old supporter database to be moved into a new CRM. There are short-term solutions for merging the audience data from a number of sources. Whatever route you take, it needs investment so it’s essential for the organisation to understand the role of audience engagement in achieving the organisational strategy.

4) Create data management guidelines

If you want to use data to inform audience insight, you need to collect it correctly and having the right GDPR processes in place is vital. Just make sure that the guidelines are informed by your business strategy and what you want to achieve rather than by what your current technology is capable of doing.

Digital culture has changed how people across all demographic groups interact with brands. Charities need to start the process of change now to engage their audiences effectively for the future. Only then will they be able to achieve what they’ve set out in their long-term strategies.


Brani will be exploring how to kick-start digital transformation in your organisation, based on trends from 70+ NGOs.

Image: Rawpixel.com, 2017

Branislava Milosevic, director, Digital Leadership Ltd

Brani Milosevic is the founder and director of Digital Leadership Ltd, digital strategist, mentor and trainer for non-profits. She’s forged her digital leadership experience over more than 15 years in some of the biggest UK charities.