Audience targeting is the process of developing and delivering programs or products designed to meet the needs of specific segments of the population. Businesses succeed by developing and promoting products that certain groups of people need and want. Extension educators must do likewise.
In our daily lives, we can readily see instances of audience targeting by observing how businesses target their advertisements for certain products to a welldefined segment of the population. Travel magazines, for example, contain many advertisements designed for people who have above-average incomes, are cosmopolitan, and have high levels of formal education. These people have been identified through market research as being likely to travel frequently and more likely to purchase luxury items than the average consumer.
Farm magazines, on the other hand, contain advertisements and other information that is directly related to agriculture. Indeed, even some of the junk mail we receive indicates that we have been identified as a member of some targeted audience based on our spending history, location of residence, income, age, or other factors that can be ascertained.
Both the effectiveness and efficiency of Extension educational programs can be enhanced by adopting a similar approach that is, by developing program delivery systems to convey specific educational messages to audiences that have been appropriately identified and segmented.
Application to Extension Education
Successful Cooperative Extension educational programs reflect the organization's mission and they focus on needs of identified publ ics. These programs require an accurate analysis of the characteristics and situations of those segments of the population that can realistically be identified and targeted. When situations and needs have been adequately assessed, a program delivery system can be structured to provide learning opportunities for the specified audience. Therefore, the accuracy with which populations are segmented in defining audiences for educational input is crucial to meeting Extension's educational program objectives.
Situational Analysis and Audience Targeting
Conducting a thorough and accurate situational analysis and needs assessment are essential steps in defining learning needs of Extension audiences. Identification of primary audiences can be achieved through an overall analysis, which should gather information about the area and its people, including observed and expressed needs, geography and demography, values and beliefs, knowledge levels, special interests, availability of resources, social and economic factors, levels of ownership, extent of experience, and other factors that may be valuable in segmenting the population.
This analysis can be implemented in tandem with extensive consultation and collaboration with members of the Extension Advisory Leadership System, other community leaders, and other citizens who are involved in activities relevant to Extension program areas. Through this studied, collaborative approach, specific audiences can be more accurately targeted for varying types and levels of educational program inputs. These program delivery and knowledge inputs may have limited content and be directed to general audiences, or they may be highly complex and specialized, involving the use of numerous delivery methods in achieving the educational objective.
Focus on Objectives
The type and level of educational input should be guided by educational objectives that focus on the needs of the targeted audiences. Many of the situational characteristics or identifying variables of specific audiences can influence the receptiveness of individuals to different levels and systems of educational input.
In some cases, the purpose of educational input may simply be to create awareness of a new practice, product, or situation among members of the targeted audience. In other situations, audiences may be targeted for more intensive educational input that seeks to change the knowledge and actions of audience members. For these two differing objectives, the program delivery methods chosen would be quite different.
For example, well educated, specialized farmers are predictably receptive to learning about new practices. They readily seek information from primary sources such as the Extension Service, consultants, businesses and industries, and other similar sources to help them assess the utility of new practices for their farming operation. This situation contrasts significantly with that of less-well-educated farmers and those with small, generalized farm operations. Those individuals are generally less receptive to new ideas or innovations, and they usually obtain information through secondary sources such as family members or neighbors rather than directly from primary sources. They also tend to be reluctant to attend educational events, especially those that require travel beyond their immediate surroundings. Naturally, these identifying characteristics can be quite useful in choosing methods for providing educational opportunities to these distinctly different audiences.
Learning Strategies and Program Delivery
By targeting our audiences, we are better able to select appropriate learning strategies and choose delivery methods for a program delivery system appropriate to the educational objectives of that audience. Research findings on clientele usually want to receive specific information targeted directly to their needs. Also, they prefer learning opportunities delivered through methods with which they are familiar. They generally prefer methods that provide personalized, interactive contact between the agent and client on a specific subject. From a listing of 66 program delivery methods, those preferred most include personal visits, meetings, newsletters, demonstrations, workshops, videotapes, bulletins and pamphlets, field days, on-farm tests, seminars, fact sheets, lectures, tours, and telephone contacts. Clientele also prefer educational methods that provide learners opportunities to see and practice what is being taught.
Educational objectives for specific audiences must be considered when choosing program delivery methods. These methods should coincide with those that clientele prefer and consider relevant for meeting their information needs. If the objective is only to create awareness of a subject, delivery methods such as radio, television, newspapers, and other mass media are appropriate. If the Objective is to provide educational inputs for clientele who are interested in trying or testing new information that they have already considered and regard as interesting and potentially useful, delivery methods such as demonstrations, tours, workshops, interactive meetings (such as symposiums or forums), audio cassettes with an accompanying fact sheet, videotapes, and other similar "how-to" methods are likely to be of greater value.
When the targeted audience is quite knowledgeable about a subject, the objective may be to provide information on the latest developments or innovations related to that subject. These users are usually capable of receiving, processing, and using this information effectively to enhance their knowledge of the subject. Under these circumstances, delivery methods that may be used efficiently include computer programs or computer networks, data analysis, fax transmissions, seminars, panel discussions, conferences, videotapes, fact sheets, newsletters, bulletins, and other similar means of delivering highly specific and detailed information
Implications for Selecting Appropriate Learning Opportunities
In our audience targeting efforts, we should take into account the important characteristics of the people we are targeting and assure that we deliver information in a manner that provides adequate opportunities for learning to occur. Learning that is practiced and integrated into the client's prior knowledge base is more likely to be retained and used. Selecting delivery methods that provide desirable learning opportunities at the level needed for specific audiences is the task of the Extension educator. By understanding our targeted audiences, including their present and needed knowledge levels, we can more effectively design a program delivery system that provides appropriate and desirable learning experiences for our clientele, and we can select the teaching methods most useful for achieving our educational objectives.
John G. Richardson, Extension SpecialistEducational Programs