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A recent study published by the Pew Research Center reported that the number of Americans who read a physical book in the past year is 65 percent. That number is largely unchanged from the last time this study was conducted four years ago.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the emergence of e-book reading has not taken off in the past four years as was assumed.
But most surprisingly, print is outpacing digital in popularity when it comes to book reading. That 65 percent number keeps holding steady. That's the story. Right?
We are so conditioned to believe that print is dying that when it's not we're supposed to be surprised. Pew Research relies on this conditioning, otherwise its report wouldn't be newsworthy or featured on countless news broadcasts since it was published last week.
So, this information is only interesting because of the "print is losing popularity" premise.
Because Pew Research understood what its audience was expecting to hear (print is losing), it knew how to use a piece of information to build the popularity of its research report.
I define this type of conditioning in communications as "managing target audience expectations."
Think about your own communications efforts. Are you setting the expectations for your audience?
If you are actively making an effort here, how well do you know what your audience expects to hear from you?
If you are not actively and effectively setting their expectations, you should be.
Setting the right expectations helps to condition your target audience. Conditioning, just like athletes getting ready for a game, is important. Your audience must be in shape so it is able to absorb and act on the information published by your business.
The Importance of Setting Your Audience's Expectations
Understand what your audience expects, then use that information to create a great relationship.
Here's a positive example of an organization leveraging an understanding of its customers.
Players from the Barberton High School football team hand delivered season ticket packages to the homes of each and every season ticket holder.
The expectation of the season ticket buyer is that they will receive their tickets in a timely way. But Barberton found a clever and creative way to not only save money on postage but also deepen its relationship with its audience.
And, guess what? Home football game attendance for the first two home games of the season is way up.
The football team and leadership understood what their audience expected, and then found a way to delight it based on that knowledge.
Here's a different example in terms of scale, but the same principle is at work.
In 2015 department store Bloomingdale's launched an ad campaign that featured a distracted and amused woman staring to the left while a creepy fella ogled her. The ad's headline was "Spike Your Best Friend's Eggnog When They're Not Looking."
Supposedly the ad was designed to demonstrate the "fun and whimsical nature" of the brand to make it appear more accessible to people shopping for clothes during the holiday season.
Needless to say, the creative missed badly.
Not only is the ad in genuinely poor taste, Bloomingdale's showcased a shockingly bad understanding of its audience's expectations. Bloomingdale's brand position is supposed to reflect "fashion leadership." The brand did a great job setting those expectations with regular communications over years (catalog, ad campaigns, mailers, social media, email marketing, etc.). But one bad campaign -- which was pulled and followed up by an apology -- can reset what an audience expects.
Once you understand your audience and they understand you, deliver what's expected as often as you are able. Fight the urge to mix things up, unless mixing things up means making an effort to exceed their expectations.
It does not matter if you're a massive global business or a community's football team. Put in the work to build, understand, and set the expectations of your audience. There will come a time in the life cycle of your business that you will wish you had.
Josh Gordon is an award-winning marketing communications professional and President of Full Spectrum Marketing, a full-service advertising agency with digital roots based in Kent, Ohio and Wooster, Ohio. You can reach Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.