Why only hiring your audience is a marketing misstep


Hiring in content and marketing should be about who's best for the job of reaching your audience, not who's draping themselves in your brand colours

Credit: Death to Stock

Credit: Death to Stock

I read an article recently (OK, because I like to reflect on things rather than leap onto an opinion, it was published in May) in which Eleanor Carter-Silk, Reebok UK’s head of sports marketing, indicated that she employs staff who apparently match her audience demographic:

We are our own consumers. While we bring in consumers and focus groups, and listen to people by email and in person at events, a lot of us live the brand ourselves so there isn’t as much guessing as there would be if we were in an industry that was more heavily reliant on data.

Kudos to Reebok UK if this works for them, but it seems like an upside down version of what I'd like to hear people in this privileged position saying. Here’s why.

  1. Being your own consumers does not necessarily mean that you are members of your target audience groups, particularly for different activities. Using your experience as an elite sportsperson when your campaign is targeting casual runners will misfire.

  2. Intelligent use of data reduces guessing; subjective opinions do not. You know version 24 of that ‘final’ proof for the brochure you’re trying to get signed off? That’s the work of subjective opinions.

  3. People who are their ‘own consumers’ are not always good at marketing to themselves; in fact, they can be pretty hopeless at it because they take so much for granted.

I’ve worked with teams where the dominant narrative has been to employ people who behave like the manager when said manager assumes that they are the voice of the audience. There’s a bias towards hiring people who are just like you across business functions. This leaves almost no room for challenge or the anxiety of performance that leads to checking and analysing the data. If you really love wearing Cos clothes that doesn’t automatically mean you understand how to describe the beauty in 15 words. And if you’re always going to watch new theatre you might be hopeless at articulating it in a way that will appeal to audiences who tend to stick to the West End.

When I worked at the BBC Proms I made a concerted effort to hire people with classical music expertise as well as people who were brilliant at their jobs and interested in what we did, but had never been to a classical music concert. They kept us on our toes, reminding us when some particular wording didn’t make sense and helping to move us away from classical music stereotypes, and acted as a prompt for us to check the audience data. I don’t believe that anyone who works in-house remains the company’s consumer; the relationship has fundamentally shifted.

Next time you’re hiring for a content or marketing job, consider questions that relate to how well candidates will do the job, not what their natural taste bias is: Who are our key audiences? How would you find out? How would you decide what content to create for them? And yes, we know the data can be potentially misleading (try looking at the data that Facebook holds on you) so look for sceptics who enjoy rigorous enquiry and even people with a data science background, and who understand the principles of proper data use.

Hiring isn’t necessarily about finding people who will drape themselves in your brand colours. It’s about finding the people who will articulate those shades.