Look beyond the target

Sometimes to hit the target, you need to look beyond it. It’s a counter-intuitive concept that can have important implications for marketers and communicators. Let me share a personal example to illustrate this idea.

About a year ago, my son was in the process of deciding where to attend college. For months during his senior year of high school, our mailbox was filled with info packets from various universities – each designed to convince him that a particular campus was the right fit. Over family dinner one night, I asked him if – and how – he had narrowed down his list. What I learned was quite interesting.

While the info packets he received were helpful, it was clear that a circle of influencers around him had the greatest impact on where he would be applying. Parents, friends, parents of friends, high school counselors, online reviews, bloggers and even social media influencers (think student athlete Instagram accounts) were all playing a role. Targeting my son directly was insufficient. Those universities who had tapped into his circle of influence came out on top.

As marketers for the University of Illinois, we all aim to shape perceptions and influence behaviors. We have lots of goals. Attracting a diverse student body. Recruiting esteemed faculty. Connecting with research partners. Increasing donations. And more. When putting together marketing campaigns to achieve these objectives, take into consideration who else you might target in order to get the results you want.

By looking beyond your primary target, you may have a better chance of hitting it.