One of the most powerful realisations an activist or change agent can have is that ‘one size does not fit all’ with respect to communication, and that people are scattered along a spectrum of values, awareness/issue literacy and motivation.
Advertisers and marketers have long known and practiced ‘market segmentation‘ but all too often, the communications approaches of the environment and sustainability movement (and of government) on such topics treat their audience as a single, amorphous mass – ‘the public’ – without understanding that different values may be in play at different times within different societal groups.
Messy, isn’t it? That’s why one size fits all is easier to do, even though it isn’t as effective.
In my work with other members of the Post Growth Institute, we recognised that people would respond differently to the idea of challenging the growth consensus.
For the purposes of this article, please suspend analysis of the content itself (as you may or may not agree with it) and instead focus on how the audience was segmented.
Working from an audience segmentation template developed by Dave Gardner for his documentary film ‘Growthbusters’, we fleshed this out with more nuances, and also created columns for each group and subgroup that set out:
- Who They Are – what work are they doing/where are they at, how does it connect to post growth messages
- Perception – how we want this audience to see and respond to us
- Alignments, Clashes – where might this audience see our work aligning with theirs – or not?
- Engagement Story – what’s in it for this audience, what’s the benefit?
Here are some examples of the subgroups from five major typologies of the ‘audiences’ we identified with respect to the Post Growth Institute, and how we conceived of them:
Subgroup: ‘Post Growth Ready’
Who They Are: people who grasp the concept of limits to growth, who may already be working in this space, or in the process of finding their way and figuring out if and how to actively engage.
Perception: the momentum around this is building – post growth is helping people connect the dots between issues and see the underlying story.
Alignments/Clashes: generally aligned/may prefer to maintain own turf.
Engagement Story: ‘you can align your work with a broader movement of groups and individuals and amplify the message’.
Subgroup: Health Professionals
Who They Are: people whose work connects with health impacts resulting as a consequence of uneconomic growth (obesogenic environments, disease vectors as a result of shifting climate patterns etc) psychologists, epidemiologists, dietitians/nutritionists, mental health practitioners, alternative health practitioners, public health policy makers.
Perception: post growth is highlighting how a growth agenda is giving us obesogenic environments, is fracturing communities and families who are facing work-life imbalance & time poverty; and connecting how this relates to social isolation and mental health issues; how this relates to the coming health/disease issues that will accompany climate change.
Alignments/Clashes: understand the environmental and social causes and impacts of health problems and disease; may be more holistic thinkers/may be focused on immediacy and urgency.
Engagement Story: ‘post growth is about treating the cause, not the symptoms’.
Receptive – Primary
Subgroup: Silo Activists
Who They Are: people working across a range of environmental and social justice fields who are finding they aren’t making as much headway as they would like in terms of achieving outcomes (eg. poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation).
Perception: we hear what these people are saying, and we recognise growth erases the gains we make in each of our silos.
Alignments/Clashes: have environmental sensibilities, may or may not understand limits to growth/tend to focus on solution silos, not always systems thinkers; may be focused on immediacy and urgency.
Engagement Story: ‘turning part of your efforts to the growth issue will help you gain, rather than lose, any ground you make in your particular areas of work’.
Receptive – Secondary
Subgroup: The Dissatisfied
Who They Are: downwardly mobile middle class, savvy but disillusioned and maybe brave enough to help effect change. Currently unaware of limits to growth, often lament negative impacts of growth but may believe it’s unstoppable and necessary.
Perception: for a long time, I’ve had this nagging doubt and dissatisfaction, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on what it is; the post growth movement is asking the kind of questions I want answers to about how we could live differently and achieve life satisfaction.
Alignments/Clashes: concerned with quality of life issues, work life balance, time pressures/may be ‘caught’ in trappings of growth.
Engagement Story: ‘shifting away from uneconomic growth could make life easier and more satisfying’.
Post Growth recognises that in all of the ‘resister’ segments, there will be those who do think differently and are receptive, even if their organisation or official position is not, and that ‘99%’ style rhetoric is unhelpful as it sets people up in a dynamic of being ‘adversaries’.
Subgroup: Non-Receptive Leaders/Decision Makers/Influencers
Who They Are: leaders and influencers who must continue to speak the status quo about the desirability of economic growth, although they may have doubts or articulate differently on a private level. They will most likely continue to voice support for GDP and economic growth until mainstream opinion shifts. Their continued growth rhetoric may contribute to increasing alienation of their constituents.
Perception: these post growth people don’t understand that its political/career suicide for me to speak of no growth – but they are offering other ways for my constituents/shareholders to think about success and prosperity, and that’s worth consideration.
Alignments/Clashes: want good outcomes for their constituents/have not yet questioned whether ‘growth’ and ‘uneconomic growth’ are different, or know how to determine this.
Engagement Story: ‘post growth is concerned with how to deliver a good life for your constituents, and to shape businesses that are responding to 21st century trends by embracing a broader definition of value, prosperity, quality of life, and success’.
There are many ways to potentially ‘slice and dice’ an audience, to characterise them and to delve into what kinds of messages might work best with particular groups – this is just how we did it, based on our own understandings rather than any formal research.
An interesting exercise that Post Growth could undertake would be to work out where these different groups fit within the Values Modes framework ie. Settlers (Security Driven), Prospectors (Outer Directed) and the Pioneers (Inner Directed), which is backed by extensive research.
In ‘A Heuristic for Values Narratives’, Chris Rose of Campaign Strategy advises that although segmentation is preferable, if its not possible then include a ‘hot button’ for each group (ie. something for everyone), which could be:
…“this makes us safe” (Settler), “it will make us successful” (Prospector), and “its ethically the right thing to do” (Pioneer)…Those are not the only ‘hot buttons’; there are dozens more…for example “it’s right because it’s following tradition/rules” (Settler), “it’s fun” (Prospector) and “it’s people finding their own way” (Pioneer).
Image credit – click image once, then click again to enlarge
Rose cautions that in a mixed group of all three major Values Modes types, participants’ responses in discussion may also include a ‘hot button’ that works for them, but not the other groups. This can set up a divisive dynamic where agreeing with the ‘hot button’ for one group potentially puts two groups offside; conversely, disagreeing with the first group’s ‘hot button’ may win the support of the others at the expense of the first.
When in doubt about communicating to a mixed audience, Rose recommends prioritising Settlers first, then Prospectors, then Pioneers. Everyone responds to safety and security messages. If there is confidence and receptiveness by the audience, then Prospector cues can be utilised, and finally Pioneers.
Knowing your audience, knowing how to communicate when you don’t know your audience; thinking about the issue from their perspective and how what you are doing might align or clash; and bottling the essence of your message in a way that resonates for them in an engagement story, are all critical to whether or not your message gains traction.
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