Who Are You Gardening For?: Identifying Audience

“Regardless of how long you’ve been involved in your organization, it’s probable that the day-to-day humdrum “what” of your labor feels a little disconnected from the end-of-season “who” of your audience.”
Brice Montgomery

Don’t Let Your Garden Down: Why We Identify an Audience

Nobody gardens without a reason. 

It’s arduous work, and the sunburnt, sweat-chafed, deer-haunted lifestyle isn’t something that you invite upon yourself without a strong motivation. Trust me, I’m still reeling from my own brief foray into the field. More specifically, that reason is always personal—nobody grows vegetables just to throw them out. Similarly, no organization exists without an intended audience or recipient. Work isn’t just “done;” it’s done for someone, and that’s why it’s so important to identify who your audience is.

Regardless of how long you’ve been involved in your organization, it’s probable that the day-to-day humdrum “what” of your labor feels a little disconnected from the end-of-season “who” of your audience. That’s what we’re reflecting on today, and we’re doing it all through the power of metaphor. 

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that no specific audience is inherently better than its counterparts—it’s all a matter of priorities and how those priorities influence your work. Likewise, no audience is set in stone. Just as priorities naturally shift with time and necessity, an organization’s audience is also in flux. With those caveats, let’s look at three possible target audiences. 


Identifying an Audience of Want: Working Possibilities

The Organization Itself: Think of this as working for the good of the garden. If we’re imagining a community garden, this might mean that the scope of your work is limited to helping out other gardeners. Maybe you grow vegetables so that you can trade them with your fellow gardeners, and that’s motivation enough for you—knowing that all of the dirt under your nails is worth it because you can exchange a potato for a carrot. 

Similarly, some organizations may be most concerned with their own internal self-sustenance. They obviously still need to consider outside audiences, but their first priority is internal. Think of how this may influence an organization’s approach to risk-taking or community engagement. If you’re in a leadership position, the organization must be one of your primary audiences. In fact, in this oldie but goodie from Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter stresses that employees “will be sensitive to the number of ‘I’s’ versus ‘We’s’ that the leader uses.” The collective identity of the garden has to come first. If this is you, you may identify your audience by looking around you.

The Outsiders: If this audience seems like a no-brainer, it’s because we often over-simplify who exactly these people are. To grow—sorry, go—back to the gardening metaphor, think of all the people that someone might possibly risk a farmer’s tan for—maybe you want to give some berries to your neighbor; maybe you want to sell turnips at a local farmers’ market in as a way of sticking it to corporate grocery chains; or maybe you want to become a veggie mogul and wipe the local farmers’ markets off the face of the earth.

Gardeners are aggressive. 

Similarly, organizations may find themselves wrestling with the tension between creating an audience and finding one. It is both a proactive and responsive process, as they need to make decisions about who they want to reach, but they also need to do so with enough flexibility to adapt as needed. It’s a challenging balance to find, particularly because it plays such a determinative role in an organization’s life cycle. If you find yourself struggling with this to the point of mission drift, don’t worry—it’s just a phase if you respond proactively and identify who your audience is repeatedly.

Yourself: Finally, some people just garden for themselves. The scent of a sun-warmed tomato wafting through the backyard is enough reason to do battle with squirrels. Or maybe their justifiable concerns about pesticides are more urgent than any concerns about seeing bugs on their food.

To diverge from dirt, there’s a way in which it’s always true that work is self-serving at an individual level. Behind even the most altruistic experience, there’s still a hum of self-interest. I don’t mean that in a cynical way, but all work is rooted in what we believe. You may or may not be served by your work; that doesn’t determine whether you are its audience. Furthermore, depending on your beliefs about the purpose of life and work, it may be that your entire goal is to work just enough to clear out enough space to enjoy the margins of your life. That’s fine too. It’s still important to reflect on where this desire intersects with an external audience, and that may be the takeaway for you today.


A Tidy Conclusion

So, who are you gardening for? Or, more accurately, who are you gardening for at this given moment? How do you identify who your audience is right now? Which audience feels the most urgent? Is this who you want to prioritize, or have you done so out of necessity? If you’re working through these ideas, or you find yourself at a turning point and want help taking practical steps forward, let us know! We’d love to support you by helping you clarify your communications accordingly.

Brice Montgomery
Creative Director
Brice likes to think through how messages are best translated for different audiences and purposes. He also makes baked goods.


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