After more than 25 years working in the communications field, I can’t tell you how many times I remind people about rule number one: know your audience. Although it may sound like an obvious prerequisite of successful communications, if I had a dollar for every time that I’ve seen this rule broken…and broken it myself, I’d retire early to my own island, far away from dangling participles and tangled tenses.

The first step to developing any communications is to identify the audience(s) that you want or need to reach. This often includes several audiences that may need to be prioritized as primary, secondary and tertiary audiences. Why are they target audiences? Are they directly impacted by your product, service or message? Are they existing or potential consumers? Are they market influencers? Does their gender, age, ethnicity, religion, language, political affiliation affect how they may receive your message? If so, how?  What is their geographic location? Should this affect the timing of your message? Once your message is released, will it create a need for more communication or action? If so, what will that be and is your organization ready for it? Depending on the complexity of your issue, campaign and desired outcome, this may be a lengthy discussion with plenty of variables. Regardless, this step should NEVER be skipped.

It seems like a fairly simple concept, right? Sometimes it’s the simple steps that are taken for granted and too easily forgotten, even by the best of communicators. Especially when juggling multiple projects, issues and deadlines simultaneously, as most of us do. That’s the perfect time to take a deep breath and go back to your Communications 101 checklist before a poorly planned message goes sideways.

The most common trap that organizations fall into is pushing out “key messages” that have been developed without clearly defining and understanding a target audience, then reviewed and approved ad nauseum. The result is copy that nobody is willing to challenge let alone change, and the message tells an audience what the organization wants to tell them, rather than what the audience needs to hear or finds useful. That’s a surefire way to make any audience hit their snooze button, indefinitely.

The time it takes for an audience brainstorming session. Thoughtfully crafted messaging always takes less time than it takes to clean up the damage once that horse is out of the barn. Invest the time upfront to develop a win-win message that serves your organization as well as your audience. Thoughtful planning enables you to  lose the snooze and protect yourself and your organization from the avoidable backlash that comes from nightmare-level messaging.