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Audience engagement and audience experience

An introductory thought piece on AE and AX design at æStranger

No matter what business you are in, or what activity you are involved in, the main thing that you always want is that the people, your audience, who use and purchase your product or service, are engaged with it. You want them to find it interesting, to talk about it, to promote it for you, and also give you feedback on how you can make whatever it is that you make even better.

This undertaking or collaborative activity between you and your audience is something that I have slowly come to call audience engagement and audience experience design. Or AE and AX for short, because we all love acronyms of course.

AE and AX design is a holistic concept of how you can and/or should approach dealing with your audience. And your audience can consist of customers, consumers, users, players, employees, clients, students, whoever. Essentially anyone that engages in using a product or service, in exchange for something, either money, time, status or a reward of some kind.

The aim of this piece then is to be an introductory thought piece to the concept of audience engagement and audience experience design as it is done at æStranger. This won’t be an extensive, in-depth article that covers every single aspect of AE and AX design. That will likely be spread over multiple articles, if not collated into a single book in the not-too-distant future. And naturally, of course, the overall methodology of AE and AX is what we deliver at æStranger, so you are always welcome to engage us in a conversation about what we can do for your organisation.

But to return to this piece, a quick summary of what I will cover:

  • What is AE and AX – a short exploration of what it actually is, what disciplines inform this methodology and what it overall refers to in practice.
  • How æStranger approaches it – how we approach AE and AX and how to implement it when we work with clients, giving a quick insight into our thought process and techniques.
  • Why it’s important to have good AE and AX – the reason why it is something you should consider for your own business.

What are AE and AX?

If you were to google Audience Engagement or Audience Experience, you will likely not find it in the way I’m discussing it in this piece. Though what you would find would in essence not be too far off. Audience engagement for the most part refers to how the audience for a TV or film production engages with the visual product that is produced for them. It can also relate to audio experiences, such as radio or podcasts. But traditionally this is where we find the ‘audience’.

Audience though is simply another word for the public. Rather than always referring to the user, the customer, the consumer, the player, the employee, etc…, I’ve been falling back on my film-production training and career and simply using the term audience to describe the vast array of various people that would use a service or product.

One of the reasons for this is that in my current work, many people tend to have (negative) preconceptions when it comes to certain words. Such as user, I’ve come across people who equate that word with a negative concept of someone that has an unhealthy obsession or addiction with something. Other’s don’t want to use the word customer, because they want the relationship to be collaborative, to be a 2-way street. Consumer for some appears to have overtones of gluttony, I didn’t push further with that one. Player in the world of gamification is trendy, but no everyone wants to have players, who apparently don’t take things seriously. And then we have employees, and this opens a whole new can of fish for people, where we need to wade through the mire of whether people are to be seen as ‘human resources’ or as friends and colleagues? Does the employer want an air of collaboration or production or competition? And there are so many more examples of strange preconceptions.

Whatever the case may be, when we start moving through all of this, we quickly hit issues with how to reference ‘the target group’. And before we create persona’s for the target group, to give them specific names, we need something, and that something is your ‘audience’.

The ‘audience’ then is a catchall term that refers to anyone that interacts with a product or service that you supply, be that internally or externally to your organisation. And because we have an audience, we will need to engage them, so that they do indeed interact positively and actively with your product or service. And for them to be able to do that, they will need a positive experience.

From this, the concept of the Audience Engagement and Audience Experience design was born. AE and AX design then is another umbrella term that incorporates a variety of disciplines in order to achieve what it sets out to do. AE and AX take techniques and methodologies from gamification, behavioural psychology, user experience design, customer experience design, marketing, as well as a few aspects of organisational design and change methodology approaches.

All of these disciplines have overlapping aspects with each other, if you have worked with or used any of them you will know that each takes something of the others to achieve the desired outcome of engaging an audience. All that I propose with AE and AX design is that they bring those disciplines into a holistic framework.

Naturally, the idea of (positively) engaging your audience is not a new concept. All of those disciplines have at their core the aim to engage whatever person they need to in order to survive and continue doing whatever it is that they do.

My objective with AE and AX design is to build and describe a process, that is at its core, a methodology that has the purpose of creating genuinely positive and authentic experiences for whatever audience that you wish to engage with.

The æStranger approach to AE and AX

As I said at the start of this piece, it wouldn’t be an exhaustive article that covers everything that AE and AX are. This would also not be in my own professional interest if I gave away everything I knew. However, I do wish to share the general process and methods that I use at æStranger to help businesses like yours to better engage (with) their audiences.

One of the main obstacles or blockers for everyone in the world is that they don’t really want to engage with or interact with something new and strange. If people don’t know it, then they are generally reluctant to try it. There are of course exceptions to the rule (thankfully), but overall we need to take this apprehension as a fundamental aspect of human behaviour.

Our goal at æStranger is to reduce the strange/-ness of an experience so that your audience will feel more comfortable when interacting with your product or service. As you can see from the company name, this is embedded in the very DNA of everything that we do.

Once your audience is no longer a stranger to you, then a greater level of engagement can be created and facilitated between you and them.

The way we go about decreasing the strangeness obstacle is through a variety of steps. And with this, I’ll give you an insight into our process of what we do when we’re working with a client.

Our initial step is figuring out who the client really is, what their goals are, what problems they are trying to solve. From there we can start determining the objectives that they want to achieve in the project and what the objectives of their audience would be.

Audience engagement is all about objective alignment. Yours and theirs need to align in some way, otherwise, they won’t engage and you will remain strange, and not in a good way.

From there we figure out what the desired actions are that we want your audience to take, so that they can achieve their objectives and that you can achieve yours. Once we know this, we can then start to get to know your audience a little better, by segmenting them into personas. This will help us better customise the audience experience to the various people that make up your audience base.

Once we have those points and laid the foundation for the project, we can then start working on the audience experience design proper. And this is where we start using all the various disciplines that I outlined earlier in this piece.

When we design the experience, we will look at what motivates your audience, what triggers and mechanics can be used and put in place and what type of rewards your audience will expect for having taken the desired actions and achieving the objectives. And naturally, all of this will be measured. Audience engagement and experience would not work successfully if we did not measure the effectiveness of the design.

Having good metrics at the end of it all will inform us and you, how well it worked. And it will tell us the effectiveness and importance of good AE and AX design.

The importance of good AE and AX

I can’t overstate the importance of good Audience Engagement and Audience Experience design. And what I mean by good, is that it is done correctly and ethically. Engaging your audience and creating an experience for them is not about push selling, or manipulation or about creating an obsession or addiction within your audience.

Whenever terms such as gamification or behaviourism or even marketing are thrown around, a lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction and cry foul about all the evils that the methods within these disciplines could enact and enable.

And yes, I don’t deny that these disciplines could do all the things they are accused of, I need only mention gambling and casino’s and we have an immediate example that shows how people could be manipulated with these disciplines.  

But what AE and AX are all about is to positively nudge your audience towards something that they already want to do and achieve, and to make the journey to that a little more enjoyable and engaging. If anyone has read or listened to anything by Daniel Pink, then you will know how often he reiterates that fundamentally you cannot force someone to do something if they don’t want to, at least not in this kind of context. No matter how manipulative your techniques may be, in the end, the outcome will likely be alienation and disillusionment.

Your goal should always be one of collaboration with your audience. They shouldn’t be seen as the target, an endpoint to be used and discarded once they’ve fulfilled their use. Your audience members should your friends and loyal supporters. And you should support them as best you can. Together you can create a better understanding between the both of you so that there is a net positive outcome from the interaction between you (your product/service) and your audience.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, both you and your audience should walk away better and more enriched than when you both first showed up. And hopefully no longer strangers to each other.

I hope that this piece has given you some insight into what Audience Engagement and Audience Experience design is and could be. As with anything it is a continually growing discipline and it will evolve as I, and probably others, continue to expand upon it.

I will certainly continue with it and it will likely result in many more article and other pieces, and perhaps a book at the end. But my website already has a variety of topics that all relate to this methodology, so please do have a look there.

And if anyone wishes to discuss how they can improve their audience’s engagement and experience with them, then do drop us a line for a free 30-minute chat or a longer paid consultation session.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and if you know of someone who would it find it helpful as well. 


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