Stop obsessing over your awareness programme

writer at work

Your audience needs to be focused on your awareness messages, but your focus needs to be on something far more important than your message.

Writers in Obscurity

I have a couple of author friends who are working hard on their novels, but they are frustrated that they are not achieving the success they dreamt of. When I talked to them about it, the conversations were oddly similar. They went something like this:

“You are working on this massive novel, and it is a lot of work. Have you considered sending story outlines or chapters to people? They will give you a lot of feedback that you could use before you get too far to be able to make changes.”

[Insert some excuse about it being difficult, but really about wanting to release the novel as a surprise to the world, like a J.K. Rowling book release event.]

“Ok. Then what about writing some very short stories that are inspired by your novel? Like, a short story about a couple of your characters, or something in the same setting? You won’t be giving away your novel, and you’d still get valuable feedback.”

“Oh! That’s a great idea! And I would get a chance to explore some ideas that I had for the novel but decided didn’t fit.”

“Yeah! And it’s the same way that the author of Fifty Shades of Grey sold millions of books. She wrote the entire novel as short stories on a blog. Then, when she had a good idea about what people wanted to read, she pulled the blog posts, and edited them together as a single novel. The bonus was that she built an army of fans before the book was published.”

[Insert some response about wanting to create art and not commercialising the process just to make some money]

“What is art, though? Isn’t it a chance to trigger an emotional response from people? A chance to communicate something deep?”


“And, to have that effect, you need to engage people, right?”


“And, to do that, you need to start a conversation with them first. Let them know that you have something to say that they will want to hear. And, you can hear from them what you can do to better communicate your message.”

“I’m listening …”

“So, it’s not about ‘commercialism’, it’s about conversations. The more conversations you have, the better your art will be.”

As a result of these conversations, they both started writing more. Experimenting, testing, refining, and getting their writing to more and more people’s hands. They are still working on their novels, but now, they can express themselves with the confidence of knowing exactly how to have the effect on their readers that they want to have.

In short, now their novels are far easier for them to write. They are energized in the writing process, and their writing has vastly improved.

And they achieved this with a simple shift in focus.

What does this have to do with your security awareness programme?

Shift Your Focus Away from Your Security Awareness Programme

Ever heard this at work?

“Our awareness messages need to have more impact! We need to improve our metrics!”

That’s a common sentiment. You might have uttered that statement yourself (maybe even to yourself), or maybe it was a mandate from above.

What’s the first thing that people tend to do in this situation? They start looking at their messaging, graphics, and their tools and vendors. They start looking at their programme. But when you do this, you derail the train before you even begin.

To make a lasting impact on your audience, you need to look to your audience, not yourself.

Do we need to improve our messaging, our graphics, tools, and vendors? Absolutely! But how do we know what to improve and how? We do that by first deeply understanding our organisation and our target audience.

Would my friends achieve the success they wanted if they had spent a great deal of time improving their writing techniques? Maybe. But only by chance. Both of my friends were already competent writers. They would not win any writing awards, but they knew how to craft a good story.

Instead, by focusing on their audience, they became better writers for their audience, which was their true goal all along (even if they hadn’t expressed that to themselves).

Likewise, you don’t need to learn how to write the best awareness material on the market. You need to write the best awareness material for your organisation.

How do you do that? By focusing on your audience.

In fact, to get your awareness programme to the next level, you need to start obsessing about your audience, instead of your programme.

Specifically, here is what you need to obsess over:

  • the demographics of your audience(s)
  • how different demographics respond to different styles of training and awareness messages
  • the different communication channels your audience prefers
  • deciding if you need to split up your audience so that the right message makes the right impact to the right people
  • what your audience is interested in when it comes to information security and keeping themselves and their families safe
  • what messages are the hardest for your audience to hear and act on (and why)
  • getting feedback from your audience(s)

If you can know these things intimately, and keep up with them as your organisation changes over time, then your security awareness programme can make a lasting impact because you know exactly what you need to do to make an impact.

So, for you, gone are the days of crafting mass emails, hitting send, and praying for results. Gone are the days of writing or buying posters and lunchroom tent cards and hoping that they might have “some effect”. You are no longer a writer working in obscurity.

No, for you, you are replacing working in a vacuum with obsessing about your audience and getting to know them. You are now an audience for your audience.

Go! Obsess.

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