Know Your Audience

Recently Ashley Drinnon, a Client Associate for Parthenon, casually asked a few of us if she should fold a document “hamburger or hotdog style.” While I readily answered “hamburger,” the rest of the room was filled with blank stares and silence. After a brief pause, they all admitted they had no idea what we were talking about.

“Wait, wait. You mean you guys have never heard ‘hamburger/hotdog style?’”


It turns out half of our office was essentially clueless about a reference we’d been using universally our whole lives. For the first time, those of us in our early 20s realized the hamburger/hotdog folding distinction was a generational teaching method. We put this out on Facebook and Twitter, and our suspicions were confirmed: no matter where someone grew up, the kindergarten classification for folding paper length-wise or width-wise hadn’t existed in the decades before us. Say it ain’t so!

While this seems like a silly example, in the same way, publications can quickly become irrelevant if references don’t resonate with your readers.

Before you drop your next cultural reference or metaphorical phrase, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • Am I sure this reference is universal or appropriate for this audience/context?
  • Will this better engage readers with the message or distract them from it?
  • Is it worth being clever to some if it could alienate others?

While we’re all capable of making a reference that isn’t relevant, you just have to be aware to avoid it. Choose your words carefully, and always ask proofers to provide you with feedback to make sure you stay on target for your audience. No matter how spot-on that 1970s movie reference seems to be, if you’re trying to engage a younger demographic, you might be wasting your words. (Sorry, Dad.)

So fold this note up hamburger-style and keep it tucked away in your pocket. You never know when your might need a reference point for your next reference.