Last year, I had a conversation with a writer who had self-published a science-fiction thriller that sold zero copies, even though it had been out for a couple of years by then. The book wasn’t particularly great, but it wasn’t horrible either, and we’ve all seen how well badly written books can sell. This writer was trying to do everything correctly: he had a blog, he had a YouTube channel, and he also put out a couple of ads on social media. But somehow, nothing worked for him. I was puzzled until I asked him who his readers were, and he gave me a very general answer (university graduates who like to read) and I realized that he had no clue who his true audience was.
Wait, what is a “true audience”?
These are the people who find it easy to understand and like your work, and they need the least amount of convincing to buy into what you’re selling. They’re also the ones who are most likely to turn into superfans and spread good word of mouth about you.
One of the main issues I always encounter is that people never really think hard about who they’re making products or services for. Sometimes, you can be so blinded by what you’re offering that you don’t realize who actually benefits the most from it.
I recently worked with someone who has an app that uses blockchain to trace donations and ensure that they’re being utilized properly. When I asked her who her customers–her true audience–were, she said that it was the people who are receiving donations. But the thing is, she was wrong. Her true audience is donors. While the beneficiaries of donations are definitely stakeholders, promoting the app to them is useless. The app is most helpful to the people who are actually donating the money, and so promotions should be targeted towards them.
There’s more than one kind of true audience
The groups that comprise true audiences are extremely specific–rather than one general demographic, they’re more like micro groups, which don’t always overlap. I once worked on the marketing campaign of a one-hit wonder who’d written a terrible earworm song like “Macarena”, and the micro groups that latched onto the artist were:
– people who liked to go to cheesy nightclubs
– little kids who watched variety shows with their parents
– middle-aged men who like to go to karaoke
– delivery truck drivers
This was way before data harvesting through the Internet, and we only got this information from research and surveys. The reason everyone keeps talking about data and analytics now is that almost anyone can access this information by using these tools.
What’s important about this is understanding that the micro groups that make up your true audience may not be the most obvious ones. For example, I am hardly the demographic you’d expect for Soundcloud rappers, but here I am yelling “Bands on me, cocaine, Xans on me” with my kid. But when you think about my profile: former goth, started listening to punk and hip hop as a teen, interested in street fashion, and reads about pop culture, it makes sense.
How knowing your true audience helps you
When you gather information about your true audience, you get a better idea who likes your work and how you can reach them by tracing the path that took them to your work. When I consulted with a men’s shoe business, they just assumed that since they make men’s shoes, their true audience was men. But when I asked them to look deeper into their social media engagement and sales data, it became clear that their main customers were women who were buying shoes for their children and husbands.
These women often found the brand through mommy blogs and recommendations in online groups and forums. With this in mind, the business made a pivot towards cultivating relationships with mommy influencers, and they also started creating advertising targeted to this micro group instead of the usual fashion spread-type ads meant to target young men.
With the self-published writer I spoke to, without knowing who would be most interested in reading his work, he was basically burning money every time he bought a social media ad (and for books, social media ads may not actually work anyway). If he had spent more time thinking about the micro groups that would enjoy his story, with a little effort, he could reach them properly. Even though he wrote a science-fiction thriller, nothing in his blog or his YouTube channel mentioned anything about science fiction–not even the books or films he enjoys. Most of his posts were about his personal writing journey or about writing in general–this is fine if you’re a celebrity author or someone whose goal is to teach writing, but not if you’re trying to sell a science-fiction thriller.
How to get started with finding your true audience
A simple way to get started is to look at your peers and competition. Who is enjoying their work or products or services? If you’re a mystery writer, who’s the person whose work is most like yours? From there, try to find blogs or articles that have positive reviews of their work and start building a profile of a micro group from there. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make connections with tastemakers and leaders of these micro groups.
If you’re a business, look at your first few customers. Ask them questions about what they need and wish for. Listen carefully to them. Although I used “audience” here as a way to describe customers, to be honest, I don’t really like the word “audience” because it implies that these people are just passively accepting what you offer.
If you really want to find your true audience, the onus is on YOU to listen to them, not the other way round. That’s the true secret to finding your true audience.