Business Musings: Define Your Target Audience: The Early Stages (Branding/Discoverability)
I love this blog. I love it because you readers make it so much better with your questions and comments.
Last week, I wrote about the early stages of building a brand. In that post is something that seems pretty straightforward to me—define your target audience. Some of you remarked in the email and the comments that you’ve been struggling with this one thing for a very long time.
Oh. What a revelation to me. When I write these blogs it becomes clear to me sometimes just how many things I do automatically.
I’ve worked in retail since I was sixteen years old. I owned my first retail store at the age of 21. I currently am co-owner of two brick-and-mortar retail stores and um…three?…five?…online retail stores (it depends on how you count some of my businesses).
For me, finding a target audience is like putting on socks in the morning. The socks are in a drawer, I open the drawer, give the choice exactly three seconds of thought, grab the right pair, and go.
The rest of you don’t see a single sock drawer. You see one of those sock collages where every sock that the photographer can fit in the scene is presented along the floor, in a beautiful and colorful pattern. Yeah, that takes tons of work. And no, that’s not what I mean.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this step to my attention. It is hard to define your target audience if you’ve never done it before. And I had forgotten that entirely.
Let’s start as basic as we can.
What is a target audience?
A target audience is a specific set of people to whom you want to market your book.
I know, I know. You want everyone to read your book. But if you step back and think about it, you know that you will not achieve that, no matter what you do. Not everyone reads, for one thing, and not everyone reads all genres or all the writers in a particular genre for another.
You need to drill down into who you want to market your books to. Once you figure out who you want to market to, then you can figure out how to market to them.
Why Does Choosing A Target Audience Matter?
Choosing a target audience matters so that you can tailor your marketing campaign to that audience.
This weekend, I had dinner with a group of friends. We were talking about TV and movies, and one friend asked me if I had seen Get Out yet. She thought I would love it.
I said I don’t find humor in the situation they were presenting.
She looked at me like I was nuts. Humor? She said. It’s a horror movie.
I said all the marketing I saw called it was a comedy. Then she really looked at me like I was crazy.
We discussed the movie (heh! Word of mouth) and I decided, yes indeedy do, I would love to see that film. Absolutely. Based on what she said, not on what I had heard from the marketing.
When I got home, I decided to double-check. Had I seen marketing that said this film was a comedy? Turns out, I had never seen the trailer, which looked like generic bad horror movie trailer (which wouldn’t have appealed to me either).
So I looked at the online and print press, and saw headlines like this: Jordan Peele on making a hit comedy-horror movie out of America’s racial tensions, and an entertaining and clever satire that is equal parts funny and terrifying. On and on and on.
No one I spoke to that night mentioned that the film was funny. Not a single soul.
On that level, it was a marketing fail, probably done because Jordan Peele is best known as a comedian (or was, until this film did well). The trailer, though, which I just watched, does appeal to horror audiences.
That’s a proper target audience for the film.
You can have more than one target audience for your product, but I’ll get to that in detail in a future post.
If you know who your target audience is, you can talk to them directly, in a language and a tone that would appeal to them.
You see examples of marketing directed to target audiences all the time. During the United States football season (fall) in 2014, the National Football League finally figured out that it had a demographic it had never targeted before—women. Ad after ad featured women watching the games (not serving food), buying gear, and dressed in clothing with a particular team’s logo. Some of this was because of the scandals that had engulfed pro-football (and the NFL wanted women on its side), but a lot of it had to do with studies that had shown that 46% of all NFL fans were women. And until those studies, the NFL had ignored that particular (large) portion of its audience.
The NFL made a significant change, with some pink merchandise that supported Breast Cancer awareness, and a variety of female apparel from maternity jerseys with team logos to form-fitting tee shirts to leggings to just about anything else you could imagine. Fantasy football advertising showed women beside men choosing teams (or women in groups cheering on their teams). The change has worked and continues to work, growing the audience, despite the controversies still engulfing the sport.
That’s just one example of targeted marketing. There are a million others. You target audiences all the time without thinking about it. It’s as natural as breathing for you.
How? Well, my friends targeted an audience in that discussion. They believed that I would love Get Out. I needed to see it, and they hard-sold it to me.
In that same conversation, discussing some TV shows, the speaker apologized to another person in the room, knowing that person wouldn’t be as interested in the topic as everyone else was.
We know our friends. We know which friend to share the gory novel with, which friend can only tolerate sweet romances, and which friend reads nothing but nonfiction. You wouldn’t foist a sweet and unbelievable romance on the nonfiction reader any more than you would give the sweet romance reader the gory novel.
Find Your Target Audience Without Research
Later, we’ll discuss how to refine your target audience or even expand it through research.
But right now, most of you have no idea who your target audience is and you’re flailing about trying to find your target audience.
You’re looking outside your writing room, seeing no one lined up to read your work, and wondering how to find your audience when you have no audience at all.
You’re doing it backwards.
You’ve finished your novel. Now, take that novel from your creative office into your marketing office. (I’m using a novel here because it’s a finite thing. We’ll discuss career branding and marketing later.)
Figure out what that novel is. Fantasy? Science fiction? Urban fantasy? Steampunk? Drill down, figure out your subgenres.
Then, figure out what the book focuses on. Are the characters Chinese-American? Native American? Is the book set in Chicago? Does the book have female-only characters?
Any one of those factors might focus your marketing. Two of them focuses it even more. Three of them helps tremendously.
So…your novel is steampunk set in Chicago featuring Chinese-American characters. Your target audience might be readers of Amy Tan or Ken Liu. You might look for book clubs that focus on books with Chinese American characters or themes.
Or you could focus on the history of Chicago, and market to the Chicago media in one way or another. Would Chicagoans like seeing a steampunk version of their city? I think they might. Or would they like to see how the Chinese were treated when they settled in Chicago over a hundred years ago? Perhaps.
Try it. You can drill down your marketing that specifically.
Pick just one target audience to start. And then…
Tailor your marketing message to that audience
How do you do that? You put yourself in that audience’s shoes. What will appeal to them? When the NFL targeted its female fans, it didn’t show them hosting hen parties while the men scarfed snacks in the living room. That would have talked down to women. Instead, it created products specifically for women and then marketed those items to women. Some of the ads for the Super Bowl featured women, cheering as vociferously as the men usually did.
In a really good (albeit a bit too advanced for our purposes) article on defining a target audience, the authors Neil Patel & Aaron Agius interviewed Yaro Starak of Entreprenuers-Journey.com. They asked him how to build an online presence. He immediately focused on targeted marketing, and started with this:
I’d first focus on establishing a crystal-clear empathy with the audience I was planning to serve, so I know what their problem is, how they feel about it and what they currently do to try and solve it.
Empathy. You’re writers. Find out what the readers you’ve targeted like and then put yourself in their shoes. Figure out what would appeal to them as well as what would turn them away from your product.
Talking down to those women the NFL wanted to target would have destroyed the effort the NFL made. Someone, somewhere, spent some time figuring out what parts of the NFL appealed to women, and then pointed the marketing in that direction.
Yes, sometimes that takes research, and we’ll deal with that in a future blog post. But just as often, all it takes is a bit of thought and a whole lot of empathy.
Traditional Publishing Marketing
The thing that started me on this branding series was Targoz Strategic Marketing reader survey, because the data that Randy Ellison compiled showed over and over again that most of the stuff traditional publishing does as marketing doesn’t work at all. It’s clueless marketing, based on ancient assumptions.
If you’re following the traditional publishing path, you’re probably doing marketing wrong. If you’re doing what ever other indie writer is doing, you’re probably doing marketing wrong.
You have a unique product and you have (or will have) a unique brand. You have to make that work for you.
It sounds so easy, and it’s not. It’s hard thing to do.
You will get the marketing wrong
More often than not, you might target an audience only to find they really don’t give a damn. Or while you’re targeting one audience, a different audience for your work has developed.
I was surprised when I went to book signings ten years ago that a major audience for my Smokey Dalton books was expatriate Southern white women raised in the 1960s who, as children, were not allowed to walk into African-American neighborhoods.
Time and time again, I talked to these women, who loved the books.
Later I figured out what had happened. St. Martins Press, terrified that a white woman had written a novel about an African-American detective, had tossed the first novel into the sink-or-swim mystery marketing channel. Had I been African-American, they would have marketed the book to African-American audiences only.
Instead, St. Martins hid the book from African-American audiences. Which meant that the readers who picked up the book were often white. And the white women who found it probably would not have gone to the African-American section of the bookstore, so to those women, this book was unusual.
The African-Americans who found the books loved them too. But that audience grew slowly, which surprised me at the time.
While I worried that the book wasn’t reading African-Americans, a whole different audience was growing that I hadn’t seen until I went to some signings and gave a few talks at mystery gatherings.
This is what happened with the NFL. They marketed 100% to men, and only gradually realized that half their audience was female. Whoops.
What do you do when you discover an unexpected audience?
You can do several things. You can retool your entire marketing strategy for a different target audience. Or you can do what the NFL did, and add in a completely different marketing campaign tailored to the audience you just discovered that you had.
It’s okay to miss
Your target audiences will shift over time. Some of that will happen naturally given what you’re writing. Some of it will happen because of world circumstances. For example, in an article about the development and marketing of Get Out, there’s this little tidbit:
Conceived in the Obama era, Get Out hits theaters with even greater resonance now. …
“This movie was intended to call out racism in what many people were calling a post-racial era,” Peele said. “People didn’t want to talk about race. Now, it’s an undeniable part of the discussion again.”
Target audiences change. Or grow. If steampunk suddenly becomes as hot as apocalyptic fiction did a few years ago, then you would tailor your Chinese-American Chicago steampunk marketing to include the new target audience who had just discovered steampunk.
Specific, specific, specific
The more specific you are in defining your audience, the better chance you have at building readership. Readership grows outward from one reader to two, two to three, three to four, and so on. At some point, the readers will end up doing the work for you, like my friends did for Jordan Peele. My friends targeted me as the audience; your readers will do the same for you.
So, as you search for your target audience, don’t focus on the audience you do or don’t have at the moment. (We’ll deal with that aspect of this down the road.)
Focus on the audience you want. The audience whom you believe is perfect for the book you wrote. The audience who would appreciate it more than anyone else will.
Talk to those people in language that respects them—and language that interests them.
Yes, this will require some thought on your part.
And since I’ve been assigning homework every week, let me assign something here.
Instead of fast-forwarding through ads on your favorite TV shows, watch those ads. See if you can guess what target audience those ads are going for. You can test your responses by looking at the demographics for that particular show after you’ve done your guesswork. You’ll see how well that show is doing in an age group and income category.
But I’ll wager you’ll see that in the ads without even looking at the demographic information.
And let me give you a mighty big clue: listen to the background music. Usually it’s a hit song from a particular time period. If you know the time period (say the 1990s), you know that the ad is appealing to customers who are in their late thirties and early forties. The theory is that familiar music will make the viewer more receptive to the product.
(In my case, the hit song from my era often pisses me off at the product and makes me yell at the TV, I’m not that old! Which is the indoor equivalent of Get off my lawn!)
I hope I answered those of you who asked about finding your target audience. As we get deeper into the series, I’ll probably do two more blog posts on this very topic. But this is the starter post.
Because of what happened last week, I have one more favor to ask. Please go back and look at last week’s post, and tell me in those comments or this one if there’s something else I need to explain in more depth.
I’m writing another blog series that will become another book. I promise that I’ll intersperse some non-branding topics into this blog over the next month or two. But on branding, we have a lot to cover.
Remember, I’m mostly writing this series as a refresher for me. (I need to focus on this right now.) I hope the series will be useful to you as well.
If you want to support the entire series, and end up with a free ebook of the finished book that comes out of these posts, then head to Patreon.com and hit the appropriate level of support.
If you liked this post or the short series I’ll be doing for the next few weeks, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
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“Business Musings: Finding Your Target Audience: The Early Stages (Branding/Discoverability),” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog © Can Stock Photo / andrewgenn.