Talk To Yourself And You’re The Only One Who Listens

You are not your target audience.

There. I said it. You may have been once, but not anymore. The minute you start a company or start working for a company that sells to a specific group of people, you are no longer part of that group of people (instead, you are part of a new group of people – people who sell to those people). It’s all very meta, I know. But I don’t blog about philosophy (waits for applause) – I blog about marketing, and this topic is tremendously important to marketing.

Effective branding only takes place when you communicate to the right people. Hippie companies are a great example of this. Ben and Jerry’s invented the perfect ice cream by stoners, for stoners, but it took off with everybody from senior citizens to socialites. If they had continued to focus their marketing only on High Times subscribers, they would have neglected an overwhelming majority of their customers (except in Colorado, I suppose. Those folks sure do love their ice cream.).

When I was in the TV business, an advertiser I worked with insisted on running commercials only on programs he watched himself (mostly boring news shows hosted by old guys that looked like partially mummified televangelists), ignoring the fact that the majority of his target audience was made up of young moms. Instead of talking to consumers, he got caught up in talking to himself.

When I write assignments for the design students I teach at the local university, I always try to impress upon them that branding and marketing are not art for art’s sake. They have a defined financial objective. A true artist, on the other hand, can create for the sake of creating. If they always wanted to see a pile of old bicycle tires covered in tapioca pudding, then they can make one of those for themselves and name it “Bianca.” Who cares if nobody buys it because it’s all about art, and after all, it’s not so bad living in the basement and eating hot pockets anyway. OK, maybe I don’t go that far. But I do tell them never to design for other designers – because designers are almost never the target audience.

Nope – the target audience is most often something like “middle aged men who love bowling” or “young women who color their hair” or “kids with braces.” I’ve been a professional writer for 25 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to craft a sales message to professional writers.

But it’s tempting to write for myself. Why? Because I know myself pretty well. Consequently, it’s just less work to write to the guy in the mirror than it is to learn about the real target audience and write to them. It’s harder, but audience research – whether it’s primary or secondary – is the only way to make sure your branding and promotional messages stand a chance. Learn all about your customers and you may be surprised at what you find. What if they’re nothing like you?

Stop talking to yourself and start talking specifically to the people you serve. That’s the right way to make an effective impact with every message you send.