You are currently viewing You don’t get to choose your audience; your audience chooses you

You don’t get to choose your audience; your audience chooses you

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We’re all media companies now, right? So, maybe we should start thinking like media companies, then.

I’ve been on a bit of a domain name shopping spree lately. That happens to me once in awhile and it’s usually a sign that I’m not perfectly comfortable with my current positioning, or the way that I’m communicating it.

It’s not a bad thing to be drawn out of your comfort zone. I take it as a signal that the market is changing and I feel that I need to anticipate.

Inbound + outbound = allbound

Actually, the signals are very real. Decade-long inbound evangelists are now saying that there is a place for outbound marketing as well. So, I’m thinking, a new balance needs to be found. An approach that looks more holistically at the Trinity of Owned, Earned and Paid media attention, and which takes inbound as well as outbound techniques within those three realms into account. I decided to dub it The Allbound Way. What do you think?

And then there is this fascinating debate about when startups should get serious about marketing. The conventional advice, apparently, is not to waste any resources on marketing until achieving product-market fit. Seems like a bit of a catch-22 to me, though.

Of course, startups need to focus on developing their product to fit their ‘target’ audience. However, not only their product’s specs list is a moving target, but their intended audience is a moving target as well. Sure, you can pick a demographic and an interest area. But making too many assumptions about your audience may actually result in a worse ‘fit’, shorten your runway and delay your lift-off.

Humans relate to humans

To assume your audience is easy and convenient – just decide whom you target, build your product on what you know about them, and then start marketing it using conventional outbound techniques.

I happen to believe that there are too many factors about your audience that you cannot know in advance, and which will impact your success in achieving product-market fit.

How does a brand acquire an audience? Not just by fulfilling a need. Not even just because people fall in love with the product. A loyal audience, the first 1000 fans, fall in love with the company because of the people behind it. Because of the human story: their genius, their passion, their care, their courage, their integrity, intellectual honesty, their journey. But also: their flaws and failures.

Even VCs relate to humans 🙂

VCs don’t invest in startups primarily because of the business idea, but because of the team. The idea and product may (have to) change, but the team’s ability to execute is critical to return on investment.

Cory Doctorow once wrote:

“(…) Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends — if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about. (…)”

Startup teams are often very confident in their ability to offer a better solution to an identified problem in the market. They firmly believe that the way they are going to solve this problem is better than anyone else’s. Why, then, aren’t they as vigilant about the other side of the coin: why aren’t they as obsessed about creating and knowing the audience that will have to grow together with their solution? The two are going to be in a serious relationship and, if all goes well, spend most of the rest of their lives together.

The audience you ‘target’ and the audience you will create are not going to be the same. The former is a fiction of the imagination. The latter will be your very real, paying customers. Perhaps it’s time to start creating your audience first.

Two boxes. What to put in?

(Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash)

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