Know Your Audience for More Effective Writing


To know your audience is the same as knowing your customer, and every time you sit down to write something, you need to keep that audience in mind. To better explore this point, let me give you an example:

I have a friend who is a very talented physical theatre performer. He mostly performs as a theatrical clown; however, his current projects have almost transcended that title. Of course, when most people think of the term “clown” they think of the circus or birthday party variety. (Or, worse case scenario, of IT.) Yet these concepts are very different from that of a theatrical clown, which is basically a type of performer who interacts directly with the audience to elicit a specific response. They must be extremely vulnerable and form strong rapport with the audience. It’s an art form in and of itself, and doesn’t always include white face or a red nose. It is indeed a style of interaction between performer and audience. (And if we were being super nit-picky, you could actually call something like Blue Man Group a clown show. It’s in the same vein.) 

But alright, this performer friend of mine is looking to create an hour long performance piece for a theatre festival. He can’t very well market it as a “clown show.” If he did that, only 10 people would show up, all clowns themselves, and that would hardly cover the theatre fees (especially since most physical theatre performers are dead broke anyway). So, what does he do?

He begins testing his material at open mics, vaudeville collectives, and variety hours. Not only does this expose him to a far wider range of individuals as a performer, but it also grants him the opportunity to get to know his audience. Surely, an audience member at a vaudeville show is looking for something different or unique - and our guy can deliver just that. So for the next year leading up to his hour long show, our performer ultimately creates his character in front of a live audience, gets his name out there, and builds interest in the full length show. 

In doing this, not only does he learn what to expect from the audience during a full length performance, but he's also able to trust that he’ll actually have asses in the seats (read: he’ll be able to pay his theatre fees and maybe even come out on top). 

You might argue that the performance itself is the greatest asset this performer now possesses, but in actuality, it’s the knowledge and deeper understanding of his audience that’s far more valuable. That experience will serve him well moving forward, whether he’s creating a new show in the future or needing word of mouth marketing to bring new audience members into the fold. Moreover, he’ll be better able to market his shows since he knows exactly what kinds of people will dig what he’s offering. In effect, he’s slowly but surely uncovering his product-market fit. 

Let’s apply this to another example. Let’s say you’re developing knitwear that you plan to sell at the farmer’s market or local festivals. Say you start with scarves, for instance, and you’ve mastered a unique type of knitting pattern that your friends simply love. Now you’re ready to sell them. So you make 20 pieces and set out to sell them at $10 a pop. Those first 20 sales are where you can learn the most about your audience. During face-to-face sales, you can gain insightful feedback, see which materials sell and which don’t, and learn how to move forward. Say half of your scarves were wool and half were a blend. You soon discover that you sold all of the blend and only three made of wool. Moving forward, you could make your next twenty scarves out of the blend, and test from there. Why? Because through their purchases, your audience has spoken. 

Now, let’s finally apply this to writing. You want to be a writer professionally, or you’re looking to write some content that gains traction. First, you must put yourself out there with material to test.  Let’s say you write 20 blog posts. Use your analytics to determine which pieces did the best. If, say, 10 got plenty of shares, but the other 10 barely got a visit, see why that is. Dig into your feedback, even in terms of silence. Was it due to a headline? Was it the topic? Was it the way it was written? Did longer pieces do better than shorter ones, or vice versa? Was SEO a major issue? What seemed to elicit engagement, if you got any engagement at all? 

As with our performer friend, this process could take up to a year or more. You’ve just got to keep putting yourself out there, because every time you do, you get the opportunity to learn more about your audience. And the more you learn about your audience, the more you’ll learn about your own writing, message, and purpose. 

You probably won’t be a wild success right out of the gate. Accept that this will take time, dedication, and much perseverance; but to know your audience, what they value, and why they’re giving you a slice of their extremely rare and precious time is far more valuable than any single piece of content. Seek that out, rather than trying to get instant gratification through only clicks or shares. What does your customer want? How will you give it to them? What will keep them reading? And how will that convert? 

Knowledge is power, and knowledge of your customer is greater still. Seek out that information to write more effectively.