Are You Listening to the Right Audience?

A few nights ago, The Streamy Awards happened.  The results — and the ceremony — pleased almost no one.

If awards can’t even please the people creating them, there’s a problem, and it starts with the basic goal:

Who are you doing this for?

Are the Streamys meant to be an award for web creators?  A validation of the web industry itself?  Or an appeal to the mainstream, intended to direct people’s attention to media they wouldn’t otherwise notice?

If you don’t know why you’re doing something — and who you’re doing it for — you’ll never know if you’ve succeeded… but you’ll definitely know when you don’t.

“It’s No Asimov.”

Let’s say you’re a mystery writer.

You’ve just spent the past year writing your latest detective novel.  But before you send the manuscript off to your editor, you’d like to get a second opinion.

So you ask your friend, who only ever reads science fiction.

This could be a problem.

On one hand, your friend’s feedback might be crucial.  Elements like plot, character, dialogue and pace are universally appreciated, regardless of genre.

On the other hand, if your friend has no exposure to mystery novels, she may not know which elements of your story are predictable, overdone or outdated.  She won’t know if what you’ve written is groundbreaking or simply serviceable.

And, because she’s your friend, she may not tell you what you need to hear the most:

What if it’s bad?

Know Who — and What — You’re Working For

If you create an ad campaign for a client, who judges whether or not it’s successful?

You might think it’s wonderful… but the client may not understand it.

You may both think it’s perfect… but the audience may not respond.

Everyone might hate it, but it might be the most effective campaign you’ve ever launched.

Does that also make it your best?

Are you focused on numbers, sales, reach or authority?  Are you more interested in the process or the results?  Would you rather cause a large, brief impact or a series of small, ever-widening ripples?

Most importantly: who decides when you’ve succeeded?

Are you trying to please your boss?

Your client?

Your audience?


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  • Mark Dykeman

    Excellent points. It's very easy to pull something in a direction that you think is cool but the audience won't appreciate. From a blogging perspective, I struggle with this a lot.

  • SHerdegen

    No kidding I was just thinking of this very thing. So much of my life is spent trying to finish tasks but I’ve rarely asked who I’m trying to please.

    It seems like a critical question but most of the time we’re content to tell ourselves it just needs to get done. Maybe this comes from our parents telling us, because I said so.

    Like, don’t question why, just do it. So we go through our adult lives not questioning stuff.

    I think most of the business world would benefit from this question and ALL of academia.

  • Brian_Pastore

    Hey Justin,

    Great post. I didn't get to see the actual awards but your link to the way to get nominated was pretty funny…

    Sometimes its easy to lose focus on projects. In fact, I have to set out a running to do list otherwise I can get lost in all the distractions…

    What tips can you offer on staying focused and knowing who your audience is… client, there customer, etc…

  • Justin Kownacki

    Brian: My own tips for reaching an audience include this and this.

    Other good tips from fellow bloggers include this and this.

    As for staying focused, one big tip: have a goal. If you don't know what your client wants, or what *their* audience wants, you don't know what your collective success would look like.