How to Find a Target Audience (going beyond an avatar)

This is the transcript from the seventh episode of Individuate, Easygoing Digital’s podcast. Listen on the player below.

Today, we’ve got another practical episode talking about picking a target audience.


You’ll note that I’ve chosen this for the podcast today, even before looking at a podcast topic or structure. That’s to highlight that; essentially, our podcast is to serve our audience.


There’s no point in choosing a topic, regardless of how passionate you are about it if it doesn’t serve the people you want to help.


So that’s what we’re looking at today.


But first, I want to talk about the most recognisable school project to have ever been awarded a B-


The year was 1958, and American History teacher Stanley Pratt of Lancaster High School in Ohio, America, gave his junior class a project. The task was to design something that illustrated their interest in history and bring it into the class for show and tell.


It was a time when the American flag only had 48 stars to represent the 48 states of the Union. However, with talk of Alaska and Hawaii potentially joining soon, young Bob Heft began to imagine what the American Flag would look like if there were 50 stars after the addition of two more.


I’ll put up some photos on the podcast page for today to give a sense, but at the time, it was somewhat of a dilemma what would happen if two states were added to the union. At that time, the stars were arranged in a neat 8 x 6 array, and the addition of any more states would have thrown off this pattern.


Obviously, this was a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things, but it was a problem to solve all the same.


Young Bob Heft spent more than 12 hours cutting 50 white stars, ironing them onto a blue cloth, and sewing it onto his parents’ 48-star American flag.


He cleverly chose to arrange the 50 stars into a field that included 5 rows of 6 stars and 4 rows of 5 stars, alternating the row sizes to take up a similar shape and area to the previous flag’s stars.


Heft proudly brought his flag into the classroom, ready to show his teacher and tell his class about his creation.


Yet to his dismay, his teacher was largely unimpressed.


Awarding him a B- for the task and asking an imaginative young Heft, “Don’t you know how many states we have?” Which Heft recounted years later.


But the determined 17-year-old wasn’t taking his B- lying down and complained to his teacher.


Mr Pratt then stated, somewhat facetiously it seems, that he would improve the grade if Heft could get his flag adopted by the United States Government as their official flag.


Undaunted and undeterred by the size of the task in front of him. Heft began writing letters to Washington and making calls to the White House to ask the president to look at his flag.


2 years later, after Hawaii and Alaska had indeed been admitted as States, Bob Heft received a call out of the blue from then-President Dwight D Eisenhower.


It seems that Heft’s efforts had not been in vain, and the Government had chosen his flag out of more than 1500 submissions as the model for the new 50-star flag of the United States of America.


President Eisenhower invited Heft to a flag-raising ceremony in Washington where the celebrations on the 4th of July would be used to unveil the new flag at the US Capitol Building.


Heft was over the moon, but there was still one piece of business to take care of.


After tracking down Mr Pratt, his old American History teacher, who was, of course, impressed with Heft’s achievement, Heft recounted that his former teacher had said,


“Well, if it’s good enough for Washington, it’s good enough for me, I hereby change the grade to an A.”


Since that time, the flag designed by 17-year-old Bob Heft’s has now broken the record for the longest-serving flag in the United States history. 


Although he passed away in 2009, Bob Heft has also designed a 51-star flag if any more states are added to America’s Union.


Proving that even after his passing, he’s always one step ahead.


So that’s what we’re talking about today, target audiences.


Because if you get the wrong audience, it doesn’t matter if you’re Bob Heft, the future architect of the United States Flag at just 17 years of age, if you don’t get the right audience, in this case, the seemingly tough critic that was Mr Pratt. Your work won’t be respected as much as it deserves.


So how do we find our target audience?


There’s plenty of information about avatars and personas, but I want to tell you today how I think of target audiences, which is a little bit different from that.


First of all, plain and simple, a target audience is the people we want to serve.


The people we want to be the guide for on the hero’s journey and deliver outcomes that will be valuable for them.


One thing you’ll often hear about is the idea of an avatar, and I don’t want to dismiss the idea of nailing your podcast for a particular type of person to the point where they say, this is made just for me, but I prefer not to think of it in terms of straight demographics too much.


I’ll explain why.


One of my favourite podcasts is the Jordan Harbinger Show.


For those who haven’t heard it, Jordan interviews some of the world’s top performers and digs into their untapped wisdom in a way that’s insightful, fascinating and actionable.


One of the people I’ve spoken to most and discussed different episodes of this podcast is a lady I’ve worked with, and another is my mum.


They’re both of an older generation to what I am.


When I had the opportunity to catch up with Jordan after a conference and mention these great conversations that we’d had at work lunchtimes, he was a little bit surprised as he didn’t necessarily pick them as his target market.


But when I think about it, knowing both these women, they seem to fit Jordan’s audience profile perfectly.


They’re both curious, intelligent, broad-minded people who, of course, would absolutely benefit from the high-level conversation that Jordan’s podcast provides.


And that’s why I don’t necessarily think of things in such narrow terms as a target persona or an avatar.


Depending on what we do and how niche it is, there’s the potential to serve many people across a range of demographics, lifestyles, and persuasions.


We can potentially limit our potential audience through the music or language we use if we think in these terms.


So how do we identify who these people are?


Well, who do you want it to be? Who’s going to motivate you to serve them the most? Who are you inspired to help? Who can you provide solutions, outcomes, and value for?


Who are the people whose pain points and problems you’ve recognised and can help alleviate some of them?


And then what are their desired outcomes? Their fears that you can help them overcome? Their immediate and long term needs and wishes.

I think it’s important to note that I think some awareness of this is present in just about all good podcasts.

Just as an aside, I personally think this has a little bit to do with Andy’s role in Hamish and Andy. Or almost all of the straight man in a comedic duo. Hamish provides the out there hilarity, but it’s partly Andy’s role to set Hamish up in a relatable way, so they take the audience with them.

So, it seems to me that even something as irreverent as Hamish and Andy actually has a fair bit of thought behind what they do to be able to so masterfully bring their audience with them and provide them with the entertainment or escape they’re looking for.


The more we can distil down and understand our audience, the more we’re likely to provide value for them.


Part of your goal with a podcast is to create advocates who will tell others who share their interests and promote your podcast for you. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to increase listenership.


So, who do you want to be the guide for? And how can you identify yourself with them in a way that will be relatable?


To demonstrate this notion of being the guide, I want to tell you about how one man single-handedly made coffee popular in Japan.


In the 1970s, the company Nestlé had a problem.


Japan’s economy was booming, and Nestlé was looking for a way to capitalise and transform that into profit. So, what was it they could do to get in on the Japanese market?


They chose coffee!


Although coffee was popular in many other parts of the world, in Japan, the most popular drink was tea.


So, Nestle tested the waters before jumping in, running focus group after focus group to test whether the Japanese consumers would enjoy the taste of Nestle coffee in the same way people enjoyed it in other parts of the world.


Of course, they all loved it, and the executives at Nestle were delighted.


They prepared a giant rollout, excited to unleash the beloved brown bean onto a seemingly receptive Japanese Market.


Nestle spent huge amounts of money on marketing and distribution, and their coffee hit the market with a bang. And then……nothing.


Despite the hype, Nestle’s coffee wasn’t selling in Japan


To the team at Nestle, it made no sense. Every one of their studies showed that Nestle coffee should be the next big thing. The consumers found the taste surprisingly pleasant, and they’d become prominent in the advertising space, but the Japanese consumers stuck to drinking tea. They enjoyed coffee, but not enough to change their existing habits.


Faced with this huge dilemma, Nestle decided to bring in a controversial figure in the world of marketing. Former Child Psychiatrist Clotaire Rapaille


Rapaille was not your typical marketer. He was, in fact, trained as a child psychiatrist and had spent years working with children with autism.


It was because of this experience that Rapaille had developed a strong conviction.


People cannot tell you what they really want.


He believed that the real motivation for people’s desire was subconscious, and most people were not self-aware enough to understand them, let alone express them.


Repaille called this the reptilian instinct, yet I’m struck by how much overlap there is with Jung’s ideas of the personal and collective unconscious that we spoke about in episode 2 of the podcast.


An example of Rapaille’s previous work was with the car company Jeep.


Jeep had recently experienced a large decline in sales, and they couldn’t work out why.


After seeking out Rapaille to help turn their sales around, he came back with a suggestion they were not expecting.


He suggested they go back to using round headlights.


Jeep had attempted to modernise their vehicles’ design by changing the shape of their headlights from the familiar round to a more rectangular shape.


For Repaille, he recognised that for the American Jeep driver, it meant freedom. It was the symbol of the wild west.


A symbol of figuratively flying across the desert sands with the wind in your hair and of horses…


For Americans, the Jeep had, in many ways, become the symbol of the modern horse.


Enabling exploration and adventure across all-terrain as the horse had previously empowered.


When Jeep had changed the lights on their vehicles to become rectangular and more square, they had lost a bit of that connection because subconsciously, the Jeep’s headlights no longer looked like a horse’s eyes.


Jeep changed their headlights back to round, and who’d have thought it? Their sales went back up.


But let’s get back to Nestle in Japan.


When he arrived in Japan, Rapaille recognised that although they may find the taste pleasant, people in Japan had no connection to coffee. They’d grown up drinking tea, seeing their parents and grandparents drink tea. They’d eaten tea flavoured lollies and ice-creams since childhood; they had much more of an affiliation with tea, which had been around them for much longer than this new foreign drink.


So what was it that Rapaille decided would help turn the tide and chip into the massive market hold that tea had in the hot beverage business?


Coffee Lollies. Or, for my American listeners, coffee candy.


Suddenly huge amounts of Japanese children were growing used to the taste of coffee without encroaching on their more solid tea drinking habits.


Nestle brought out dozens of different types of coffee flavoured confectionery, and then once they had established popularity, they moved to cold sugary coffee flavoured drinks.


Then they introduced lattes.


Before long, Nestle had successfully reintroduced their Nestle coffee, which had established a following outside of the seemingly impenetrable hot beverage market. Before long, Nestle was cheering all the way to the bank.


From October 2015 to September 2016, a mere 40 or so years after coffee was first unsuccessfully introduced into Japan by Nestle, the Japanese consumed more than 1/6th as much coffee as the entire European Union, which has countries like France and Italy which have enjoyed coffee for centuries.


So what’s the takeaway from all this?


I know that it’s a bit different being a podcast host to recognising the unconscious motivators in a consumer market and changing their ingrained cultural practices. Still, at the same time, I think we can learn a lot from Rapaille’s approach.


Although there are obvious ethical issues that come from convincing a nation of children to eat more sugar, at the same time, Rapaille had compassion for where the Japanese people were at before he arrived with his bold ideas.


He recognised that their association with tea was deeply ingrained and that he had to meet them where they were at if he was to impact their behaviour at all.


In many ways, I think this is where there are similarities with being a podcast host. 


In engaging with an audience of people and looking to expand their perspective and positively engage them, we’ve got to be empathetic for where they’re at.


We have to recognise the challenges and problems they’re facing and their deeper needs, even though it may not appear so obvious to them.


And if we look at the most successful podcasts, businesses and people, they all understand their audience deeply enough to provide that. Even if they provide an escape or some light entertainment, it doesn’t have to be explicit. Still, the more you can understand who you’re audience is, where they’re at and what they need to be able, the more they can benefit from your experiences and ideas, as they’re more tailored to them.


This will lead more people to relate to you, identify you as their particular guide, and want to engage with your podcast and ideas more than if you were to just project what you thought would sound good.


It seems that this has a little bit to do with why most podcasts don’t get past the 5 episode mark. It’s like people get 5 episodes in, they haven’t got a sense of any real uptake of their podcast or how they’ve provided any transformations for people, and it’s almost like they’ve said all they have to say.


They may have been through huge swathes of information that, although it may be valuable in a certain context, but with no understanding of who’s listening, why they’re listening and what they expect to achieve out of listening to their podcast. Their ideas don’t quite cut through.


So, start with those you know you can help and work on expanding that.


You can be the guide for your podcast listeners because you’ve faced what they’ve faced. You’ve likely been through transformations in your perspective, so you can empathise with where they’re at and let them know that there’s a path to a solution.


So, start with those you know you can help. Who do you recognise is at point A and you can take to point B? What are their needs, challenges and desires?


Then once you get a sense of how you’re helping those people, what challenges they’re facing, what their limiting beliefs and perceptions are, why they’re struggling at certain points that you’ve yourself likely struggled. Then, you can look to expand on ways of helping from there.


But always in the context of recognising where people are at.


No one likes being talked at or implicitly made to feel guilty for not seeing things a certain way.


Hopefully, this podcast given you some direction around who are the people you want to serve and how you can help them. Even if it’s just recognising that someone may be lonely or looking for company and your podcast is going to be a bit of an escape for them, it’s worth recognising who your audience is and where they’re at.


Then you make your podcast accessible to a whole lot more people than those who already see things from your point of view.


They’re likely to come along for the ride anyway; you’ll give them a bigger population of people they’ll see the value for and be able to recommend your podcast to.