Audience Insight: Play To The Crowd
At the beginning of this year, I embarked upon an experiment which, while largely unsuccessful, gave me a valuable lesson in audience insight.
As a generalist creative, it’s always been a challenging proposition to market myself.
Generalists hold value in agency environments, where breadth and depth of knowledge add to versatility.
But in terms of freelancing, the most effective paths for creatives is to specialise (a topic much debated throughout creative & design circles).
So, to narrow the focus of my offering and generate more leads, I decided to try positioning my work as specialisms.
I split my site in two, and built two portfolios – one focused on branding (Brand to Mouth), and one focused on my music cover art work (Cover Your Tracks).
One of the things I love about the internet, is that it welcomes experimentation without huge investment (in this case, due to my ability to do web builds myself).
I supported the new site with active social media accounts, and this very blog.
Yet after several months (and no increased lead generation), I’ve dropped the multi-portfolio format, in favour of one site, with all of my (extremely diverse) work.
So here I am – back to my generalist ways. What went wrong?
Change the Subject
There are many elements that contributed to this ‘failure to launch’, so to speak. However there are some core lessons I’ve observed.
The main one being, that when we’re running businesses or freelancing, we can’t simply reframe what we’re already doing to create value.
Changing a brand name, writing a new strap-line or positioning statement, doesn’t actually change a thing.
Especially if we’re looking to serve the same/similar target group. Here’s where we need audience insight.
Instead of changing my business to attract more customers, what I should have been doing is figuring out what my customers actually need.
And this process starts with choosing some customers. Picking a crowd.
Looking at the feedback from the year, it’s clear to me that my customers (predominantly in the music industry), have little need of such specialist services.
They don’t need strategic branding, or artwork execution. Their business is reactive, and driven by content.
This leaves me with two choices – I can decide to offer specialist services, and start over. Seek out a different audience that needs those services.
Or look at my current audience, and play to the crowd.
Cards on the Table
To illustrate, let’s use a hypothetical scenario of say, a carpenter.
(Apologies to any actual carpenters reading this – I intend no disparagement towards your vocation, and the analogy was picked at random I assure you.)
Let’s imagine our carpenter particularly enjoys making tables. Large, beautifully hand crafted, ornate tables.
He wants to sell tables to wealthy customers, as they’ll pay more. However his tables are not in demand.
You see there are many options for buying a table. So most customers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a premium table, and a budget one.
One day while out, he chances upon a acquaintance, and they exchange a conversation.
During this conversation, our carpenter discovers that his friend is struggling to put up suitable shelving in his living room.
This peaks the carpenter’s interest. He does some more investigation, and as it happens many people are in need of bespoke shelving solutions.
In fact, far more people actually need shelves than they do tables. This is his audience insight.
(Again, this is just to illustrate the point – I have no real idea as to the vagaries of demand within the carpentry trade.)
As such, putting up a couple of shelves is not nearly as lucrative as crafting a grand old table. So our carpenter is faced with a dilemma.
A. Stick with the tables, in the hope that he can make the bare minimum of sales to scrape by, serving an audience that doesn’t really need his product.
B. Pivot into making bespoke shelves, for a less lucrative, but far more dependable audience. One with a genuine problem to be solved?
Does he play to the crowd?
Though it seems like an obvious choice, in reality this is less straightforward.
We spend years developing our skills and services. We invest heavily in what we’ve chosen to do with our lives.
As such, this is not always an easy consideration to pivot on. It goes to the core of our identity.
So the crucial point becomes whether we want to fulfil whatever calling we’ve decided for ourselves, or do we want to run a viable business?
For the two are not always mutually exclusive.
Do we want to make tables no one hardly needs, or do we want to make a living?
This is not to say either path is bulletproof – I’ve done both throughout my career, and there are pitfalls to both choices.
However one path is a clear choice (to make something useful), where the other path is reactive (convince people to buy what I’ve decided to make).
In summary, should you choose a life of shelving as opposed to being left on the shelf, here’s the formula:
- Choose an audience to serve.
- Find out what they need. Ask questions, buy coffees, pay attention.
- See if we can meet that need. Experiment.
- If it’s not a good match between skill and requirement, go back to step 1.
As I said in the outset, the great thing about the internet, is it allows us to soft-launch ideas without tremendous upheaval, or massive investmemt.
We can try things out. Test the waters. Look for audience insight. Gather ourselves and try again.
With this in mind, please, feel free to tell me what problems YOU need to solve.