This is one of the first questions I ask in the podcast development process, and most people find it surprisingly tricky.
To be fair, this challenge isn’t unique to podcasters. I’ve spoken with emerging novelists, documentary producers, journalists who have the same answer.
“I think there’s something in here for most people.”
In fact, this question isn’t only challenging for emerging storytellers. I‘ve been surprised more than once by people who have worked in media for years and have baulked at this question.
It makes sense that it’s difficult to define your audience.
It can feel like you’re limiting your potential growth; and also putting people into boxes can feel awkward, a little judgemental.
You don’t have to judge to define.
And defining your audience doesn’t mean they are the only people who will listen. (We’ll get into that a little later.)
Why does it matter?
Knowing your audience, being honest about who they are and thinking of them as you construct your story will make your story stronger.
And it will make every decision easier.
It will help you settle on a format, and choose the right language; it will help you choose guests or a host or a cast that will resonate; and it makes it easier to market the content, because you know where your audience is.
This is true for all storytelling, but even more important for podcasts because your audience is one person listening to your story as they walk their dog, commute to work or clean their house.
It’s you and them, alone. So you need to be clear on who they are to be relatable and interesting to them, you can’t afford to ostracise them or get them wrong.
Let’s say you’re making a gardening podcast, that could be a lot of different things right?
It could be a podcast for novice gardeners; it could be for city gardeners with a small space; it could be for people who want to design a garden to impress their neighbours; it could be for someone who wants to do more the environment; it could be about saving money; it could be a specialist cactus podcast.
Now these are all different ideas, sure. But they are also for different people, and if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you will get yourself and your audience very confused.
If you know who your podcast is going to, you can make it unique, compelling and relatable. And if you get that audience on board, it also makes you more marketable to advertisers who want to connect with the same people.
So, make a gardening podcast for inner city dwellers who have never grown a thing but want to save money and help the planet at the same time. They’re a young professional with a reasonably new mortgage and they’re a bit worried about interest rates, and they’re worried about the climate, and they want to be proactive in their worries.
You will be able to hit the mark with them much more easily than a broad gardening podcast trying to hit a whole lot of people at once.
An Australian podcast that knows and connects with their audience incredibly well, is Shameless, and they are successful because of it.
They know exactly who they’re talking to and all their language and marketing is very clearly targeted to that audience.
How do we define our audience?
How you define your audience is truly up to you.
You can think of an audience in terms of income, age, education and demographic, but you don’t have to.
Let’s think about Stranger Things. Now even if you haven’t watched this show you may know a couple of things about it :
A horror series set in the 80’s jam packed with excellent cultural references and a fantastic soundtrack about a group of nerdy teenagers who are facing the normal challenges of love, friendship and family while being ostracised by the very society they save from an evil force from another dimension. (my synopsis not theirs)
Who is that for?
You don’t always have to start with age, but the fact teenagers are the main characters helps teenagers relate. But it also helps parents of teenagers relate.
And the excellent cultural references can satisfy a teen audience, but it’s also pretty great for a Gen xers who were teens when Kate Bush first released that song, or Baby Boomers who have fond memories of that time in their lives.
So you could start by defining the audience as:
People who have felt they didn’t fit in at some point in their lives, love 80’s culture and want to be entertained with a few jump scares and honest teenage relationships.
See, you don’t have to limit, and you don’t have to judge.
It’s also useful to think that you have a primary and a secondary (and even a tertiary) audience.
So your primary audience is who you’re talking to directly, they’re the person you invited over for afternoon tea. You’re sitting in your kitchen, eating cake and telling them a story.
The secondary audience is welcome along for the ride, perhaps they’re your dad, making dinner in the kitchen while you’re chatting to your friend.
You know he’s listening, you may even include him a little at times.
So if you’d normally swear with your friend, but not with your dad, perhaps you limit your swearing.
It’s good to be aware of the secondary audience, but they’re here as a voyeur enjoying the ride, your real focus is your friend.
I think about Triple J as a good example here. They have a very clear audience right, and I’m not in that audience.
But I listen to Triple J sometimes, and when I do, I know that they’re not going to be focussing on me. They’re not reaching for a mum with a mortgage, they’re reaching for my kids, and that’s ok. I’m happy to listen in.
Once you have an idea of who your audience is, take time to get to know them.
Look for cultural references they’ll enjoy, think about what else they watch or listen to, think about what social media they’re on, and what they don’t like.
The more you know them, the more you can build a relationship with them, and the more they will connect with your content.