An inside conversation about target audience

Last week I had a conversation in the Community with a friend of mine, Shannelle, about getting deeper clarity in her target audience.

This is a slightly-edited transcript for readability, but I wanted to share this with you to show you two things: that a deep understanding your target audience is vital, and that sometimes the best clarity can come from a good conversation in community.

I intentionally left the format of this email as a conversation, so I encourage you to take a moment watch how we navigate deeper to get more clarity.

This was our conversation:


Shannelle: Hey Cory, I did the Behind the Brand guide, and I was wondering if my why has two parts to it?

Cory Miller: For example?

Shannelle: I did it for the lettering series that I want to do, and I started it wanting to get better with lettering. But I realized I also want to put something out there that could make someone stop and think.

Cory Miller: Who's your target audience?

Shannelle: Someone who wants to start something but she's holding back because she's scared. Scared of failing to achieve what she wanted. Scared of failing to get things perfect. Scared of going unnoticed.

Cory Miller: So how does what you do help her not be scared, or hold back anymore?

Shannelle: I'm basing it off a lot of things that I experienced, but I realized that so much of my fears only thrived when I gave it the space to thrive. I fed myself so many excuses, and I didn't realize what they were until I took a break and recognized that. I want to make something beautiful out of these things that I learned from a really bad time so that someone else out there in the same position can notice and realize what she's doing to herself

Cory Miller: Okay so take all of that, and answer this: Why do you want to do that?

Shannelle: My mind went blank there, but the first thing that came to mind was it was something I would have loved to find when I was in that period

Cory Miller: Keep exploring that. We're getting pretty deep here, but I'm pushing you a bit because I get the feeling you're really close to something powerful, not just about your work but about yourself.

Because I can ask again, why? Why would you have loved to find that?

Shannelle: It's getting hard to string my thoughts together...

Cory Miller: That's good! It means your brain is doing the work it needs to. Here's what I'm getting so far based on what you've written:

Your target audience is a young woman who has a lot of fear, but likes to explore new ideas through creative inspiration, and you want her to overcome her fears and live fully and free from insecurity.

Obviously there's a lot more we can get into with target audience, because that's still vague, but it's a start.

Shannelle: I started with finding all these awesome creative resources, like 99u and etc., and I feel like everybody right now is concerned with creativity and things like getting to travel while working for yourself. And as amazing as it is, I'm also tired of seeing nothing except that. All you ever see are the good things, but everything else gets swept under the rug. And I want to bring out those things from under the rug, from my situation, to be a voice out there that talks about the uglier side of things.

Stuff like jealousy. No one talks about whether or not they get jealous, or being scared that your work would never stand out from everything else out there.

Cory Miller: Ready? One more.

Shannelle: Lay it out

Cory Miller: Why do you want to help these women?

Answer this question without using the word "I" or "my" in the answer (or other words referring to yourself).

Shannelle: There's so many out there focused on the bright and sunny that there's no space for people to talk about bad days

Cory Miller: Dig a bit more. What I'm reading is you want to help these women talk about bad days, but I don't think that's really the answer

Here's how my thought progression would go:

  • Why do they need to talk about bad days?
  • Why is it important for these women to see themselves in these places?
  • Why is it important for these women to get out of these places?

That's how you get to the why, you keep diving into the answers to each question until suddenly there's a clear and desperate answer that cries for attention and demands action. That is the WHY.

If I were to ask you why you do what you do and you replied,

"There are women who seek creative inspiration who are trapped in the idea that life is only supposed to be "bright and sunny", and they need to know they are just as valuable, free, and strong on the dark days that will inevitably come."

That is a powerful WHY, one that says nothing about us or the WHAT, but only about the people you are trying to reach or impact.


I hope you enjoyed reading this conversation. It certainly gave me lots to think about.

The more clarity you have about your target audience, the more clarity you'll have in your message.

If your message or the definition of your target audience seems cloudy or lacks specificity, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to help my target audience?
  • Why do I want to do what I do?

Here's the twist: answer these questions without using any reference to yourself. No "I", "me", "my", or anything like that.

Don't worry if it's really difficult: it's supposed to be. Asking hard questions is how you get deep clarity.