Determining a target audience

I don’t get marketing. More specifically, I don’t get how marketers can confidently decide who their audience is.

Every product has good points to play up. It’s one thing to say, “How will we present this product?” and then show off the most favourable aspects. That’s just common sense. But how do PR teams decide that Qualities A, B, F and Q will appeal specifically to women 25 to 34 years of age? Is this something they teach in fancy-pants marketing school? Is there an algebra equation for it, or is it more of a crystal ball?

Because, I mean, I’m an individual and so is everyone else in this world. I’d never presume that I can glance at a stranger and know all of their opinions. When I’m at my day job serving tables and a customer asks me to recommend a menu item, I’ll usually ask questions right back. Do they feel like fish or meat tonight? Chocolate or fruit? What’s their absolute favourite meal? Without some measure of the person’s tastes, I can’t make a useful recommendation. That big, scruffy guy in the trucker cap might love eating sushi and green salad, for all I know.

It’s even harder to say what books will speak to a person. When a book can involve any factor of human experience — or non-human experience — it can be hard to say whether a particular recipe of ideas will strike a particular person’s fancy. Some readers are voracious omnivores who find enjoyment in everything. Some readers are pickier about which stories they identify with, and which stories they’ll stick with to the end. (I fall into this second category. My roommate quips that I don’t read books: I find reasons to dislike books.)

So it doesn’t make any sense to me that my age and gender alone would make me a marketing candidate for entire subgenres. Maybe romance is easier to sell to women, for example, but I don’t find every love story automatically interesting. People often assume that as a young woman, I like Twilight. Let’s just say that if I had a nickel for every time that’s happened, I’d use the money to buy … a book that isn’t Twilight. But there are probably some older men out there who like Bella and Edward’s story.

I find more value in the Might Also Like form of marketing, the way Amazon presents each shopper with items related to things they’ve already bought. Or how Netflix predicts which rating you’ll give to a movie you haven’t watched yet. But again, jumping to conclusions won’t necessarily work. Just because I enjoyed Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Lady of Avalon, for example, doesn’t mean I’ll automatically like anything with fantasy or romance in it.

Therefore, I think there should be a matchmaking service for books and readers. Maybe it would ask the reader to indicate some books they practicularly liked or disliked, then indicate what specific factors they liked/disliked. Amount of action? Amount of description? Positivity vs. darkness/bleakness? The emotional journey(s) of the characters? The presence of fantasy beings, vampires or dragons or something utterly original? Pinning down preferences like that could allow more accurate book recommendations. Maybe there could be separate categories of recommendations: Might Also Like, for when you’re feeling adventurous, plus a We’re Confident You’ll Like section for when you want the book equivalent of your favourite comfort food.

This crosses my mind whenever I think about my marketing efforts for the Aligare series. Determine my demographic, the marketing gurus say. Figure out the age, gender, and personal traits of my typical reader. And I always think, “Hmm. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.” As far as I’m concerned, my target market is anyone who finds my work interesting. Maybe they’ll like the science behind the magical Aligare world, or the positive, cooperative themes. Or maybe a particular character will charm them. These readers might be any age, or any gender identity. Who am I to say?

I think that right now, most of my readers are strangers to me. I’d rather meet them than assume I already know them.

Do you fit into typical ideas of marketing? Share in the comments!

4 Comments on “Determining a target audience”

  1. Sort of related to what you said about detailed book matchmaking, there’s this neat this website that has detailed book reviews – and I mean REALLY detailed. It’s neat to help find a book if you can’t remember the title, or to find books that meet certain unusual criteria.

    • Sorry it took me so long to approve your comment, Morgan! That sounds like a useful site for finding books you vaguely remember. Which I’ve certainly spent enough time Googling for!

  2. Christa says:

    Marketing is so problematic. It takes something complex and beats it into general patterns that are too simplistic to reflect the appeal of a book.

    If you’re wondering, this 24-year-old female’s favourite aspects of Remedy is the harmony in it (races working together, yay!), the setting, and COMPLETELY LOVABLE AND CUTE CHARACTERS. SQUEE. I’m not such a fan of good vs. evil in fantasy anymore, so simply exploring what happens to their relationships when a plague hits the world is great to me.

    I like Remedy, but it doesn’t mean I would like, uh, Redwall for its non-humans. And as much as I like noble characters, I adore The Basic Eight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Social Network movie in which all those main characters are careless jerks, and they are the very reason I love those stories!

    So marketing? Tricky business.

    P.S. “I’d use the money to buy … a book that isn’t Twilight.” HAHAHA.

    • Yeah! If a novel’s appeal can be summed up in very simple terms, then it, erm. Probably didn’t need to be such a long-form work.

      Clean-cut good vs. evil seems to be passé in fantasy nowadays, huh? I don’t find it that interesting, either. Nuanced people are more interesting than arbitrarily assigned forces or traits. I appreciate that you see Remedy and its world that way! People getting it makes the effort worthwhile.

      As for the Twilight comment? Heh heh. I’d say sorry, but I’m not. :D

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