Shoot Your Audience! (Er, Shoot for the Correct Audience.)

The image above was part of a pretty elaborate direct-mail piece sent from the NRA to me for a sweepstakes in which the grand-prize winner takes home 24 guns. (The first-prize winner would receive a paltry 10 guns.) I did have one pressing question when I received the piece: What, no grenade launcher?

No, the real pressing question was how the ##$@#!! did the NRA get my address? Granted, I was tempted, because with that arsenal, I could finally control the gophers in the veggie garden, but unless one of those dreadfully liberal entities that I’ve supported in the past, like Greenpeace or the Natural Resources Defense Council were selling their mailing lists to all comers, I wondered if this was just fishing on the part of the NRA.

Which brings me to the two-pronged subject prompted by the 24-gun salute: permission marketing and know your audience. I won’t go deeply into the permission marketing angle so clearly enunciated by Seth Godin, but in essence, its message is: Don’t send crap to people who don’t want it.

The concept I want to look at a little closer is Know Your Audience. Now, I have no objection to legal gun ownership, obtained through licensing and registration. (Though the open-carry Starbucks people have it all wrong: they should have open-carry acetylene torches, to warm up the coffee.) But I am not the NRA’s audience, and they wasted their postage on me. It’s the same sort of concern I have from the proliferation of catalogs (particularly at Christmas time) from companies from which I’ve never ordered anything. Sometimes these catalogs are hundreds of pages long, and obviously expensive to produce. The scattershot-mail effect doesn’t acknowledge the simple adage of knowing your audience, your tribe.

Ask About the Audience
When I am asked to write a tech or operations manual (I am working on one and probably beginning another soon), one of the first questions I ask is, who is the manual for—who is the audience? That tells me what the slant or tone—formal, salesy, explanatory, light, crisp, storytelling—of the piece should be. Obviously, as a writer you’d ask the same if you were writing an ad or a brochure or a sell sheet. I didn’t ask clearly enough about audience for a recent radio ad I wrote, but nailed it on the second round, after getting the elaboration.

I had a brilliant film teacher at college who was irreverent, flippant and profane. She gave me a lousy grade for a paper that was good, but limp. The next one I wrote, filled with snarky comments and casual asides (but still on topic), got a stellar grade. Know your audience.

I used to write manuals for Maxis (SimCity, The Sims) software, and was encouraged to put in a whimsical tone to the “Click here. See that. Click there” instructions, and from later user comments, found out how much our audience appreciated it. About two months ago, some guy who read a manual of mine for a Maxis product from more than 10 years ago emailed me to explain a joke I’d written in the manual. (Yeah, some funny joke—the guy took 10 years and still couldn’t understand it.)

Anyway, I actually dug the NRA sweepstakes offer, because I don’t get the chance to win 24 guns every day. If they include a cannon with the next offer, I’m going for it…

Bonus Book Love
While you’re mulling over the consideration of which of your 24 guns you’d have pointing at the front door, and which at the back, I’ll change tack entirely. Being more of a books than a bullets guy, I saw a HARO request from the Power of Care site soliciting stories of book love. (No, not porno book stuff—what books you love!) I wrote mine on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You can see that brief testimony and many others here on the site.

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8 thoughts on “Shoot Your Audience! (Er, Shoot for the Correct Audience.)

  1. Which one of you loonies was it sent me the link to a website where you could buy plans for a 20′ talk trebuchet?

    Nobody pointed out it didn’t come with a trailer hitch, so now I can’t even take it to parties because I don’t have a way to tow it.

    I’m delighted to think of someone winning 24 guns. I hope they come live next door to me, and start drinking heavily.

  2. Joel, if you do become a modern nomad, a trebuchet is a traveling essential: you can fling all of your compostables into someone else’s campsite; with the proper wing-attachment, you can use it as a fan on hot days; you can use it to dip into wine barrels and fill your own—the possibilities are endless.

  3. Hello Tom

    It is interesting you are talking about trebuchets, because I live in Delaware…the land of the Pumpkin Chunkin Festival ( that happends every fall. Needless to say, trebuchets play prominently in this event.

    Anyway, thanks for the contribution to my article on Book Love Affairs on The Power of CARE. I hope you’ll contribute to another article again soon.

    BTW…I learned that too many direct marketers don’t know their audience when I was 23. I was living in a rental apartment and a salesperson called me and asked me if I was interested in replacement windows for my home.

  4. Nadine, I’ve looked at that site before—I lOVE the passion of the pumpkin-chunkers (and the ingenuity of the trebuchets)!

    Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about Mr. Twain and Mr. Finn on your site.

  5. Uh, Joel, that was me… I’ve long been a bit trebuchet-crazed, though I’ve never actually built one- yet.

    So Tom- what happens when you write for an audience that you only hold in your imagination, just ship and put the work out there- will they come?

  6. Well, Rick, I’m working on that puzzle myself, since I’m not getting many call-in votes from American Idol. However, I really would look into circulating your stuff through The single article I put there had 14 people click through to my site in the short time it’s been there.

    By the way, the members of the audience I hold in my imagination all have perfect teeth.

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