Tyler’s Tips Episode 35: Define Your Audience


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today I’m going to talk about defining your audience. Okay, so what do I mean when I say, “defining your audience”? Whenever we’re shooting, with the one exception of when you’re doing totally personal work, the audience is hugely important in whether or not a photo is successful. If you’re doing truly personal work that audience is you, and you don’t really need to have an external conversation about it, mostly likely. But, if you’re not doing that purely personal work, then really defining and understanding your audience is hugely helpful in creating something that’s going to touch them emotionally.

So, how do we do it? The technique I’ve been using over the last couple of years, which has been hugely helpful, is trying to think of one person, not thousands of people. In the marketing world we usually talk about audience in terms of demographics and these broad swaths of the population. You’re trying to talk to a lot of people at one time. And that’s important and very useful in a lot of ways in the broader marketing landscape, but it’s also, I think, a hindrance at times when you’re trying to create something that’s emotionally connecting, you know, like a photograph.

So what I’ve tried to do is within that demographic think of one specific person. For example, I don’t know, let’s say I’m shooting for an architectural firm, and we want to do some lifestyle photos inside, I think about who the audience is that architectural firm needs to speak to. So who is it, specifically? You know, what kind of work do they do? Is it residential, is it commercial? Who’s the decision maker, or who’s on the committee that’s going to be making the decision about the next time this architectural firm is awarded the contract to do the design for some cool commercial project? Who is that person, literally?

Is that Martha, who’s 52 and just had her first grandchild, and knows intimately all about architecture and design? Or, is it Bob, who is 33 and is very new to the whole industry, knows his sector beautifully, but doesn’t really know much about architecture and design, but is a part of that decision making community? Often there are multiple audiences that we have to talk to, which is a whole complicated digression that I won’t go into, but the point is we’re talking about Bob, we’re talking about Martha, and we can fill in even more details. You know, Bob rides a bike, Bob has an iPhone, Bob, what kind of car does he drive, what does he do in his off time, what is his job specifically, like what are the things that matter to him? What does he need to do in his job to be successful?

We don’t need to spend a tremendous amount of time on it, but just by asking some of those questions, even if you don’t answer them, what you’ve done is you’ve humanized your audience. You’ve taken it from a broad abstract sort of thing that you’re trying to guess at, and you’re making it about one specific individual. Even though it’s a fictitious individual, it allows us to be very intimate in our creative process, and I think it just produces better results. They feel more real, because they are ultimately more real.

The more I do this the more I feel like there aren’t so many tricks. The best photographs come from shooting stuff that’s really cool, and just, it’s real. So, anyways, there we go. Tyler’s tip for today. When you’re trying to figure out who your audience is, and you’re trying to hone in on that as you’re creating your photo, try the thought experiment of defining one individual within that demographic, and really fill in a lot of details. It might allow you to create a photo that’s a bit more intimate, and that in the end will actually speak more powerfully to the thousands of people that you need it to speak to, even though you’re really just, you’re talking to one person.