A set of Russian nesting dolls lined up - Minimum Viable Audience blog post

Seek a Minimum Viable Audience

August 16, 2022

What if you aimed your marketing at the smallest group possible? Not so small that it would put you out of business, but a specific group of people that you offer an extraordinary product or service. Choosing a minimum viable audience is a strategy that forces you to aim so far beyond ordinary – beyond “something for everyone” – that they choose to share their experience with others.

How would your business be different if you absolutely had to keep this group happy – and coming back for more?

Why bigger isn’t always better

Go big or go home. It’s something people say to encourage bold action. It signals a willingness to push all your chips to the middle of the table, to put all your eggs in one basket. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy.

While there is a time and a place to “go big,” when it comes to designing things for humans, a far more sustainable approach to exceeding expectations is to go small and learn quickly. To identify and define your most desirable audience, aim narrow, not broad.

In agile development, a minimum viable product allows a team to quickly acquire knowledge that will make the next version of the product better. When designers identify a minimum viable audience, they are trying to exceed customer expectations by appealing to a very specific group of people. In both cases, the goal is to learn the maximum amount with the least amount of effort in support of a dynamic, repeatable process.

When you “go big,” success is measured solely in results – if they exceed the amount of time and money invested. Going big could also be an expensive mistake. However, you’re not going to learn as much from your audience with one big effort as you will from multiple smaller ones.

Identify your audience

Who is your audience, and what do they want from you? Every audience has problems. Some call them pain points. Your marketing is intended to guide people toward a product or service that solves the problem – or alleviates the pain.

An example of a very broad audience might be “people who care about the planet.” This group is more inclined than others to purchase products, support organizations, and make lifestyle choices that are environmentally responsible.

An example of a less broad audience might be “avid bicyclists” – a good many of whom belong to the larger group above. A much more specific or minimum viable audience might be “avid urban cyclists who commute to an office, but don’t like to work in sweaty clothes.”

Your audience isn’t hypothetical, and neither are their problems. They are a group of people who share distinctive traits that can be defined. Some questions to get started:

  • Who experiences this problem?
  • What do you know about this audience’s current situation?
  • What are their challenges and motivations?
  • Why do (or should) they choose your solution?

Complex problems often include multiple audiences with different points-of-view. Once you begin to define and prioritize them, you can engage them in generating and refining more specific solutions.

Exceed expectations

Understanding and fulfilling your audience’s needs is the best way to create an exceptional product or service. Aiming to be all things to all people, or assuming you know what your customers want, is a good way to be average at best and obsolete at worst.

But what if my customers don’t know what they want?

“If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford’s famous quote suggests there is little to learn from customers.

While Ford never actually ever said this, the way he ran his company was consistent with this sentiment. His innovation was an assembly line that made manufacturing faster, and cars more affordable. That was a winning strategy until 1920 when General Motors started making cars for distinct market segments, and offered more flexible payment options. The Ford Motor Company rapidly lost market share when it turned out customers didn’t want faster horses, they wanted better cars.

Ford’s mistake was less about failing to ask at the beginning, than it was refusing to test (and retest) his beliefs against the realities of a changing market.

A virtuous circle

“Everyone” is not your audience. Seeking to please a minimum viable audience represents an opportunity for continuous improvement.

If your product or service works for a very specific group of people, it will be scalable. Each time you learn something new and apply it, you take another step toward the kind of product or service that customers tell their friends about.

By choosing which customers are the best fit, your success relies on being better, not bigger.

Asking better questions leads to better answers. Download our project planning toolkit to get started.

Dan Woychick is a problem solver, creative collaborator, and owner of Woychick Design. He helps purpose-driven organizations raise awareness, inspire donors, and move people to action. Connect here: Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter

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