Why targeting a small audience can help you reach a larger audience online

In a time where it is so easy to ignore irrelevant information and entertainment, trying to appeal to everyone can ensure you end up appealing to no-one in particular.

People are looking for news that is relevant to them and their individual interests. So, if I’m into commuter cycling, then I’m more likely to pick up on an article or video that speaks to that specifically than a generically titled article about cycling.

You may be concerned that, by targeting a smaller audience, your ultimate reach would be lower, but this is not the case. When you appeal to people directly, they’re more likely to share the news or article than if it is a generic piece. The specifically targeted piece says something about me, and what I believe in, so I will more likely share it.

By trying to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no-one

This can hold true, even when it comes to public campaigns. For example, Coca Cola created a billboard that could only be understood by the 5% of people who are colourblind. Instead of being ignored by the 95%, this advert engaged their curiosity. For the first time, colour blind people had an advantage, as well as a good reason to talk about the campaign and show off their unique ability. 

By trying to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no-one. A key principle when developing a campaign is that you identify a core inner-circle of people who are likely to respond to it and care about it. This takes courage and conviction. It means that in your messaging, in your creative concept, and in your targeting that you will exclude most of your potential audience, at least initially.

Tighter targeting, bolder and more directed headlines, as well as content directed at an interested community is key

We work with a concept called the 1>9>90 rule at Treeshake, which basically says that 1% of people create the content, that 9% share and 90% consume. So as a 1% content creator, you’re wasting your time trying to get people in the 90% to share. They simply won’t. In fact, the 90% only pay attention to content that is shared by someone they know. Someone in the 9% needs to share the content before they’ll pay attention to it.

Isn’t this true for you? For example, do you often find articles in your newsfeed on Facebook from news organisations that you don’t follow, on topics that you’re not directly interested in? And don’t you occasionally read those articles or watch those videos because of who shared it?

As an example, I’m not directly interested in architecture, but I trust my friend Erik to share good content. So when he shared a video about “Architecture that Heals”, I was compelled to click and watch it. If TED (or whoever else was promoting the content) tried to target me directly they would have failed to engage me. My interest was sparked because I knew the sharer. 

This is one of the paradoxes of digital content strategy. Tighter targeting, bolder and more directed headlines, as well as content directed at an interested community is key. Content is much more likely to spread further and faster than something specifically targeted at a more general audience. 

There is of course the risk of being too specific or obscure, but you should use your discretion.

The following three criteria can provide a useful guide to targeting:

  1. Is the target audience small enough to reach, but big enough to influence the change you want - generally speaking around 10% of your total intended reach. (This tells you if your intended audience is too small or too big)

  2. Is it possible to reach the entire interested target readership? (This tells you if your audience definition is specific enough)

  3. Are they likely to share the piece? (This tells you if your piece is surprising or interesting enough for your target audience)

We don't need to reach every possible person we can, and this particular mistake is what creates the type of noise that people switch off from online.  Discipline in your targeting will lead to better creativity, better advertising, and better results. Don't be scared of excluding people, there's a far higher risk of being totally ignored. Focus.