Why You Should Focus on Building Your Minimum Viable Audience
Stop trying to serve everybody; instead, over-deliver to the few who truly want to hear from you.
On average, a couple of people unsubscribe from my email newsletter each week.
Overall, my list isn’t shrinking because more people are signing up for it than are leaving it.
That’s not, however, why I don’t mind receiving a notification informing me that somebody has unsubscribed.
In fact, I’m glad to receive that notification.
Because it tells me I’m one step closer to building my minimum viable audience — and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do as a creator.
Minimum Viable Audience
Seth insists, “the goal [for creators] isn’t to serve everyone. The goal is to serve the right people.”
Here’s how he describes MVA:
“When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone. And if you’re not [an] irreplaceable, essential, one-of-a-kind changemaker, you never get a chance to engage with the market.
The solution is simple but counterintuitive: Stake out the smallest market you can imagine. The smallest market that can sustain you, the smallest market you can adequately serve. …
When you have your eyes firmly focused on the minimum viable audience … your quality, your story, and your impact will all get better. And then, ironically enough, the word will spread.”
Seth encourages creators to try to reach “almost no one”.
Doing so, he assures us, allows us to focus on providing real value to the exact people who actually want to hear from us.
And this is precisely the kind of people with whom you, I, and all other creators should be trying to connect when it comes to building email lists.
The whole point of having an email list is to build a tribe of like-minded people who care about, and are interested in, similar things. The more curated your list, the more you’re able to meaningfully impact the folks who appreciate, and want to engage with, you as a creator.
When somebody unsubscribes from your list, they’re effectively telling you:
“I don’t belong in your tribe.”
And that’s perfectly fine because your objective shouldn’t be to try to convince the non-believers—doing so is a waste of time.
Instead, your goal should be to try to serve those who believe, like you, that “people like us do things like this”.
“People like Us Do Things like This”
This is yet another powerful nugget of marketing wisdom from Seth.
The basic idea is that, for all intents and purposes, the world can be divided into two groups:
- Those who are like you
- Those who aren’t like you.
The people who are like you, are like you precisely because you share similar experiences, interests, outlooks, and values and you do similar things.
The people who aren’t like you, aren’t like you precisely because you don’t share similarities and you don’t do similar things.
As a creator, you can fully ignore the people in group 2 — they’re never going to be a part of your tribe.
Instead, you should focus all of your energy on those in group 1.
The question you have to ask yourself is:
“What do people like me do?” and, by extension, “what do people like me care about?”
Your Ideal Audience Comprises People Who Are Just like You
I use the following tagline on one of my signup forms:
“Practical, experience-based techniques for becoming a better writer, thinker, and creator and a happier and less anxious person.”
On the one hand, this message is a bit generic.
After all, every one of us wants to be happier and less anxious, right?
On the other, however, this tagline serves to weed out people who aren’t likely to find value in the various things about which I write.
It does so by signalling that if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive information and insights into topics like business, marketing, mental health, psychology, personal development, and the art and science of writing.
I’m not trying to self-promote here.
Rather, I’m trying to emphasize the necessity and value of recognizing that your ideal audience comprises people who are just like you.
It doesn’t matter if you have tens of thousands of email subscribers if most of the people on your list couldn’t care less about what you stand for. Apathy makes subscriber count meaningless.
I Write for People like Me
If you’re not like me, my writing isn’t for you.
That’s merely a fact, not a normative judgment or criticism.
People like me wake up at 4:30am to write a new blog post because their inspiration and drive make it impossible for them not to do it.
People like me accept the wisdom of ‘short-term sacrifice for long-term gain’; they consistently do more work than they’re paid for because they understand the importance of overdelivering to building a solid reputation.
People like me are highly introspective, constantly analyzing themselves in an effort to better understand their strengths and weaknesses so they can become better versions of themselves.
People like me believe they have control over the direction of their lives and so they take action — big and small — rather than submit to defeat and hopelessness.
People like me believe in the power of vulnerability and so they share intimate details about their lives with others in the hopes that such stories will positively impact those around them.
If you’re not like me, then what I create isn’t for you—and that’s okay, for both of us.
That’s why I smile every time somebody unsubscribes from my email list.
When that notification pops up in my inbox, I think to myself, “my tribe just got that much tighter! Fantastic!”
Here are the three key lessons I’d like to leave you with:
- Rather than seek to serve everybody, which is impossible, your goal should be to build a minimum viable audience (MVA), i.e., the smallest number of diehard fans who benefit from, and thus will enthusiastically support, your work.
- You work will have the greatest impact and produce the most positive change if it’s targeted to members of your tribe, i.e., to people who share similar attitudes, experiences, interests, and perspectives as you and who behave in similar ways as you (“people like us do things like this”).
- Every time somebody voluntarily withdraws from your list, the tribe of people who truly want to hear from you becomes that much tighter and more defined, and that’s nothing but a good thing.
If you’re looking for more awesomeness from Seth regarding building your tribe, check out his recent Akimbo episode, “Shun the non-believers”.
I also recommend reading Kevin Kelly’s famous essay, “1,000 True Fans”.
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