Writing for customers versus an audience

Content producers who try to please everyone all the time are doomed to mediocrity. To some extent you must pick your audience and address them, and to hell with the rest.

Easier said than done. I confess: after writing about black lives matter for PainScience.com last month, I suffered some major entrepreneurial squeamishness. I’m under financial pressure for the first time in years; business is poor right now, and likely to get worse. It was all too easy to imagine that showing my political stripes might cost me some sales, at a time when I am acutely aware of them all. Customers who share my values aren’t going to fail to buy if there’s nothing about social justice on PainScience.com… but a clear position statement might well drive away some customers on the other side of the political chasm. “Good riddance,” I wrote. But is that how I actually feel?

Customers aren’t friends, and most of them are more anonymous to me than if I was selling them a tank of gas. As long as I don’t have to break bread with them, I’m happy to take their money. It spends like anyone else’s.

And the “audience” for my writing is a much broader group than my customers. It’s a nice idea to only take money from people I would like, but that’s not a principle that many of us can afford to stand on. It’s extremely rare for businesses to put a sign on their door that plainly says, “Half of all customers please piss off, we don’t like your kind in here.”