What’s an Audience?

*Guest post from Wunderkind Account Executive Michael Di Leo

Audiences are the masses. Audiences are people. Audiences are groups of people that share similar qualities. Audiences are distinct sets of individuals who think along the same lines. Audiences are individuals who fit into precisely one of 68 segments, distinguished by their demographics, lifestyle, and consumption patterns.

Audiences are projections of the “individual”.

As marketers, we care deeply about our audiences – finding them, knowing them, catering to them. But we often overlook the fact that “audience”, like “individual”, is in fact a loaded term, full of cultural bias.

What does it mean to have a distinct identity? This may seem like a simple question – aren’t we all individuals?

Though it’s strange to believe, the concept of “individuals” did not always exist. Our recent ancestors viewed themselves and their place in the world through a different lens. Every person was unique, that goes without saying, but it wasn’t until just a few centuries ago that Western culture began delineating and emphasizing the existence of individual subjects (read: within us) who operated as part of a larger system.

It may sound strange but just think about how you might describe yourself, say when you’re meeting a date for the first time. There are criteria we use to self-identify to an astounding degree. These criteria, and how we stack up, are conflated with our notion of identity. In other words, we actively construct our identity, our place in this world, in relation to the forces around us. Those forces are what social theorists refer to as the dominant discourse.

Bringing this back to the topic at hand, it follows that our identity is a constantly evolving pastiche, a result of the ongoing performative communications choices we make. That I choose to “Like” an indie band on Facebook is a communications choice, in that it communicates something about myself. That I am writing about this topic, yet another.

These communications all fit neatly into a narrative of myself. I can be, for all intents and purposes, “read” or “identified”. I am a social subject of our particular discourse.

When we talk about audiences, we are intuitively extracting from our subconscious understanding of this discourse. We are hailing “individuals” that live and behave in our minds. Marketing is about understanding and feeding off the differences between individuals while simultaneously strengthening their connection to a perceived identity.

The best marketing makes you feel closer to your version of you. The best marketing knows what “group” you are a part of.

Because in the end, audiences are a construct. Audiences do not exist.