Every creator of virtually anything must at some point decide who they are creating for, themselves or their audience. In many cases, the ‘who factor’ begins with a focus on the self and a secondary focus on others. As the art, work, or product progresses, who factor almost inevitably changes. Determining who gets top priority can be a sticking point, but it doesn’t have to be hard to figure out. The one thing you cannot do is skip the ‘who.’
Artists often create for themselves. If you possess no ambition around your art being consumed by others, you can be your own ‘who,’ but if you want to see others connect with your art and consume it, you have to put others first. What are their needs? What do they care about? What is on their minds? How do these relate to your message or aim?
This is why Kickstarter campaigns succeed or fail. If it’s all about you, few will be able to connect with your cause or art. In essence, they won’t care because you didn’t create for their needs. But if you present something relevant to people’s needs, concerns, and desires, you’ll have a winner. Those who put the audience benefit first, while maintaining their own vision, can succeed.
I began as an author by writing exclusively for myself, and as long as I never wanted anyone else to read my writing, that approach worked fine. In fact, I amassed some 900 or so songs, a novel, and a nonfiction book in this manner, but then something changed.
As I started writing a book simply for the fact that I could earn college credit for it, I began as usual, writing for myself. When it came time to delve into research, the facts were not just alarming but disturbing. Suddenly, a huge shift occurred in my focus, as the work became about helping others. The audience breadth opened up, and I began making more content connections than I had ever imagined. My own understanding increased, and as a result the work became more valuable to other people.
The great benefit of making art is in opening figurative or literal doors for others. Along the way, it is almost inevitable that you will open similar doors for yourself. It’s easy to consider the needs of others when you are creating something important to share, even if the effort may be harder.
What you are creating – art, clothing, food, furniture, technology – matters less than who you are creating it for. If you are creating solely for yourself, you can keep the priority. If you intend to share it, audience needs come first.
Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.
Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.