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Building Your Audience Isn’t Magic

San Fransisco, August 14th, 1921 —
A young Hungarian man had just rolled into town and was eager to let everyone know he had arrived. He needed to make friends with the press and he had an idea of how to make this happen.

Later that day, he walked into a building, climbed seven flights of stairs, put on a straightjacket, and promptly threw himself out of a window.

A little dramatic, yes, but the man wanted press. So he didn’t jump out of just any window, and he didn’t jump out of just any building — he jumped out of the window of the newspaper offices.

The next day, thanks to every journalist reporting their first-hand account, every person in San Fransisco knew the man’s name. Later that night, the man performed more magic tricks — this time to a sold-out crowd.

Fast-forward a hundred years and the name Harry Houdini is still the first association people make when they hear the word “magician” — for good reason; few people have done it better.

But don’t let Houdini fool you — as good as he was at magic, he was even better at selling newspapers.

Houdini was a master of deception. However, he was also a master at building an audience and driving sales. While most entertainers sat on the corner and performed tricks for every Tom, Dick and Sally in each new town they visited, hoping “word of mouth” would spread, Houdini took the time to identify the mouths that could speed up the process.

When others went general, Houdini got specific, and by doing so, ironically, his influence grew.

However, identifying his target audience was not the only thing Houdini took the time to do before throwing himself out the window. He also mapped out ways in which he could make their lives easier.

If you want to sell your products or services, it becomes much easier if you target the people who are already looking for them. Houdini understood this. As a result, he gave the press the one thing any journalist worth their stones always wants — a story.

Identifying your desired audience, then making their lives easier, put these things together and you have Houdini’s magic potion for growing his audience.

The good news is you can pull off the same trick.

Most people today want to make a dent in this world and have their work make a difference — it happens by identifying the ideal someone. Most influencers agree with this — “find your 1000 true fans,” in the words of Kevin Kelly.

The beauty of the world we live in today is that we don’t have to jump out of any windows to find our audience. They are a click away and, to quote Mr. Kelly again, “As far as I can tell there is nothing — no product, no idea, no desire — without a fan base on the internet.”

That means that the key to unlocking your influence is to stake your small piece of land and plant your flag. Then when your audience comes grazing, do whatever you can to make sure they leave well-fed.

In short, if you want to influence people, your job is to leave each person better than you found them. This is how you win attention. This is how you gain trust. This is how you move people towards the change you seek to make.

And this becomes much easier if you identify someone, instead of trying to please everyone.

The odds are high that you are good at what you do, but not so good you can’t be ignored. Hell, Houdini was that good, yet with each new city he visited, he still lugged a straightjacket up seven flights of stairs and hung himself out of a window.

He did this because he knew it would work. Because that August day, in 1921 San Fransisco, was the not the first time he had done it. In 1915, he did it for the first time in in Kansas City, and over the next decade, he did it again and again as he made his way across America.

Houdini was the world’s greatest magician. Houdini was also the world’s greatest newspaper salesman. But this was because Houdini was the world’s greatest tinkerer. For years he struggled to make a name for himself. He did card tricks on the street. He swallowed needles in front of people who passed him by. In each of these attempts he failed to get his name to spread.

What made Houdini, “Houdini,” was he never considered himself a failure; he adopted the mindset of a “tinkerer” — he knew with each failure, he would get closer to success.

Most people want their work to been seen by the masses. However, most people aren’t willing to do the work. They aren’t patient enough to work out who they are best positioned to serve and they aren’t determined and consistent enough to uncover how their best offering can help move the right people in the direction they want them to go.

If that is you, you have two options:

  1. You can be like most people, and play it safe by aiming for everyone, hoping you hit someone.
  2. You can be unlike most people and make a stand by putting your voice in front of the people who are waiting to hear your words.

I suggest not being like most people. Instead, I recommend following Houdini and take the time to identify your audience. Then taking it one step further by making their lives better for knowing you.

Seth Godin got it dead right — “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”

Remember: magic always has a secret and, more times than not, it looks a lot like hard work.

Thank you for reading.
My best to you and yours.
— Michael

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