STORY + AUDIENCE with Jill Golick & Annelise Larson

Episode 102: The Power of Specificity

April 21, 2020 Jill Golick & Annelise Larson Season 1 Episode 2
STORY + AUDIENCE with Jill Golick & Annelise Larson
Episode 102: The Power of Specificity
Show Notes Transcript

In this second episode, screenwriter Jill Golick and strategist Annelise Larson discuss the power of specificity and how it can help increase the authenticity of your story and the effectiveness of your audience development/marketing. Annelise also gives Jill and the listeners homework and a process that will help segment specific audiences for a story.

Examples mentioned in this episode:
New book by Greta Thunberg’s mother
#IWDFCFBATK (I Would Die for Claire from Bon Appetit Test Kitchen)
Ruby Skye PI
Mr Robot
Hannah Gadsby's Nanette

Find more about Jill at
And more about Annelise at

Or reach us both at
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Jill Golick:   0:03
Welcome to STORY + AUDIENCE, a podcast about creating stories that connect deeply with audiences.

Annelise Larson:   0:15
And using that connection to build a long term career as a storyteller.

Jill Golick:   0:20
I'm Jill Golick. I'm a screenwriter and digital creator.

Annelise Larson:   0:24
I'm Annelise Larson. I work in digital marketing and strategy for media. In this episode, we're going to be talking about the power of the specific and why niche audiences are often key to finding success for your story. So, Jill, I'd like to turn the spotlight on the audience and ourselves as audience members. Can you think of a recent example of something where you have witnessed or been part of an audience that has had a connection to a story?

Jill Golick:   0:57
Okay, so I want to ask you, have you ever heard of this hashtag? #IWDFCFBATK? Well, it stands for I would die for Claire from Bon Appetite Test Kitchen, Claire Saffitz. She has one of these Bon Appetit, YouTube video series that's called Gourmet Makes and every episode they present Claire with some, like Skittles or Kit Kat bars or Oreos, and her job is to deconstruct the candy and then make it again from scratch, and poor Claire suffers through the whole thing, but she perseveres and finally succeeds. And what's so interesting is that the Bon Appetite's  YouTube channel has really evolved in the last couple of years. It used to be these videos, just you wouldn't even see anyone's face. You just see hands perfectly executing a very difficult recipe, and it was very recipe oriented. And then more recently Bon Appetite has found this incredible success in much longer videos that are more about the process and the trial and error of cooking, in which the so-called experts' personalities really come through. And it's more like watching a friend cook. And I think, you know, audiences, including me, are really relating to the trial and error to the process of cooking. I have a lot of difficulty in the kitchen, and so this is super relatable for me and for Bon Appetit this has really led to a lot of success because their subscription rates are skyrocketing.

Annelise Larson:   2:47
There's this portemanteau, I don't usually like them. You know where they squish a couple of words together, but this is it still resonates. This one still seems to work It's flawesome,  which combines flawed with awesome. We as humans tend to respond more deeply emotionally to things that feel more authentic because there's a failure involved. It's a bit more rough around the edges that allows us to have a deeper emotional connection to it than something that is polished and perfect and seems to never achieve that kind of perfection. So I think that flawesome idea, which really has to do with authenticity and humanity and allowing you know, your story, Claire's story connect to real people because she's a real person.

Jill Golick:   3:39
In the days of a mass media and old media, we were faced with lots of experts and people who did things perfectly. And I think one of the hallmarks of this new audience focused creative pursuit is we want to give people real people, and we see that hunger for real people in the audience is seemed to really respond well

Annelise Larson:   4:04
For me as well, I had an experience where  encountered, a story that triggered a very sort of visceral emotional response in me. I just read this article in The Guardian that waas the excerpt of a book that Greta Thunberg's family has written. Now, ordinarily I've been avoiding these kinds of stories because I know I'm just feeling really overwhelmed by the helplessness and sometimes hopelessness I feel around climate change. But for whatever reason, this excerpt, which was from the mother's perspective, made me curious to know more about this young woman. And it was very much a deep dive into the heart of their family when both their kids but Greta in particular, were going through massive struggles with their mental and physical health. And, you know, having been a mother of kids that have had some big struggles of their own, especially around anxiety. It was like a punch in the gut, like it just resonated so deeply and specifically with my lived experience that not only did I read the whole article, which was substantial, but also I'm really curious about the book now, and there's a very good chance that I will purchase it.

Jill Golick:   5:27
Well, I mean, I don't think I personally have felt any emotion stronger than my mother emotions towards my child's well being. I think that's like THE most powerful feeling like I've ever felt, and that's an amazing connection to come in on and a way to connect to people. I think cooking frustrations is a little bit lighter. And yet both those kind of true feelings do create that passion in the audience. It's a way of pulling the audience in. So let's just move on and talk a little bit more about how we go about evoking these kinds of passionate responses in audiences. And I I think you know the first question for me is ,what are we really saying when we use the word niche audience? 

Annelise Larson:   6:19
I think it's about specific. When we've talked in the past about mass culture or monoculture, mass media. There is this kind of trying to appeal to everyone, right, the the lowest common denominator, the broadest appeal that we can make. But what we're finding more and more as our culture becomes more and more splintered and we're experiencing it and getting access to it in so many different places and ways that that broad appeal just doesn't work in the same way anymore. That it is the power of specific audiences, specific lived experiences, specific points of view that allow us to elicit more authentic and deeper emotional responses in our audiences. And I would say that those audiences, those are niche those aren't monoculture trying to appeal to everyone at once. You may reach a broader audience eventually, but definitely there is that specificity that is key to having initial appeal to your story.

Jill Golick:   7:28
So a few years ago, I made a web series called Ruby Sky PI, which is about a tween girl who solves mystery in her neighbourhood. And if I was pitching it to television, I would expect that it was a tween show for tween audience is with a heavy demographic of girls. And when I got on the internet and released the show, what floored me was that that's not who watched it. I could look very closely at my demographics and see the ages and genders of the people who are watching it. And I would also get emails from people who were in university or who remembered Ghost Writer. So they were in a much older and harkened back to the TV shows that they watched in the eighties for sure. On television, we would assume that it would be a dominant girl audience, and yet I look at my stats. And on YouTube it was 60/40 guys watching. That really surprised me when I got to look at those stats. That old demographic kind of thing is kind of a false way of looking at things. Would you agree? 

Annelise Larson:   8:33
Oh, absolutely. In the work that I do for teaching, I always challenge my students. I say, Okay, describe your audience, but you're not allowed to use gender, and you're not allowed to use age ranges to define the. Because that really is part of that older model where people were trying to prove that their story had broad appeal. And so looking at great swathes of the population in terms of gender and age ranges was the way that you would sell it to a network. But today, you know when you're actually trying to build a strategy for audience development,  again it's almost like that polished, perfect story that we're talking about. There's nothing kind of there to really grab on to, like, even if you're just looking at, say, this story is going to appeal to all women between the ages of 18 and 25. But there are so many different kinds of people within that broad demographic like, How do you appeal to that audience? You can't.  Now you may identify, you know, an audience, and after you sort of figured out who it is, you may find that it skews a certain way, skews a certain gende, skews a certain age, but you can't start there. You really have to think about, what is it that people care about? Where is that emotional connection going to come from? And I mean, there's lots of examples we mentioned last time. There are genres that people get really excited about, like sci fi and fantasy. We need to redefine the way that we think about our target audience is, and it has to start with what they care about.

Jill Golick:   10:09
Well, I guess that hint is who in your audience would wear the jersey that has your logo, your story's logo on it?  You know who's going to use the hashtag that says I would die for Claire? That's who you need in your corner from the very beginning. We talked about Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Pride and Prejudice or of Little Women or Game of Thrones. Yeah, I remember you telling me a story about a show that featured airplanes and the vintage airplane enthusiasts were the ones who were really actively drawn to that show.

Annelise Larson:   10:47
 What's even crazier with that particular example, it wasn't even just vintage airplane enthusiasts. It was people who loved a very, very specific kind of plane. And had very strong feelings about unauthentic portrayal of how that airplane would function.

Jill Golick:   11:09
Right. But in that example, we are talking about quite a small audience, which sometimes true. But niche is not a synonym for small. It means a group of people who share a passion. And it could be quite a large passion. 

Annelise Larson:   11:25
Yeah, if you're looking at, say, the LGBTQ you audience, that actually covers a wide swath of people. But they tend to be very political. They tend to be very vocal about representation within all the segments within that community. And so, even though technically yes, it's a niche audience, it still could be a very broad niche audience.

Jill Golick:   11:49
Well, and I think for that particular audience, there has historically been such a hunger to see themselves mirrored authentically in the media. So that's another key to ia niche audiences, underrepresented where they haven't seen themselves so much on television or on screens recently. Still, should we move on to the specific detail in the way that detail helps us connect to our niches?

Annelise Larson:   12:19
Yes, when you're thinking specific in terms of audience. But I would say also yes, in terms of specificity and story. When I was reading Greta's mom's story, she described one meal because Greta was really struggling with eating at that point and the minutia that she included in detail about this one meal where Greata ate five gnocchi, was through its specificity very, very powerful. So when we're thinking of either audience or story, that specificity, which is really what we're talking about when we're talking about niche, allows for a much deeper sense of authenticity and a deeper sense of emotional connection.

Jill Golick:   13:03
We as mothers often feel a sense of failure when our child makes choices, eating choices that are less than healthy and and yet it's a shared experience, and it's it's almost dangerous or embarrassing to say something like that out loud and in public. And yet I feel like as a writer when you feel that moment of danger, when you're afraid to say something because it reveals a little bit too much about yourself, where it cuts a little too close to the bone. That feeling of it being dangerous is actually the hint that you're on to something thing that will connect with people. That is a truth. And so I always I look for that moment where I'm hesitant to write something down or to say it out loud. I go, okay, maybe that's a truth. Maybe that's something I should be sharing with other people because it will resonate with them the way it's scary for me. 

Annelise Larson:   14:02
I love that. I love that sense of danger as you get close to the truth. Providing that for an audience allows for these really deep emotional responses. It's not just, you know, you smile, that's kind of funny, or it irritates me, those kinds of emotions. We're talking about big emotions, ones where you're like sobbing, you can't help it or you get so you're laughing so hard you pee your pants. You know it's those big emotions that you can only reach through specificity in your story to allow your audience to connect with it deeply.

Jill Golick:   14:41
I think those big emotions are great, but not every storyworld is gonna produce them right away. I think  about Mr Robot, that TV series that just ended its five year run and it's about a hacker. And I think the hacker community and the knowledgeable software engineers loved the show because the detail was correct. If you freeze frame on a page of coding on the screen, as many many people in the Reddit forums did, the code was exactly right. And finding those little moments of authenticity is also a way to connect powerfully with a niche who is not used to being on screen.

Annelise Larson:   15:24
Being true to your characters and the world in which they live, as we know, you know, seeing ourselves on screen, seeing our lived experience in a story is where you have that strong response when people have taken the care to put that specific detail into a story. You're being seen, you know, even if a hacker code.

Jill Golick:   15:47
Right. So then let me revise then and say that being seen is powerful enough to connect to the audience.

Annelise Larson:   15:56
Yeah, especially if they've never been they never felt that they've been seen before.

Jill Golick:   16:01
And then again, you know, most niches are underrepresented when we think of the niche as mothers who worry about what their child eats or like you don't you don't see those aspects of yourself so often. And so that's a great thing to tap into. 

Annelise Larson:   16:18
Yeah, and I think when we feel seen, we want to not just share it to share a great story, but also to share it, to share something about ourselves. That's where you start to reach beyond your initial target audience. Because using someone else's story to tell my own is a safer way to do that.

Jill Golick:   16:40
Well, I get I guess that's why all those fans of Claire on YouTube sent me her videos and wanted me to watch, right? So those audiences who first connect to it become the first fans, and then they try and spread it, which is, of course, part of what we're after here. Anyway, the cool thing that I see in specificity is that it actually translates really well to the global audience, because when the first fan sends it to you and you watch this thing and you see how authentic it is, you respond to it because. When I went to Paris, it was one thing to go to the Louvre, but it was a completely different experience to get invited into a native Parisian's home for dinner. And that's the story I talk about is because I felt like I was getting this really special, authentic experience that was much different than being a normal tourist. I was pulled into a real world, and I think that's what global audiences find in the specific is that you recognize that you're in something real and you're getting that insider look.

Annelise Larson:   17:55
I think also, you know, when we look at say, another story that I had a really strong emotional response to was because it was different than my experience. Was Hannah Gadsby's special on Netflix. My god, that was a powerful. It was so raw and honest and authentic and, you know, made me laugh & like all those big emotions. But even though it wasn't mine in her authenticity, here's this lesbian from Tasmania who felt invisible most of her life, and now she has a global stage through digital platforms through her current tour. She's able to take this story all over the world, and I think it's because she was so authentic and specific to her own experience, even though it's not mine. I recognize and honour, the gift that she has given me through the authenticity and specificity of her story. Yeah, I would die for Hannah Gadsby. Where's that hashtag?

Jill Golick:   18:57
So then there's the downside of being inauthentic and what happens when you missed the boat and you're revealed to be a faker? There's a show on Netflix called Bonding. That's about the kink community, which I was planning to watch until a member of that community said "That show is terrible. I feel exploited by it. It got all the details wrong." So I was like out.

Annelise Larson:   19:25
Yeah, well, I  watched it before I knew that, you know, I watched it and thought it was great because I didn't know. I'm not from that world. So I didn't know, I thought. And again here's a glimpse into another world that was not part of my lived experience. But, you know, it was funny. It was entertaining and then started to see these very painful discussions online from people who were part of that community who felt not only misrepresented but that the misrepresentation was incredibly dangerous. In some ways I got an education through the story of the backlash, which I wouldn't have had if Bonding didn't exist,

Jill Golick:   20:04
Right? A lack of authenticity is kind of the kiss of death now. People really, really pay attention to whether it's authentic, they look at who wrote it and who directed it. And, you know, I think that that is how many people in the audience feel now. They want their story told to them by someone who has authentic authority to tell that story,

Annelise Larson:   20:30
Or who has at least has collaborated in an honest way with those who do.

Jill Golick:   20:35
OK, so shall we talk about what we conduce you to figure out who the niche audiences are that might resonate with our current work, the homework for this week.

Annelise Larson:   20:48
Yeah, so I last week I asked you to look at your catalogue of projects on the go and started this process of actually thinking about who is going to resonate with these stories the most, so I want to not surprisingly this week ask you to get specific. Take one project one story, and I've got three questions that I use with my students to help them start to surface who's going to care about this story the most. Now, these will not necessarily apply to every single story and every single project, but it gives you a way to start. The other thing I do is well, when I'm sort of building out a strategy for a story, is to try to find at least three niches because you know you can't aim everything in just one direction. I think it's good to have a few. So three seems to be a really good number of niches to start with. So, looking at a story, answer these following questions. The first question is, who is in it? So who do they represent?

Jill Golick:   21:56
So who will look at the screen and see it as a mirror of themselves.

Annelise Larson:   22:01
Really think about who the characters are, what cultures they come from, what stage they are in their life, what is their job. You know all of those things that will lead to that moment of recognition we've been talking about.

Jill Golick:   22:14
But also what is their emotional journey.  When we first construct our characters we think about what they want and what they need and what's driving them through the story. And sometimes you know you're taking your character on a specific arc like from believing that they don't need anyone like a sense of independence to being able to love someone. So it may be that it's the emotional makeup of the character or the subject of the show that is, will be the defining feature.

Annelise Larson:   22:49
So first question is, Who is in it? Who do they represent? What is their emotional journey? Should we add that one? Second, does it belong to a specific, beloved genre? When I say that there are some genres (romantic comedy, drama) that don't really have an instant, passionate fan base that comes attached with them, right? Typically, these beloved genres are the focus of different fan conventions. Horror scifi fantasy thriller. Those kinds of genres tend to be the ones that have that shortcut to audience. You know that even within those there often sub genres. If you're writing genre and you are unfamiliar with the site TVtropes. org, it's a great place to find those sub genres within those bigger headings of horror. The goal is to try to slice it thinner and thinner until you get to like the heart of what that genre appeal would be.

Jill Golick:   23:52
OK, And then there's number three.

Annelise Larson:   23:54
Yeah, so then we look. We're looking, really it starting to tease apart the story. So we got the the people. We've got the genre, then really take a look at your story. What are the core issues? Themes? Is there a specific topic like climate change, for example. Is that part of its narrative? A setting? Does it happen in a specific time and place? Is is representative of a certain culture? Topics around which there already gathering online. There's already conversations happening. There are already communities forming.

Jill Golick:   24:27
There's a group for every medical issue and for a lot, a lot of things. So one way to think about this is actually the look at what you subscribe to, what kind of topics you follow, right? What groups you you join because of an interest and a passion. And sort of think okay, where would I go to find out more about the interests of this character? Or if I'm a fan of this specific genre or the philosophy or themes that underlie the work. So those are the three  though, character, genre and theme, or underlying philosophy. And those are the things that you know we want to be thinking about talking about in early development work on any story. And if you're creating a story bible for a TV series or any kind of a series, those will be sections that you'll have and they are so so those ideas should already be surfacing. And then they are hints to who your first fans are.

Annelise Larson:   25:37
Obviously, like I said, not every project, not every story is going to be able to answer these questions. You're not working on a genre film, so the answer to that question is no. And then you need to move on. But you need to find answers for at least you know, one or two of these. And if you can't, perhaps it's time to work on another story,

Jill Golick:   25:58
Or to build in more specificity. But really, in this assignment, what we're looking for is to tease out three distinct audiences, and these are techniques for finding them in the work. There may be, you may know that there are other audiences that would be interested in coming or you may already know what they are. But to just start the process with three of them.

Annelise Larson:   26:25
And DON'T use gender and don't use age ranges is to describe your target audiences. Try to put that as a second tier. Once you figured out who those niches are, then you can start adding those things back into the mix. But it needs to start with these things that people care about. That's what's gonna bring them to your story.

Jill Golick:   26:50
All right, awesome. 

Annelise Larson:   26:56
So that's all for this time. If you found this helpful and want to add value to your audience, please share it, rate  and subscribe.

Jill Golick:   27:01
And if you want to reach Annelise or know more about her, check out her website,  Sounds like a synonym for truth so it's right on brand today.

Annelise Larson:   27:20
And you can check out Jill at

Jill Golick:   27:31
And you can reach both of us at story plus audience at gmail dot com and you've got to spell out that plus, P L U S. Because gmail does not allow you to have the symbol for plus in your email address. I'm Jill Golick.

Annelise Larson:   27:48
I'm Annelise Larson. Thanks for listening. Now go listen to your audience.