Build it and they still might not come: the importance of building an audience

The flipside of any content marketing strategy should be audience development, says Jeffrey K. Rohrs, author and vice president of marketing insights at ExactTarget, US-based digital marketing consultancy. You can’t have one without the other, yet audience development is so often overlooked in content marketing efforts. 

“You can’t build it and they will come,” Rohrs said at Tech Marketing 360 in California, where he spoke on the audience as asset.

Now that competition for attention is so fierce from all angles, the simple fact of publication of content is not a guarantee of success.

“You can get an audience by buying it, building it, or earning it. Our balance is off right now between these three things,” Rohrs says. “And there’s a competitive advantage if you can figure out the last two.”

Audiences can and should be quantified as an asset. When Netflix tried to introduce the poorly received Qwixter service for example, it lost 3.2 percent of its subscriber-base, which translated to a 78 percent reduction in market cap on Wall Street. Rohrs says examples like this and the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook for US$16 billion illustrate the fact that we already attach a value to audience, but marketers need to start proving it to c-level executives to get them to invest in it.

Another way to look at it, according to Rohrs, is to quantify the value of audience incentives. If you offer $5 off a purchase for every email subscription and have a database of 10,000 subscribers, your audience is worth at least $50,000.

Rohrs’ other main points:

  • It’s not enough to build an audience, you’ve got to maintain it. Organisations aren’t effectively retaining audiences from the “last great thing” they achieved. Attention must be constantly earned with great content.  
  • Audience development should be institutionalised. Organisations should invest in audience development directorates, armed with a horizontal purview across social and content touchpoints. “We need to invest as much in building audiences as in creating content.”
  • Paid, owned and earned media should not only sell in the short term, but increase the size, engagement and value of proprietary audiences over the long term. Rohrs says few organisations are doing this well. It’s not just the click or the sale that should be the goal of paid media, it should be the beginning of a long term relationship with a subscription or follow. 
  • Audience diversification: don’t put all your eggs in one social media basket. Google and Facebook can and have changed algorithms and therefore the passage for your relationship to the audience, and they could do it again. So diversify to build and maintain your audience.
  • Audience size isn’t just a number. It’s relative to your industry.

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