How Brands Should Approach Audience Development

The concept of audience development started within the arts. Theater and other performing arts companies developed tactics they used to attract new ticket buyers, typically from demographics that did not attend these types of performances. This concept has been adopted by media companies as they sought to increase readership, and now by brands from all verticals who are seeking to adopt the editorial processes and traffic growth strategies of major online publications.

The Art Council of England developed a very good definition of audience development:

“The term Audience Development describes activity which is undertaken specifically to meet the needs of existing and potential audiences and to help arts [and cultural] organisations to develop on-going relationships with audiences. It can include aspects of marketing, commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution.”

When I first read this definition, the words “develop on-going relationships with audiences” struck me, because audience development in the context of the marketing field typically focuses on website traffic, not relationship building.

Audience development within the context of a media company traditionally focuses on traffic growth. Through a combination of tactics – paid media, content syndication, SEO, etc. – publications seek to drive as many visits as possible to their content. The more visits they get, the more ad revenue they generate. It makes sense for their business model.

While this makes sense for media companies given their business model, this does not make sense for most brands. Increased visits to a website can be good for brand recognition, but consumers typically don’t buy products or services after one read of a product page. The sales cycle is longer if you are trying to get someone to purchase a TV or life insurance than if you want someone to read about the latest developments in the budget debates in Congress.

Tactically, brands should adopt what media companies are doing to build their audience, but the their strategic goals need to focus on audience engagement and retention. A bounced visit to a media brand is still an ad impression. A bounced visit to a product company means the loss of a potential customer.

Don’t go for the short win with your audience development strategy, and don’t focus on just the amount of traffic you drive. Take a bigger picture approach and look at what level of engagement you are driving from each audience group you are targeting content to, and the success you are having in converting those individuals into customers, members, supporters, etc.

The Role of Human Identity in Customer Experience Design

I don’t talk about this much, but about this time three years ago I was homeless for a few months. For various reasons – mainly that I was trying to go at it on my own as a consultant with not enough business to live off of – I found myself nearly broke and sleeping on a friend’s couch when I was actually able to get into his place.

My bank at the time decided they didn’t want to do business with me anymore because my account was overdrawn a few times. I remember pleading with the assistant manager not to close my account because I had a wire transfer coming in, but he had made up his mind. During that conversation, he said something to me that stuck to this day:

“…why are you fighting to do business with a company that doesn’t want to do business with you? There are plenty of other banks that would be happy to give you an account.”

When I look back on that event in my life, I realize that I found a piece of myself in that bank. It wasn’t just an account to me. I had been with that bank for a few years. I opened my first business account with them. The manager at the branch I opened my account at in DC would always chat with me about the DC Latin culture when I went in for transactions. I associated that bank with an important part of my identity – my finances.

But, he was right. I walked down the street and opened another account with a bank and it was great. I had a better experience with them than with my previous bank and recommend them to friends to this day.

In that experience I learned a lesson about human identity. We seek validation of who we are in other people and other things. Our friends, family, and coworkers provide social validation that makes us feel secure in our gender, skills, knowledge, etc. It’s not a bad thing, it’s human nature. We need social validation in the same way we need air and water.

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Put people at the center of content strategy – The Common Theme of Confab 2013

This is cross-posted on the 4Site Studios blog

Eight days after Confab 2013, and I have finally come down from my conference high. The conference was insightful to say the least – it is by far the best industry conference I have ever attended. This past week, I have sifted through notes, read recommended articles and reports, replayed in my mind all the thought-provoking presenter one-liners, and had many a conversation about the value of things like content “chunking” versus “blobbing”…the usual things you do when you come back from a conference feeling equipped with the knowledge you need to change the world.

I had a moment, as I sat down to write this post, where I asked myself “why does any of this matter?” There seemed to be something missing in all my thoughts and ideas after Confab. It all seemed very…tactical. I felt like I was missing a larger theme that timed all of these topics together.

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It’s just Facebook

Early last year, a former colleague at Hill Holliday and I had an interesting conversation about Dunbar’s Number. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it is the result of an anthropological study that showed, on average, a person cannot manage more than 150 personal relationships at a time. That is a high level recap, and I suggest researching it more. It’s rather fascinating.

He told me that he actively tries to keep his friend list on Facebook under 150 friends by removing people he doesn’t interact with every month or so. His rationale, rooted in Dunbar’s Number, intrigued me, so I adopted this practice for the past year as an unstructured experiment.

My general criteria for whether I kept someone was:

1. I had to genuinely be interested in knowing what is happening in that person’s life.

2. We had to have been in contact within the past 60 days via any type of communication, online or offline. I even included a person liking or commenting on one of my posts or vice versa.

3. My memory of the last interaction with the person had to be a positive one, and I had to feel like we would be in contact again.

I, at the time, had 1,200+ friends on Facebook. In an hour I cut the list down to about 220. Over the next day, as I periodically looked through my friend list, I asked myself the hard question: “is this person really my friend?” This allowed me to slim the list down to 180.

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3 simple things your online ads need to do

While doing research for part 2 of a blog series I am writing on emerging trends in digital, and I came across this BusinessWeek post on the pros and cons of banner ads. I was stumped when I tried to answer the first question posed by Derek Thompson: “…name the last two ads you viewed online”.

A couple of thoughts crossed my mind:

  1. I clearly recall seeing ads from the Human Rights Campaign because it is a brand I am familiar with,  and I actively try to pay attention to the way nonprofits are promoting their causes.
  2. I did see an Adobe banner ad somewhere on the internet in the past hour, but I cannot remember what it was for.
  3. When I take off my digital strategist hat and think about times when I use the web for personal reasons, I cannot think of a time in recent months when I have clicked on an online ad.

I typically find ads to be irrelevant. Apparently, I am not the only one. A little dated, but research from Crowd Science found that more than 50% of people interviewed are annoyed by irrelevant ads, and, regardless of relevance, 27% of people flat out ignore them.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing advertising. Heck, I work in advertising, so that would be just silly of me to do. I do, though, feel like most advertising lacks relevance, and is therefore useless.

The other day, while watching The Following on On Demand, I could not fast forward through commercials. Some ridiculous car commercial aired, I can’t even remember for what brand, and I had to ask myself whether people ever make a decision to purchase a product because a commercial made them chuckle. The commercial provided me little to no information about the product. It apparently didn’t even leave enough of an impression for me to remember the brand it was promoting.

When I think back to the commercials that did motivate me to make a purchase, they were commercials that, in some creative way, showed me how the product will add value to my life. Some products I feel do this well are:

  1. Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  2. Apple Macbook
  3. Google Nexus 7
  4. CapitalOne credit cards
  5. Acura

Your online ads should always do the following:

  1. Provide a clear opportunity that matches up to consumer intent
  2. Demonstrate utility in meeting the needs of the consumer
  3. Entertain enough that the experience is memorable

Anything less than that and your shouldn’t waste the media spend.