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.

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

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.

The Changing Digital Landscape pt.1 – All Content is Created Equal

This post was originally published on the 4Site Studios blog

Last week, I had a discussion with one of my fellow panelists from last month’s NetSquared DC event “What’s on the Horizon for 2013”. She said she wished I had more time to delve into the six points I made in my presentation, so I decided to turn them into a blog series.

My “predictions” for 2013 and beyond are driven by a few larger trends happening in marketing and business. The world is becoming a more connected place, with mobile driving internet accessibility. The Pew Internet and Family Project reports that 45% of adults in the US own smart phones, and 55% of adult cell phone owners access the internet via their mobile device. Layer on top of that the exponential growth in the number of consumers accessing the internet through connected devices, such as TV’s, game consoles, tablets, etc., and that people will soon access the internet in their cars, on their watch, and even in the shower.  Gone are the days where you are restricted to accessing the internet via a desktop computer. The internet is everywhere. Enter the Web of Things.

Consumers don’t see the internet as something that is tied to a specific digital device. Recent studies show that most teens and young adults do not see the a difference between accessing the internet via their laptop and mobile phone. The internet is the internet, no matter where you access it. This concept is very disruptive to marketing.

Continue reading The Changing Digital Landscape pt.1 – All Content is Created Equal

Emerging Trends in Digital for 2013 and Beyond

Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the NetSquared DC Meetup with Colin Delany, Suzanne Turner, and Lawrence Swiader. The panel, titled “What’s on the Horizon for 2013”, covered broad strokes what the emerging trends are in digital marketing, design and technology that organizations, mainly nonprofits, should be paying attention to in the coming year.

I put together a short presentation to highlight some trends I think will be key in the evolution of the social sector as digital becomes a bigger part of the work nonprofits are doing to better communities.

Below are my slides from the event.


To sum up the trends I see happening:

All content is created equal

Traditionally, organizations have followed a “hub and spoke” model for their content strategy, creating a bunch of content on their website and using paid and earned media to drive traffic to that content. It is becoming increasingly harder to do that as people spend more and more of their time on social media platforms. It’s no longer about creating a funnel to drive people where you want them to be, you need to engage people where they are.

Organizations should approach content creation keeping in mind that the content they drive on external websites (i.e. social media platforms) is just as important as content created on their own domain. With that in mind, organizations should begin to design brand experiences that drive desired actions on the platforms where they are engaging people.

Content is now paid media

Content drives social media. Publishing good content generates engagement. Seems simple enough, right?

The one thing organizations do not have much control over is reach – getting their posts in front of their audience. With statistics coming out on the general reach of social media posts on Facebook and other social platforms, it is becoming increasingly apparent that social media lacks efficiency in getting key messages in front of your target audience, unlike email, SMS, and paid media.

Social platforms are offering brands the opportunity to increase their reach and engagement by paying to promote key pieces of content to their audience. This is creating an interesting paradigm where organizations need to approach content creation like media buyers, planning for real time activation of content through paid media as trends in engagement with your content emerge.

Designing for mobile is not enough

Often when we think about responsive design, we think about producing desktop websites that scale down gracefully to be viewed on a mobile phone. Two interesting stats appeared in the most recent Nielsen Social Media Report – the number of people accessing social media through tablets grew 400% from 2011 to 2012, and the number accessing it from connected TV’s grew 100%. If you have been following CES 2013, you are seeing that connected TV’s, tablets, and phablets are all the rave, and not just for early adopters. Many of these devices will be hitting stores this year.

From here on out it is no longer enough to design just for desktop and mobile phones. We need to take into consideration the multiple screens that our users will be accessing our content and products from and design digital experiences that allow them to interact with your brand in a way that is device appropriate.

Organizations will become more “Lean”

I have written about this concept in the past, stating that nonprofits should take a more iterative approach to technology development and marketing. Spending large amounts of money on upfront strategic planning and development is inefficient and often sets organizations up for failure because their strategy is based on assumptions. By applying “lean thinking” in developing digital campaigns and technology, organizations test the assumptions that are often made in strategic planning processes. Only the assumptions that are valid and return desired results are adopted.

I highly recommend reading Eric Ries book The Lean Startup, or contacting us,  if you are interested in learning how to apply this methodology to your digital marketing campaigns and development projects.

More DIY nonprofits will emerge

There is this interesting trend emerging in the nonprofit sector of organizations building products. These aren’t apps for advocacy or fundraising per say, but digital solutions to various social issues organizations are working to solve. Nonprofits have been building products for a number of years, but I think this year and beyond is when you will really see this trend become more apparent.

Some examples I shared last night are:

  • PeaceTones – A nonprofit that is building an e-commerce platform to help artists in developing countries promote and sell their music online
  • Camellia Network – An organization that helps teens aging out of foster care raise money to fund their future, whether that be going to college, finding an apartment, etc.
  • Invisible People – This organization provides online toolkits to help homeless individuals communicate with the world about their situations as a way to give a voice and a face to an all too often overlooked segment of our population

The thing that I also love about this trend is community-building is at the core of many of these products. Organizations are, through organizing and digital products, creating peer networks of people who are supportive of a cause and getting them to create change together.

Building community will become a core organizational function

Regardless of sector, social media is forcing brands to rethink how they engage with their constituents and where that responsibility falls within their organization. Social media is often wedged into marketing or corporate communications teams, which creates this false perception that social media should be approached as just another mass communications platform.

While it can be effective at that, the real power in social media is building a constituency of people that share a common passion or interest as your organization, and interacting with them in a way that increases brand recognition and loyalty; persuades people to support your cause or product; and drives business metrics such as items sold or houses built in low income communities.

I think a big trend that will emerge in the coming year and beyond is the creation of cross-functional teams – traditional communications, digital marketing, social media, customer/constituent services, etc. – that are tasked with designing better customer/constituent experiences across various touch points. Some organizations have even gone to the extent of creating new roles, such as Chief Community Officer or Chief Experience Officer, to oversee the unification of community-building efforts across an entire organization.


What do you think are some emerging topics in digital that nonprofits and social change organizations should be paying attention to in the new year?