Jeffrey K. Rohrs is the Vice President of Marketing Insights at ExactTarget, a salesforce.com company, and the author of the new book, Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers. I had the chance to talk to him about the importance of audience development in B2B marketing and how this idea needs to be considered as a crucial part of achieving success across social media, email and more.
What’s the premise of your book Audience?
Lots of people say every company is a publisher. Every company is a broadcaster. And we’ve seen some companies really embrace that quite well, and do some wonderful things through content marketing.
But what’s been gnawing at me for a while is that I go to a lot of the content marketing shows, and I hear people speak about what they’re doing in content marketing, and they have what I call Audience Assumption Disorder.
They think their beautiful, well-thought-out content; their wonderful ebooks; and their tremendous videos are just automatically going to get traffic. And it reminds me very much of the early days of website development, where people had that “build it and they will come” mentality. That’s simply no way to build traffic.
The days of “built it and they will come” never really existed in the internet, and yet people continue to operate under that assumption. So what I’m trying to do with Audience is reflect on my experience with email, mobile, and social, and boil it down into some thinking that parallels the growth of content marketing.
Newspapers and magazines have editorial, but then they have a nice wall, and over on the other side of the wall is audience development and circulation. And that’s true of broadcasting as well. There are people who are constantly thinking about how they can bring more people to the table so that when we do have content, they’re going to consume and share and amplify.
And right now, if you look across marketing organizations, you really don’t have audience development professionals, even though every single part of marketing is very dependent on audiences. These are audiences that we can build through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SMS and contests.
All these channels are siloed because as each new channel came around, you developed a tactical approach to it. How are we going to leverage this? Are we going to leverage this? I call it the Pre-cambrian period of marketing, where we had this explosion of all of these new, evolved states of direct communication in the last five to ten years.
After dust settles on all of these new channels and we know what we should do from a tactical and a strategic standpoint, there’s going to be a rise in new responsibility, and that is audience development. Without audience, content is a tree falling in the forest with nobody to hear it. And without content, the audience has nothing to consume and engage with, and doesn’t develop loyalty or interest in the brand.
So this duality of content and audience is very intriguing to me. Content marketing is still at its early stages of development. And you have great folks proselytizing out there, like Joe Pulizzi and Jay Baer and Ann Handley, but there’s nobody similarly carrying the torch of audience development.
And therefore we’ve been left to siloed responsibilities, where you have people who are in charge of email marketing, and in the back of their mind — or maybe it’s their third or fourth or fifth responsibility, they’re supposed to grow the email audience. But they often don’t have any influence across all of the different marketing tactics that they could use to grow the email audience.
The same is true with social media. It gets a little bit more traction because it’s visible in public how many fans and followers you have, so there is a little more top-line focus on audience growth. But across all these channels, growth is really a three-dimensional kind of object. It has size, both in terms of absolute number and quality and caliber of the data.
The second is engagement, which is always so touchy-feeling in social media. But what it means in terms of audience growth is you actually have an audience that’s paying attention, and ready to pay attention the next time you have something important to say.
And the third part is value. We measure the value, or ROI, of these channels focused on campaigns, instead of saying, “What is the aggregate value of this audience on an annualized basis?” If you look at your audience in terms of what it brings you over a non-audience member, for example, a customer versus a customer who’s an email subscriber, you start to see the value of that audience as an asset.
And it’s that asset-based mentality towards proprietary audience development that marketers need to develop. We can’t just look at the individual ROI. We can’t be so tactically focused all the time. We need somebody who’s looking horizontally across all of the different audiences as their focus. This role develop into a director, or a senior director, or a VP level of audience development.
You need to look out across every single channel and understand which channels produce the best audiences in terms of value. And then maximize what you’re doing across all those different channels to grow those audiences by those three dimensions of size, engagement and value.
B2B marketers approach social content, and even all of their marketing, from a persona-based perspective. How does the idea of personas layer on top of this view of audience development?
What I see is that your persona-based development now has to take place with consideration of where those personas live and what they are willing to do to become a part of your audience. When you’re thinking about creating your persona for Jamie, a small business owner and mother of two, or Bill, the 20-something Millennial who’s unattached and has a decent income, you’re not just thinking about their interests, their income level and where they live. You’re also thinking about where do they live in the virtual world, and what are the channels that they’re willing to engage with brands through. That becomes an important part of the development of the actual persona, which then translates into which channels you should prioritize in order to build those direct relationships, and build these audiences and assets.
That’s a perfect world scenario, because if you develop your personas absent an understanding of the channels they live in, then you’re apt to have some inefficiencies in your paid advertising and your owned media efforts. You’re also not going to get as much earned media out of it, because you’re perhaps chasing them in the wrong places.
So relative to B2B folks, it’s a matter of making sure your personas are also looking at what types of channels they’re looking at. The kneejerk reaction with B2B is to say, “Oh, well, you should consider LinkedIn.” Which is very, very true. But those personas may deal in some places where you might find that Facebook’s going to have some interests for you on maybe the HR employee development side of things. Twitter’s going to have certain implications for you beyond just your advocates and influencers. Instagram could have an amazing place in the world for certain personas.
Jay Baer cited the Maersk Shipping Company in his book, Youtility. Look at what they’ve done with photography, these giant vessels, and explaining what their industry is. And out of the woodwork come folks who really appreciate that industry and are willing to share it in what are ostensibly personal social networks like Facebook, as opposed to just professional ones like LinkedIn.
So I think my bottom line is to make sure that your persona is taking into consideration the channels through which your audiences are willing to have those two-way communications with you.
How does a content-based call to action sit alongside the idea of overall audience development?
This brings up the larger question of how large your audience needs to be so that you actually get results of people taking that action.
The first thing is that you really need to take a step back and decide, are we investing as much time in audience development and distribution as we should be relative to content creation?
You’ve got a lot of companies who have it upside-down, who are out there creating content, creating content, creating content, and they’re not measuring results efficiently to understand that they might be creating the most beautiful content in the world, but they’re influencing such a small percentage of the available broader audience out there that their efforts would be much better directed towards more efficient activities.
This is called the Audience Imperative. We need to use our paid, owned and earned media to not just sell in the short-term but to increase the size, engagement and value of our proprietary audiences over the long-term. So the content is a carrot at the end of the stick. It certainly does attract people to us. But it often attracts three types of audiences: seekers, amplifiers, and joiners.
Data often attracts seekers. It attracts people who are looking for information or entertainment. But those are temporal audiences. They’re there. They’re gone. Once they get entertained or they find information, they leave. We know these people as Google searchers. We know them as television viewers, radio listeners, window shoppers.
The amplifier audience is the one that we most closely associate with social media. It really is just any sort of word of mouth. Social media just technologically enables word of mouth.
But again, with amplifiers, they don’t have to have a relationship with you. They can be there, and they can be gone in a split second of a retweet. They see some sentiment that they like and they retweet it. Somebody who follows them retweets that. They’re an amplifier. So they’re an audience of yours. They’re an amplifier of yours. But you have no relationship with them.
So with both seekers and amplifiers, we should be looking to convert them over to the joiners. The ultimate joiner, of course, is a customer.
Short of that, we’ve got these subscribers and the followers, and all these different types of channels that have different expectations and needs. And job number one of marketing is to make the sale, but one of our jobs now is to get more out of what we do with paid, owned and earned media. That means we need a secondary call to action, or in some instances a primary call to action, to join our audiences.
And that way, the next time you go out with content, you’ve got a bigger audience to impress. Content marketers don’t have the kind of collaborative relationship that they need with email, mobile, and social teams who are managing these very siloed audiences.
This is why I think there’s going to be a director of audience development at some point, because that becomes the person who is the peer to whomever is in charge of content marketing, and those who work hand in glove to say, “All right, how am I going to get you a bigger audience?”
That might mean advertising. It may be that I go over to the brand folks and say, “That ad you’re about to run, just having our logo at the end isn’t sufficient. I want you to have a really clear call to action to come join us on this site. Follow us, or subscribe, or what have you.”
Those conversations will start off the org chart conversations among people who understand this. Content marketing will play a really important role. Email and social media play an important role.
And out of that we begin to understand that if we’re truly going to appreciate and build our audience as assets, we need a leader of audience development. We need a person who can think about this. And it’s only going to benefit the content marketers, because they are going to get broader distribution.