5 Simple Steps for Building Your Owned Audience

While the C-suite focuses on winning the battle of market share, marketers are struggling (and often losing) the battle for attention share.

You’re probably feeling it. The slow death of traditional advertising is sure and steady. Outside of Google and Facebook, most paid tactics don’t have the bang of yesteryear. But even your rented land on Facebook isn’t safe (or secure). Recent analysis of Facebook’s engagement data indicated a 24% drop in time spent on the platform since December (2017).

Consumers have a plethora of tools (and now plenty of subscription options) to pick and choose when, where and how they will engage with brands. They have ad blockers installed, shows cued on DVR and Netflix and they’re tired of fighting with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter over politics.

Fortunately, we have two decade’s worth of experience navigating the new digital age. Many smart marketers and well-known brands have helped to define and demonstrate the new best practices of gaining attention by delivering great content and digital experiences. But one important detail often goes unmentioned when their success is analyzed.

They already had a big owned audience. 

Turns out, content marketing is much easier and more effective when you have an existing, owned audience that has already opted in (in some fashion) to hearing or learning from you.

So, as more of the mainstream business world comes to grips with their need to execute content-centric initiatives, many companies find themselves in one of three places:

  1. They are starting from scratch with no owned audience (ex: startups)
  2. Their owned audience is nothing more than their existing customer list
  3. Their owned audience is not stored in a central, accessible location (CRM, ESP or marketing automation platform)

This may not be a big deal in certain circumstances. But assuming your c-suite has charged you to assist in their aggressive battle for market share, your orders are clear: you need to grow your audience.

Your Choices

I’m not going to insult your intelligence and walk through the pros and cons of each of these arenas. Instead, let’s cut to the chase. Building an owned audience with your own content properties is hands down the smartest and best long-term strategy, period.

What is an owned audience?

It’s all the people who have given you permission to engage them through a property that you own. They have “subscribed” to your brand and indicated that they are interested in what you do. Because of this permission, you have more control over the engagement and can make regular deposits in their bank of trust.

Your only costs to engage these people are in the development and delivery of new content assets and experiences. Additionally, these assets find their way to new eyeballs through search, organic sharing and paid promotion. When you capture those contacts, your owned audience grows. Promoting or selling to an owned audience that trusts you is infinitely more effective than shotguns (spray and pray) and spam cannons. Over time, your success becomes less reliant on paid, earned and shared tactics that are expensive and/or volatile.

So, it’s probably obvious to which direction I’m steering you. You need to build and continually grow an owned audience now. Here’s a few steps to get you started.

Step 1: Define and Segment Your Audiences

This first step can vary greatly in complexity depending on the scope or scale of your company’s offerings. For example, a startup or SMB that has one product and a narrow target audience may not have to dig too deep into segmentation outside of separating active customers from not-active customers.

A large enterprise, on the other hand, may find this first step so daunting that it doesn’t know where to start. And many knowingly choose that; they simply don’t do any segmentation or audience persona development and opt for blasting one-size-fits-all content to a big list. But you’re not them, are you?

For the sake of “starting somewhere”, the simple approach is just to start small. Here’s a simple exercise with a real life example.

  1. List the product/services areas that you cover with the content initiatives you manage/contribute. – Example: I oversee the DivvyHQ website and blog, and with this digital property we are marketing our content marketing software platform.
  2. For each product/service area, list 1-3 personas or audience segments that are the most relevant and reachable via the content initiatives you manage/contribute. – For this exercise, think about typical job titles, types of buyers or industry verticals. Example: Our target audiences are managers/directors of digital/content marketing departments, and content producers within those teams.
  3. Analyze the audience segments you’ve identified and determine the most obvious, distinguishing factors between them. – Some distinguishing factors could be active customer vs. inactive, demographic differences, job titles, geographic location, personal interests, etc.)

The end result of this exercise would ideally lay out all of the data (fields) that you would like to capture for an individual contact record. When done right, you’ll have the ability to query and narrow a big list of people down to a very specific segment that are the ideal target for a certain message, promotion or piece of content.

Step 2: Choose Your Capture & Storage Tools

Much like step 1, this next step will also vary in complexity. There are literally hundreds of platforms on the market that can be used for growing your owned audience list and managing your audience data. Smaller companies can make do with simple CRMs or email service providers like Mailchimp, Emma or Constant Contact. Larger and more complex organizations are probably going to need the bells and whistles of enterprise-grade systems like Salesforce and robust marketing automation systems (ex: Eloqua, Marketo, etc.). If you find yourself somewhere in between, combo platforms like Hubspot or Infusionsoft have a lot of power and won’t break the bank.

There are also countless platforms that enable even the most non-tech-savvy marketers to quickly deploy pop-ups, opt-ins and landing pages without needing any knowledge of code.

Example optin form via Optinmonster

Bottom line: do some research and engage with platform vendors that look like an initial fit. Explain what you’re trying to accomplish and the bells and whistles that you’ll likely need.

Step 3: Implement Your New Setup

Once you’ve selected your storage platform, you’ll need to configure it to add your segmentation criteria within the system. Most CRM and lead capture platforms come with the typical contact fields standard, so all you’ll need to add are any custom or “user-defined fields” that are unique to your segmentation effort. For example, some of our custom fields look like this:

  • Role (different than job title, helps us identify their buyer persona)
  • Company Type
  • Company Size
  • Industry Vertical

Next, it’s time to start building and integrating your capture mechanisms (typically web-based forms) within your owned properties. Coming in many shapes and sizes, subscription and lead-capture forms are everywhere and you’ve probably filled out plenty in your day. You will have to make the sometimes-difficult decision of what fields to include on your forms, but ideally your capture mechanisms give you the details you need for future segmentation and content personalization.

Step 4: Execute

It’s go time. You now need to start manufacturing a reason for people to give you their contact information. Enter content marketing. If you’re not regularly generating informative, valuable content to engage both your target audiences and Google, you’ll have a slow road ahead. And executing a high-growth content initiative requires more than just great content these days. You’ll also need:

  • Frequency – publish as often as possible without diminishing quality
  • Consistency – publish on a schedule and don’t miss deadlines
  • Paid promotion – don’t rely on people finding you, help your content find them
  • Patience – understand that this is not a “if you write it they will come” world anymore

Back in my consulting days, we’d often plan out the first six months of content ideas for a new content property and set low expectations for subscriber growth. Those early months can be a morale killer for producers who are pouring their hearts into creating great content, but not seeing immediate fruit. Traction takes time in the content marketing game, so set expectations properly.

A Few Pointers for Early Content Execution

In the early days of your audience-building effort, you may need to test a more broad range of topics and experiment with variations in format to see what is resonating. Then as individuals decide to subscribe, being transparent about your segmentation efforts (why you’re asking for additional details) is a good idea. “These fields, while not required, will help us deliver better content that is more relevant to you.”

Later-Stage Content Execution

Once you have relative mass in your audience database, your early segmentation efforts can now be fully realized. Content ideation, development and delivery can now be tailored specifically for target segments that are the most influential to your various business objectives.

For example, let’s say my company has a new offer to promote and we have amassed a total audience of 10,000 subscribers. Our offer would be most relevant for a certain segment and a quick query of our database results in 500 contact matches. So instead of spamming 9,500 people who won’t find our promotion relevant (hello unsubscribes), we only target the 500 and heavily personalize the content, improving it’s relevance and effectiveness.

This is the end game that you should be working towards.

Step 5: Track & Report

I’ll call this step 5, but you’ll want to consider your tracking and reporting mechanisms early on in your setup process. Most database platforms will have tracking and reporting mechanisms baked into their offering, but you may want to set up specific reports to focus in on your audience growth KPIs.

Example metrics from DivvyHQ Analytics

Establishing benchmarks and showing early growth trends often play a vital role in getting more resources to continue and grow your content programs. But even better, as those audience members convert into customers, you’ll have an easier time connecting the dots to make the case for content, and the impact it’s having on your company’s overall growth and market share.

I hear the c-suite thinks that’s kinda important.