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Audience Building in 2016 and Beyond

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Audience builders have their fair share of Bang-ups and Hang-ups.

The slow trickle of website visitors… people unsubscribing every time you send an email… blog editors rejecting your guest post pitches, if they respond at all.

You’ve bought the courses. You’ve read the books. You’ve subscribed to newsletters promising to help you build your tribe.

Your head feels like it’s about to explode with tips on writing clickbait headlines, creating “open loops” to keep your audience’s attention, and—on top of it all —how to please the search engines gods.

No wonder you’re overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and even resentful of those who are succeeding.

And speaking of the successes, what’s up with them, anyway?

What are they doing that you’re not?

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

You think it’s been slow going, because you have neither first mover advantage nor the resources to create content that’s good enough to break through the noise. You feel like you’ve been left behind. Everyone else has figured it out and moved on without you, and you just can’t catch up.

I mean, who’s got time to write in-depth, 2,000+-word posts twice a week? And with thousands of new blogs created every day, how can anybody still come up with something unique?

audience building 2016Relax.

Things aren’t as bad as they seem. Blogging isn’t dead. Email marketing isn’t dead. Content marketing is neither dying nor nearly dead.

Audience building still works. Just because the discipline is maturing doesn’t mean it’s obsolete.

The 3 Biggest Audience-Building Lies

1. Audience building is the easy way to build or grow a business.

The problem isn’t that audience building has become harder. The problem is everyone expected it to be easy in the first place.

Sure, it used to be easy. When the entire internet contained only a few hundred pages of content, of course, it was easy to get attention. You didn’t have to be a good writer, or publish spectacular content. You could get away with posting mediocre stuff. (Remember the first YouTube videos?)

But audience building was never about publishing mediocre stuff.

So stop whining 😉

Let go of the belief that audience building is the easy way to build a business. It was never meant to be easy. Holding on to that belief just keeps you from doing the work.

2. All audience building strategies and tactics work for everyone—all the time.

The other reason you’re not seeing the results you want is because you’re implementing strategies and tactics that are not suitable for the current stage of your audience building process.

If only you, your cat, and your mother know your blog exists, how can you expect to get any traction when you publish a brilliant post? (Unless your cat or your mom is famous.)

following the crowdIf you have 50 email subscribers, isn’t it unrealistic to think your online contest will generate thousands of page views and shares? (It could happen, but it’s a long shot.)

If you’ve followed a guru’s blueprint, step-by-step, to the letter, but you flopped, could it be because their strategy works for where they’re at, but not for where you are? (One-size-fits-all never fits every body.)

There are distinct stages of growing a business online, and each stage corresponds with a specific strategy that will propel you to the next stage. It begins with building a solid foundation that withstands the ever-changing deluge of tactics and shiny, new objects. You can read more about those stages here.

Without this foundation, your audience-building efforts will rise and fall with each new platform. And if you implement strategies meant for someone who’s farther along the audience-building process than you are, then you will fail.

So the problem isn’t that audience building doesn’t work; it’s that you’ve been going about it the wrong way.

3. When it comes to audience building, the higher your numbers, the better.

The next problem is that people confuse numbers for audience.

When they hear “audience building,” people think “traffic.” And when they hear “engagement,” they think “clicks,” “opens,” and “shares.”

Audience has little to do with traffic. You can have a lot of traffic and not have much of an audience.

Kevin Kelly says all you need is 1,000 true fans to kick start your business. The next question is, how many website visitors and subscribers do you really need to get those 1,000 true fans?

Well, that depends on how sloppy you are.

If engagement is poor, then maybe you need 50,000, 100,000, or even a million subscribers for there to be a thousand true fans.

So you can’t afford to be sloppy. Audience building demands diligence to focus on attracting the right people and creating the right engagement with them.

People are not your audience when they’re just visiting your website occasionally or sporadically. Not even when they sign up for your email list.

They become part of your audience only when they engage with your content on a regular basis and self-identify as a member of your community.

Open rates and click-through rates can be indicators of engagement, but you can get those numbers up without creating real engagement.

If you focus too much on the indicators, you can lose sight of what really matters: making an emotional connection with those who consume your content, leading them to make an investment in your and your brand, and achieving an alignment between your goals and their goals, your values and their values.

The Audience Revolution: It’s Still Happening

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I wrote The Audience Revolution: The Smarter Way to Build A Business, Make A Difference, and Change the World in 2015—one year after Mark Schaefer alerted us about the Content Shock phenomenon.

At the time I wrote, “We’re only at the beginning of the sea change that the audience revolution is bringing to our economy.”

Although many things have changed since then, leading to disillusionment with content marketing, we’re still very much in the beginning of the Audience Revolution.

In fact, it still has a long way to go. Audience building isn’t even substantially on the radar of most brands and businesses yet. There’s still plenty of opportunity.

And the rewards are bigger than ever.

Design Your Audience Business

Follow these 4 steps to design a profitable and sustainable audience business in just one year.

Audience Business

From Online Authority to Offline Success

In the early days, being internet famous didn’t translate to much authority offline. The big business bloggers 10 years ago didn’t have the credibility and authority of a Jim Collins, a Tom Peters, or someone else who has written multiple bestselling business books.

In other words, being an online thought leader didn’t make you a real-life authority… then.

That’s changing. Having an audience in the online world today conveys authority and influence offline—or the real world—as well.

Take Michele Phan, for example. After dropping out of art school for lack of tuition money, she started uploading low-tech videos with makeup and beauty tips on YouTube. Eight million subscribers and 1.1 billion lifetime views later, she has launched a beauty subscription service, published a book, created a makeup line, and become a sought-after speaker.

Even now, Phan’s engaged audience remains her biggest asset.

Glamour executive beauty editor, Ying Chu said, “Very few brands have that close-knit trust with their customers.”

And it’s not just Michele. Many other bloggers, YouTubers, and content creators on various platforms have translated their influence into offline authority, authoring books, appearing in their own TV shows, and getting paid to speak at events.

Audience Building Will Continue to Work

Brendon Burchard has an eight-figure business teaching people how to succeed in business and in life.

Burchard says although his results sound fancy, his entire marketing strategy is pretty simple. He publishes valuable content online to attract audiences into his list, and then he engages his followers with even more useful content: free downloads, training videos, and emails, among others.

Having been in the industry for a full decade, Burchard is clearly one of the early movers. But he doesn’t consider it an advantage. In fact, he says it used to be much harder, in terms of technology, to build web pages, accept payments, and deliver online courses.

Nowadays, he says, all of those things are pretty simple, and publishing content “require[s] almost no cost or advanced technical knowledge.”

When asked what he would do if he had to start all over again, Burchard says he would build an engaged audience all over again using blogs, emails, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

And Burchard doesn’t expect things to be easy.

“I would be okay with the fact that my audience would be tiny at first,” he says, “but that after years and years it suddenly would be an incredibly large community of caring and driving people.”

It’s Not Too Late—For Anybody

What about someone who isn’t a Michele Phan or a Brendon Burchard, and who started later than they did?

Let me tell you the story of Marie Penix. She was struggling to get their business off the ground when she discovered my book, Engagement from Scratch! How Super-Community Builders Create A Loyal Audience And How You Can Do The Same. After following a couple of tips, she grew her list from 3 to 300 subscribers.

This motivated her to join my Audience Business Masterclass. A few months later, she passed the 15,000 subscriber mark, and was featured in The Huffington Post and on the Discovery Channel. Today Marie’s Monster Club Treehouse is a burgeoning business.

Clearly, the audience-first principles still works, even though the execution may change as the market matures.

How to Finally Build An Engaged Audience

On and on you will hike,
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Internalize the Audience-First Principle

Whether you’re looking to build your tribe, true fans, or Alpha Audience, the Audience First principle will work for you. This principle says that you must always put the Audience First, and success will follow.

This principle applies at all levels, from your business philosophy, to your growth and execution strategies, down to the specific tactics you employ.

Audience First as a philosophy is about putting the needs of your audience above all else, and seeking to be of service to them as much as possible. Offering ideas and value for free is your starting point to attract the foundational core of your audience. It builds trust and accelerates the growth of your audience.

But this doesn’t mean giving away the farm; it doesn’t mean giving everything away for free.

For one thing, people value what they pay for, so if you give everything away, the perceived value of your “stuff” will be low. Your audience will also be less committed, in the sense that they’ll be less likely to actually use—and benefit from—something free compared to something they paid for.

The second reason you can’t give away everything is because you have a business, after all. If you don’t turn a profit, then you can’t keep providing your products and services, along with a delightful customer experience. In other words, you can’t keep making the impact you want to make.

How do you make this happen? Here’s an overview of the process:

  1. Start by identifying the audience you want to serve and who are desperate for your leadership.
  2. Create a foundational online presence or platform, which could be a one-page website, a blog, or full-blown site. Offer your site visitors an incentive to sign up for your email list.
  3. Drive traffic to your platform by going where the people you want to reach are already congregating: other people’s blogs, online forums, social media platforms. Share your ideas freely and invite people to your site.
  4. Nurture and strengthen your relationship with your audience by continuing to provide valuable content, in the form of emails, blog posts, videos, etc. Always engage them by asking questions, responding when they reach out to you, and encouraging micro-conversions. (Keep reading to learn more about developing audience engagement.)
  5. After building an engaged audience, build your product through product co-creation. This is a process we teach our students, where you let your audience direct product development, marketing, and delivery.

That, in summary, is how you build an engaged audience as a springboard for a successful business. I go into more detail in my book, The Audience Revolution.

Now, let me go over a couple of things that often trip up a lot of people: differentiating yourself from your competition and engaging your audience.

Stand Out and Cut Through the Noise—Really

One of the biggest challenges in content marketing is standing out, being heard, and getting noticed, especially when everybody else is virtually shouting with their long-form content, slick videos, and sophisticated images.

How do you avoid drowning in this massive—and growing—ocean of online content?

For starters, position yourself differently.

Find a wide-open space in your market—one your biggest competitors haven’t occupied yet. Since nobody else has cornered that space, then that’s where you can meaningfully differentiate yourself.

One way to find a gap in your market is by using a positioning matrix, like the one below. Take two qualities your ideal customers care about. Use the X and Y axes to create spectrums of each quality. Now, place your competitors on the grid according to how low or high they are on spectrum.

Here’s an example of a positioning matrix for a finance-oriented website for millennials:


The X axis defines the general philosophy. The left extreme is the “buckle down” philosophy or doing the work. On the far right is the “enjoy life” philosophy, or getting the most out of life with the least effort.

The Y axis defines the general strategy for helping the audience achieve financial stability. On one end of the spectrum, the strategy is to save money, while on the other end, it’s to make more money.

After plotting competitors (blue dots), we find an open space (red dot) in the “enjoy life” end of the spectrum and closer to “make money” than “save money.”

You may have to create different grids using different spectrums, until you find an open space that excites you. That’s the space you can own!

After you’ve identified your sweet spot, you can further differentiate specific pieces of content you create. As I’ve said in the past, it’s not enough to be different. Neither is it enough to be useful. You have to be “remarkably useful.”

You have to be different in a way that serves your audience. This doesn’t mean writing longer pieces, publishing more often, or even becoming a spectacular writer. What it does mean is offering a new perspective or angle.

First, know what’s out there. What content is available to your audiences? And then figure out what you can contribute to the conversation. What’s missing? Use the guide questions here to identify knowledge gaps you can fill.

Go For Authentic Engagement

When people start following you and subscribing to your content, then you have the opportunity to build relationships and engage your audience and peers. While most marketers use the concept of a sales funnel, I prefer to use the analogy of a ladder:


People who consume your content go through higher levels of engagement with you. As you will notice, subscribing to your mailing list is pretty low on the engagement ladder. That’s only the beginning.

From there, every point of contact with you should give your audience an opportunity to invest their time and attention with you. But more than that, you want them to bond with you, to share their dreams and hopes with you, and see how you can be part of making those dreams come true.

The ladder also shows micro-conversions you can aim for, and they’re not about just clicking on your links!

You lead people higher up the ladder by rewarding them with valuable content and having authentic conversations with them. This means responding to each and every email you receive—another simple way you can differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Where To Go From Here

Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Since you’ve read this far, you’ve seen that there’s plenty of opportunity and massive rewards for those who stick it out by combining strategy and work ethic.

When you do the work and follow a tried-and-tested process, you’ll be unstoppable.

For your next steps, here’s what I suggest:

  • Determine what stage you’re in, the best strategies for that stage, and go do them. Review the five-step process I described above, and see which step makes the most sense for where you’re at right now. If you’ve skipped steps because you hadn’t known about the stages of audience building, that’s okay. Just go back to the previous step you missed, and move on from there.
  • Use the Audience First approach to evaluate tactics. Look at the tactics you’re using now through the Audience First lens. Are those tactics helping you get in front of your intended audience and interact with them? When considering whether to use new platforms, first find out if that’s where your audiences are. Also, beware of the next big thing that turns out to be a fad (remember Google+?). Go with the timeless classics. You’ll get more bang for your buck.

Is all this hard work?

You betcha! Which is another reason you’ll be one of the few left standing: you’re willing to do the work, while others are still looking for the easy way out.

And you will do the work, because you know in your heart that there’s an impact you need to make in the world. And the people who need it are waiting.

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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