Brands Missing Out On Audience Development

rohrsAs powerful as digital publishing exec Jeff Rohrs believes content marketing and social media can be, he kept noticing something odd: Lots of great brand content, but no real plan to make sure the right people found it. “There was a giant hole in all the conversations I was having, and this persistent, old-fashioned idea that ‘if we build it, they will come.’”

His contention is that brands need to do a much better job developing digital distribution strategies, leading him to write Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers. Rohrs tells Marketing Daily what he thinks is missing. 

Q: So tell us more about this organizational sinkhole.

A: Within companies, everyone's responsible for producing their own stuff, often thinking about it on a campaign or even day-to-day basis. So there is someone making sure stuff gets re-tweeted. And there's often a director of content marketing. But there was no equivalent title of, let's say, “senior director of audience development.” And that means lots of missed opportunities. The assumption is that there was this bigger, engaged audience ready to eat that content up, but then there is no person or team to make that happen. My point is, that should be a core marketing responsibility.

Q: Is there an example of a brand you think is acing audience development?

A: Here's a fun one. Here in the Cleveland area, there's a restaurant called Melt Bar and Grill, which is a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant. The chef and owner is a big rock ’n’ roll fan -- the menus are on old LPs, for example, and he has rock ’n’ roll designers do the posters announcing specials. One of his favorite bands is “Rocket from the Crypt,” which gave free concert admittance to anyone with a band tattoo. He took that idea, and now gives 25% off food and drinks to anyone with a grilled cheese tattoo. He was thinking he'd get 5 or 10 people. The Melt Tattoo Family now has over 500 members, including one guy who'd never even been to the restaurant. In effect, these people are all going on tour with the restaurant, and it's an audience in the digital but also in the physical realm. These people are all amplifiers -- word-of-mouth powered by technology. It's audience development in the best sense, and a way to make sure customers will come back over and over.

Q: Who is doing it badly?

A: I don't like to call brands out by name, but if you look at last year's Super Bowl advertisers, you'll see plenty -- almost none had any kind of call to action in their ads. One car company, for example, paid something like $3.8 million for one spot, advertising a car that wasn't coming out for months. The final frame was just the logo and a Facebook URL. That's a huge leap of faith. They should have done something to encourage people to opt in to some kind of direct relationship: Email us, follow us on Instagram. Something. 

Q: So it's a lost opportunity?

A: Yes. If we get people to enter into a permission-based marketing channel, it lowers my cost to reach them and speak to them. That car company missed a tremendous rollout opportunity.

Q: What's another success story?

A: Oreo. So much has been written about “the tweet heard ’round the world” from last year's Super Bowl, as if it's a social story. But it's not. It's an audience story. In the “Whisper Fight” spot, which is set in a library and aired early last year, it asked people to follow the brand on Instagram, which seemed like a head scratcher then. But it’s now the fastest-growing brand on Instagram, and rewards followers with photos of sculptures made out of cookies. It's got 34 million Facebook fans. And plenty of followers on Twitter. 

Q: Could you clarify the way you define subscribers, fans and followers?

A: Subscribers come through SMS, YouTube, and mobile apps. Email is the most linear and still drives the most traffic, because it's the most convenient. Fans are your virtual water cooler, and they pay attention to brands when they do something astonishing, either good or bad. (My beloved Cleveland Browns are an example.) People may be quick to like a brand page, but that doesn't mean they've given you permission to market to them. And followers are audiences with audiences, so, yes, they follow you on Twitter but then they are creating their own streams, with ripples of their own.

My point is that each of these is a distinct channel, and if you market on Facebook like you do on email, you won't gain anything.

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