Build it and they won’t come: marketing’s new audience-building imperative

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Your marketing team has a great idea for a website, video, mobile app or other piece of groundbreaking — dare I say, potentially viral — content. You love the idea, green light it, and a lot of people spend a lot of time and money getting it just right. The team gathers to celebrate the launch and watch the sales, leads, clicks and social sharing roll in. Only that doesn’t happen because your team made an all too common assumption — namely, that if you build it, they will come.

Unfortunately, today’s marketing environment is not a “Field of Dreams” where audiences magically appear. Rather, it is a ruthless competition for consumer attention across an unprecedented number of channels, devices and locations. While search engines may continue to deliver some “free” traffic to your doorstep, Google’s past year of algorithmic changes (using cheeky code names like Panda and Penguin) clearly demonstrates that over relying on one channel puts your brand at the mercy of individual audience gatekeepers. 

Define your audience

So what’s a brand to do? Build and diversify your own proprietary audiences.

The good news — your marketing team is probably already doing this to some degree. Somewhere you have a repository of email subscribers. On Facebook, you have likes. On Twitter, you’ve amassed some followers. You have other proprietary audiences strewn across Instagram, mobile apps, SMS and YouTube.

Each of these direct, proprietary audiences is a business asset with measurable value. Take your email subscribers, for instance. If you have 1 million subscribers and determine that their Lifetime Customer Value is $3 more per year than your non-email subscribers, you’re sitting on a $3 million asset. Do you know who’s managing that asset? Whether it’s appreciating or depreciating? Or whether you’re investing in its growth?

It’s high time that you develop an asset-based mentality when it comes to your proprietary audiences. These are the folks that with the push of a button you can message to generate sales, loyalty and awareness of that great thing your team just built.

They are also on-demand sources of consumer attention that your competitors can’t access. Simply put, proprietary audiences are a source of both economic value and competitive advantage that smart companies will seek to grow in size and engagement. 

Catch the wave

So what can you do as a leader to make sure you’re not on the wrong side of this wave?

1. Audit your current proprietary audiences and document who manages those audiences as well as how they are leveraged at present.

2. Determine the Lifetime Customer Value of each audience versus customers who aren’t audience members.

3. Prioritize your audience development efforts based on the value they deliver to your organization.

4. Designate a director of audience development to ensure that proprietary audience growth remains a permanent and cross-functional component of all your marketing efforts.

5. Regularly monitor your efforts to ensure you’re increasing the size, engagement and value of your proprietary audiences in ways that impact the bottom line positively. 

Done right, your focus on proprietary audience development will reduce your dependency on paid media, increase your ability to reach consumers as needed and ensure that you’re never again in a situation where you “build it” and they don’t come. And that’s a huge advantage to have over your competition.

Jeffrey K. Rohrs is vice president of marketing insights for ExactTarget, a company, and author of “AUDIENCE: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers.” For more information, visit or follow Rohrs on Twitter @jkrohrs.