Where is your audience? You may feel like you’re collecting shards of glass from the shattered remains of waning mainstream media platforms. Welcome to the new era of specificity. Traditional mass media publications are on the decline in favor of niche markets. Where does this leave you? Niche culture has made it easy to see a mass audience as a collective of smaller groups of hyper specialized interests. From these circumstances we’ve seen the rise in prioritizing an owned media strategy. In five easy steps we will help you get a handle on how to find and understand your audience, nurture your owned media channels, how to personalize your message, and how to insert paid and earned media initiatives effectively. We will also talk about ways to attract prospective buyers by being the experience rather than the outdated advertising methods that feel like your content is interrupting an experience.
Step One: Identify Your Audience
To start with, how do you find your audience? Early broadcast technologies have left us with the artifacts of bland mass messaging that no longer resonate in smaller circles. With the increased access people have in finding those who are like-minded comes the desire to consume and discuss specific information in more depth. To find members of your target market, look for collections of similar or related niche areas. Each group consists of closely linked individuals bonded through common interests, and you must find them because they have the most potential to consume your content and convert into buying customers. Locating these groups involves following pertinent conversation trails on social media, discussion forums, and even getting involved as a participant in the ongoing dialogues. Finding your audience also includes finding those outside of a tightly knit group who express curiosity about your niche area. Before you create your content, you need to listen for the buzz concerning issues and topics related to your company. Allow what you hear to lead the way for determining your strategy.
Consider the problems your audience is having on a regular basis. Where are they in the process of finding solutions to these problems, or in other words where are they in the sales cycle? For B2C this could mean looking online and talking to friends about which retail product is best. For B2B this could mean doing online searches and attending webinars as part of a due diligence fact finding mission. Research online sites and existing resources to gather intelligence on what is valuable to your audience. What stage are prospects by the time they are ready to speak to your sellers? Whether they are ready to buy or simply ready to explore, your messaging and content can meet their frame of mind with tone, cadence, and attitude.
In your discovery phase of finding your audience, you will see that the audience holds most of the power to define your message. It needs to be all about them. The idea that messaging and content may not be altogether yours to create is difficult for some long time marketing pros. But once you’ve found and engaged your potential audience, you’ll find they are your best source of information regarding the content you should create. Instead of trying to predict what will be popular, measure and refine with a post filtering of content and available product variations that your market segments respond to. Now that you know how to find your audience, you need to collect information about them. In the process of pulling customers into the orbit of your brand and mission there is a filtering and distilling of your content that requires deep audience understanding.
Step Two: Understand your Audience
How well you understand your audience determines the effectiveness of your editorial strategy. The more information you have about the behavior and needs of the people in your target market, the better your content will earn their attention.
Here are a few areas to monitor to constantly stay on top of what kind of content you need:
- Your Website- Look for which pages and posts are popular
- Social Sites- Stay on top of trending topics
- Search- Monitor the general demand for answers and solutions
- Your Competitors- Follow the competitive landscape of topics
Ultimately, you don’t want to interrupt what your audience is interested in, you want to become what your audience is interested in. One helpful site to start using is AnswerThePublic, a free online tool for consumer insights that generates charts and spreadsheets of topics related to popular queries. This will help you brainstorm relevant subjects and areas of focus for creating written pieces that will build your SEO and editorial calendar. What you ideally want is to establish a direct connection with your customers. This is best accomplished by posting and distributing content through your company’s owned media channels.
Step Three: Nurture Your Owned Media Channels
What are owned media channels? The main channels for your owned media content include:
- Websites, landing pages, and press releases
- Your online branded newsroom
- Blogs, newsletters, podcasts, and webinars
- Branded magazines and catalogs
The best way to build a strong owned media channel with an authentic following is to create as personalized of an experience as possible for your audience. This is possible with owned media because you own all of the data that accompanies those who visit your websites. The best owned media strategies focus on content, community, and context. Creating a narrative and helping your audience are critical components to bake into your content. Developing your own community may take a lot of effort and ramp up time, but the rewards are greater than depending on social media alone. Additionally, taking into consideration the context of your interactions raises the level of touch points so you are building a real relationship with those who interact with and buy from you.
Learn to benefit from direct distribution to your audience that owned media offers and consider all of your options. Other related elements that are part of your owned media options are:
- Free downloads of content or products
- Online stores and mobile apps
- Physical assets like vehicles and buildings
Your owned media strategy should utilize all avenues to create awareness, build conversation, and house your most substantial content. Hospitals are great examples of an industry who can easily take advantage of their physical establishment to create brand awareness from vehicles to banners to screensavers. For those industries without the advantage of a captive audience in your headquarters, an online community is critical. Those participants who find value in your online community who are giving and receiving tips with peers and experts need incentives to remain loyal and keep coming back. Part of accomplishing that is to give them an active role in creating your brand.
A terrific example of a larger brand who is giving their customers the content they want is Starbucks. They are taking control of their content through their owned media channels and recently embarked on the creation of documentaries and long form video content. Their video series is called Upstanders, it’s produced in collaboration with a former Washington Post correspondent, and is accompanied by written essays and podcast episodes as well. They don’t feature the Starbucks logo anywhere in their work because they feel the presence of their brand detracts from their attempts to be altruistic and all about the content their audience wants. Their aim is to generate buzz around a truly good concept, that of everyday Americans being kind to one another. Starbucks is rolling out a powerful narrative of all Americans reclaiming the American dream through optimism and inclusion. The new Starbucks content initiative looks as though it will create a commendable, positive reaction, yet as a business it is also important to maintain that personal one on one relationship with your audience that can only be scaled through mass personalization.
Step Four: Mass Personalization
How can businesses be expected to engage with users on a 1:1 level without creating a generic impression? How do you get personal, but without losing scale? You need to connect with individuals, but automate the communication and anticipate their needs for a frictionless easy communication. But first, let’s distinguish the difference between customization which is tailoring communications by market segment, and personalization, which is satisfying the needs of the individual. The latter is what is needed for your owned media channels. You can accomplish personalization by utilizing the data available to you that wouldn’t otherwise be available if you placed an ad on another site or relied on social media alone. Accessing and harnessing this data is key to automating communication and customer experience. Design for Mass Personalization (DFMP) is a concept that will help you elicit customer participation, a genuine user experience, and cater to each unique customer journey.
Design for Mass Personalization is now a necessity, and should be baked into the coding of all of your owned online channels. Brands can now assign a unique URL ID for each visitor who clicks on links on their site. A tactic like this one can enable you to collect information about each user, deepen your understanding of their behavior, and deliver a more personalized experience. Combine this with your audience-centric editorial plan and you’ve got a winning strategy! As usage grows in your owned media channels in areas such as your mobile website, you can study the feedback you receive, and use the data to drive your decision making. Big Data capabilities have a lot to offer in the way of processing billions of data points. This data can identify behavioral trends that can be used to create responses and deliver unique experiences to an individual. Where customers are, what they are doing, their past behaviors, and personalities are all elements that can be collected, aggregated, and used to serve up real-time responses that are meaningful to them.
Some of the most successful companies in our culture today have mastered the concept of mass personalization so well that we take it for granted. Netflix and Amazon come to mind as stand out successes in this area. They both serve up buying or viewing options based on customers’ past behavior. Land’s End clothing outlets save information about their customers’ size, preferences, and past purchases. Their web channels display options for customers based on the season, their location, and what they have learned each customer wants. Land’s End isn’t the only established company seeing gains by these new measures of data-driven audience understanding. McDonald’s has seen a rise in restaurant visits from mass personalization efforts via its owned media channels versus what it has done within paid efforts.9 Paid media along with earned media may not be as important these days as owned media, but when used in conjunction with owned media, it can have a powerful impact.
Step Five: Support your Owned Channels with Paid and Earned Media
Owned media is the sweet spot of where marketers are finding traction, and we recommend that the vast majority of your time and investment be spent there. While this is true, let’s not forget about the other forms of media like paid and earned media.They can further your new owned media and personalization methods when used correctly in a supporting role. These other forms of media should be used strategically with your owned channels like a fire starter or surgically serve as a boost when your owned media needs amplification.The historic model of POE, Paid, Owned, and Earned media plays a part in what Forrester analysts refer to as the “Customer Decision Journey”. Two thirds of this journey, unfortunately for you, are not spent being in touch with your company. Instead it’s spend searching online materials, reviews, and asking for peer recommendations both in and out of your owned channels. Because of this, paid and earned media can come to the aid of your owned media strategy.
Your owned strategies can leverage paid and earned media in important ways:
- Build awareness with paid media
- Generate initial interaction with your platform through paid media
- Use earned media for collecting additional community exposure
- Increase sharing on social channels with earned media
Paid media is media you purchase, like Google AdWords or other types of search or display advertising that’s hosted on sites beyond your owned channels. Paid Media is helpful to use with customers and prospects who are not engaged with your owned channels but they are searching for the solutions you provide. Paid media can help guide traffic to your more polished and substantial owned content as well as your discussion forums where prospects can connect with customers and embed themselves within the community you have built.
Now that your paid media efforts are pulling visitors into the vortex of your brand, you can now focus on gaining earned media. Earned media gives validation and credibility to your brand and owned channels. This is where the customer becomes the channel. Earned media consists of word of mouth, ratings, mentions in the media, shared content on social media, viral content, and online reviews on sites like Yelp and those that are fitting to your industry. People pay more attention when it’s not coming from you, so it’s in your best interests to keep your customers happy. When you have the right website and relevant content online publications and social media users will take notice and begin to share it. If your content is sharable and you’ve enabled sharing, then you should be getting plenty of kudos from third parties and customers. When you use earned and paid media in tandem with owned media strategies you can expand your business’s reach a lot faster.
Owned-media investments are about long-term operational strategies that build increasing value over time. Communicating with such a smaller, but admittedly more engaged, loyal following requires mass personalization, not a mass market approach. Now that you’ve found your audience, listened, and embraced the one size fits one ideology, you’re ready to put forth a structure to pull your target market into the tractor beam of your mission and content narrative. As audiences become smaller, more specific, and demanding, you need deep audience understanding, a focused content strategy, analytics, and ongoing refinement. Your diligence and accountability is what will successfully carry out your plans and keep customers coming back to buy again and again. It takes real dedication and attentiveness, but the return on publishing relevant and timely content for your owned media channels is establishing a direct connection with your customers, and in short, you get to own your audience.