Build your audience first, then create your product

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, created the notion of “the third place.” The third place wasn’t work and it wasn’t home, but it was a place where you could simply relax with a coffee or engage in a meeting outside the office. This week we’re going to consider a “third way” of approaching marketing. As Shultz did, I’d like to propose that the third way, is the way of the future. Rather then being product or market driven, as has been traditional in marketing, this new approach is one where you build and audience FIRST, and then create your product or service.

But first, let’s consider how we have approached marketing over time:

1. Product driven: Way back in the 50s and 60s it was common to develop a product or service first, and then look for a market that might need it later. The approach was sometimes successful and sometimes not, since it was largely dependent on the product or service actually being an offering that somebody needed.

2. Market driven: More recently market driven approaches have dominated. This is when a company assesses what is needed, and then creates a product or service to fill the need. It involved assessing gaps in what consumers want or need, and what competitors are offering. Basically it’s about finding an audience with a problem and helping them fix it.

3. Build audience first: This is what I call THE THIRD WAY. This approach has emerged recently, largely fueled by online capacity to nurture an audience with an interest area.  It has been at the heart of some very successful business models that have emerged since 2008. The THIRD WAY involves developing an audience first, growing it to a sizeable measure and fostering a fierce loyalty based on the sharing of content that is of value to those consuming it. Only once the audience has been grown and nurtured does the business attempt to sell product or services into it. The audience-focused approach allows the content creator to know intimately what might be needed, and since they have built loyalty, it becomes an easy sell. It’s a radical and very non traditional approach to marketing, but I think it’s the way of the future, given the way online platforms have changed the ability to connect one on one with people in targeted niches.

The audience first focused approach, or THE THIRD WAY, is a long-term play. It requires consistent delivery of valuable content (entertaining or informative). Creating content, whether it be videos, blog posts, white papers, tip sheets, presentations, or the sharing of insider news takes time and effort. It’s easy to drop the ball, be inconsistent, or to share as a curator of other peoples content.

An audience-focused approach utilizes OWNED media (your website, blog or enewsletter) to publish content to as a primary vehicle. Owned media is where they nurture and build the core audience. This approach then uses RENTED media (social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Snapchat) to broadcast and engage, but to ultimately always point readers back to an owned place such as the website to gain direct email access through subscriptions. Likewise EARNED media (publicity) and EMBEDDED media (where you utilize the broadcast strength of established media to get huge reach), and PAID media is used to strategically target and grow the audience. The THIRD WAY approach utilizes all 5 forms of media to grow a large and loyal audience first, and then have the opportunity to sell into it later.

There have been countless success examples of this “audience first” approach since 2008. Here’s one that really stands out. Mitch Wilson, a star sports handicap caller, started this website as a portal for people interested in sports scores – basically those who wanted an insiders edge to win the office sports pool. From the start he focused on what his audience wanted, solid insightful information and he has consistently added features as additional needs were identified. Absolutely everything Mitch did, from his Youtube channel, to Facebook, Twitter and earned publicity on NBC, all lead people back to his OWNED media (website, blog and newsletter) where he gained permission to build his list and engage directly. Over time he has monetized membership products and become a multi-million dollar business. I had the pleasure of first meeting Mitch last year in San Diego at Social Media Marketing World. He is as unassuming as they come, but the real deal and possibly one of the most successful examples of the audience first approach out there.

As an added bonus when you sign up for my weekly 5-Minute Marketing Tips enewsletter (by clicking the “See value in these insights?” link below), you will receive a copy of my 5 Steps to Grow Your Audience Marketing CHEAT SHEET. Be sure sign up if you’re not already a member of this insiders group.

And if you are already on my list, just drop me an email saying you’d like to receive the 5 Steps Cheat Sheet.  I’d be delighted to send it to you!


Mary Charleson

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