15 Elements of an Effective Audience Development Program
For just a moment, let's put trends and tips aside, and take inventory of what constitutes a good audience development program. As our customers (readers, visitors, buyers, members, etc.) call for more and better in a world that is changing at breakneck pace, management expectations also continue to rise. Audience developers have more channels, tools and data to work with than ever before. While being told how easy it is to reach, engage and monetize customers, it has never been more difficult.
"There is more pressure than ever to deliver an audience in the best financial manner. With advertising sales down, return on investment is being scrutinized more," according to Nicole Bowman of Bowman Circulation Marketing. "You used to have a few years to become profitable with a source, but now profitability is often expected in year one."
Audience developers—whether running a department with one title and employee (self) or multiple brands and divisions—can benefit by running a disciplined program. Business consultant and author Jim Collins, whose book "Good to Great" sold 2.5 million copies, described great companies as disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought and disciplined action.
Let's look at what it takes to create or retool a great audience development program for your company or organization. Evaluate your own program to see where you need work.
People and Learning
Putting the right people on the team with ongoing training is most important. A wide latitude exists in determining who is or might be a good hire, but be sensible. Whether you are marketing offline, online, face-to-face or all of these, audience development requires skill sets that are not honed overnight, nor with one campaign success. While many publishers recognize and respect the importance of this role, many still do not.
#1 Your staff needs education and training to stay relevant to be able to deliver results.
#2 Staff who are compensated fairly and continue to learn are challenged and are more likely to stay with your company (not indefinitely, but longer than without fair compensation and ongoing training).
Define, document and collaborate. Even the best of audience developers should not be expected or allowed to run solo. And, in fairness, I know few who want to do so. More often than not, we have created invisible silos—meaning we encourage internal collaboration or teamwork, but our organizational structure, policies and, at times, even compensation plans, do not encourage collaboration, innovation or business development.
#3 Do you have well-defined and current internal processes and policies in place?
#4 Are there adequate systems and software to support audience development? (For example, fulfillment/database management, customer relationship management (CRM), project management, financial model, online analytics, management dashboard, etc.)
#5 Do you foster communication and collaboration between departments: audience development/content creators/advertising/etc.?
This is not an attempt to oversimplify marketing. It's about fundamentals and integration within audience development. Who has cast a clear vision for what the company hopes to achieve in the next couple years? What is the strategy for audience development that serves that vision? What are the key assumptions and goals for the program? What tools (channels) will be used to achieve the goals? Who are your partners that can help you get there?
#6 Vision, strategy and goals.
#7 Tools (offline: direct mail, telemarketing, inserts, single copies, etc.; and online: e-mail, organic search, paid search, website, social media, etc.]
#8 Partners (vendors, agencies, aligned member organizations, business/retailers, advertisers, etc.). Look for complementary competencies, expanded opportunities, opportunity to leverage existing resources and how to minimize new costs.
To successfully do their jobs, audience developers should be allowed (and expected) to create an annual or semi-annual budget that is based on a plan, and line items in that budget should point back to the plan. And this is zero-based budgeting that refers to that plan, not an arbitrary goal or a percentage based on the prior year budget. Beyond the budget, it's very valuable for audience developers to forecast scenarios to assist in making decisions about pricing, new products, etc.
Also, incentives tied to financial performance are within reason and advisable for audience developers. In many organizations, they are generating up to 50 percent or more of the revenue. Why do we pay commission on advertising sales, but not membership, subscriptions and e-commerce?
Knowing what is going on in your business is a prerequisite for success. Using that information to forecast future performance takes audience development to the next level of business maturity. Define five to 10 "top line" metrics that tie to audience development goals, such as customer loyalty, cost to renew, cost to acquire, conversion, lifetime value, brand equity, engagement, return on investment, friends, followers, etc. Is there a commitment to primary research with the audience? How efficient is your process for data capture? How often do you evaluate what data you need and collect? How accessible is the data? What is the integrity of the data? Audience developers have access to more data than ever before, but to leverage it for smart and profitable growth, there is an increasing demand to analyze the data, and build products and more revenue on it.
#12 Metrics: Define key performance indicators for your brand.
#13 Research (within and across channels).
#14 Data (capture).
#15 Analytics (business intelligence): Use your data for a competitive advantage.
Inventory complete; how did you fare? Most companies acknowledge the importance of audience development and have elevated the function and staff in recent years. And audience development professionals I know want to leverage content to meet or exceed expectations for audience retention, growth, engagement, and generating revenue and profit. Let's equip them to do so. PE
Lou Ann Sabatier is principal of Sabatier Consulting. Since 1997, her practice has helped publishers gain a competitive advantage and achieve desired results. Sabatier and her team provide an extensive array of services to clients, ranging from comprehensive audits, business planning, audience development and research to digital strategy and creative execution. Contact Sabatier at: email@example.com.
Lou Ann Sabatier has 35 years of experience in the publishing industry. Ms. Sabatier has been deeply involved in all aspects of publishing; including strategic planning,business development, business and financial management, audience development, advertising sales, digital media and operations management. Currently Ms. Sabatier is Principal at Sabatier Consulting and Communications Director of 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.