The audience dating game

Why developing genuine, direct audience relationships is a good idea if you want to stay in business

If you want to get straight to the “here’s 6 things you can do” bit, scroll down. If you want the rationale, read on. And please forgive the dodgy analogies.

You need more than one option

Hear me out. If you’re looking for a new partner you can’t put all your eggs in one basket too soon. In business, selling through distributers, middle-men or retailers is nothing new. I remember the old story my Dad used to tell me about how those manufacturers who sold exclusively to Marks & Spencers found themselves victims when their order sizes were reduced. They’d nearly bankrupt the supplier then swoop in and buy them in a distressed state cheaply. This may or may not be true, but my Dad told me so I believe it.

Al Gore’s TV channel Current TV shut down in the UK when Sky decided not to renew and they lost the carriage fees they received from the satellite broadcaster. They had no other source of attention or revenue. This is true.

GDPR laws kicking in soon make it much harder to utilise personal data including IP addresses, IDs that can in any way be linked back to personal identity. That’s putting people out of business already. This is also true.

Every iPhone now lets you switch off behavioural targeted advertising, and Apple’s new Safari browser limits cookie usage in a way that affects many retargeting techniques on the web. Ok most people can’t be bothered doing this, but who doesn’t like the idea of it? If it were switched off by default, you wouldn’t turn it on would you?

In fact, Apple have a total strangle-hold on Apps via the App Store approval process. Remember when Tim Cook threatened Uber with removal? In that case it was a threat intended to uphold privacy (a good thing). But what if that control is used to restrict competition? It could happen.

Although still the daddy of outbound marketing comms, email’s future is unknown. Teens do still use email, but not nearly as frequently as instant messaging. Yet WhatsApp is a walled garden. I wouldn’t want to be relying 100% on email either. Millions of companies are reliant on email marketing.

When I originally wrote this, Facebook had not yet reduced publisher reach, or pledged to focus on “Meaningful social interactions” over news stories. This is what I wrote:

Those that rely too heavily on a single source of attention or commerce had better be ready for doomsday — the flick of a switch by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Ticketmaster or a Telco could be all it takes to kill their business.

Deliveroo Editions is a more recent example; restaurants are setting up kitchens exclusively with the food delivery partner to power rapid scale in the UK. A worrying dependency on a single partner for the restaurant long-term. Great for Deliveroo (nice idea guys!).

In digital media, if over 30% of my traffic originated from Facebook, Apple News, or anywhere else, I would be very concerned right now. Lots of big companies are very concerned right now.

In today’s word, things are different but we’re seeing the same mistakes made. Relying on 1/2 channels or techniques is a distinctly risky business because things change so quickly. So what’s the solution?

As always, some risks can be mitigated, others (I’m thinking net neutrality, global instability) are much harder to address. But the truth is that whether you’re a brand, broadcaster, content creator or in sports, people are still people. As my friend Al from Sunshine always says “Everything and nothing has changed”.

We’re all still human

Back to the dating analogy. Where the day to day behaviours change, such as using apps to find a partner, many of our innate behaviours are constant. If you turn up looking rough and didn’t clean your teeth, good luck.

People are still hungry for stories, knowledge, for interaction. They still rally around their passions. They still express their opinions, share their feelings. They’re still curious. They’re still ready to be tantalised.

Providing food for this hunger, providing a contribution to people’s lives, on their own terms, will always be a good idea.

So if you can come up with ideas that make people’s lives better or more interesting, your next challenge is how to get them to know about it. If you’re starting from scratch, you have to use all the tricks to build buzz, pay for visibility, coerce influential people to share, and get audiences telling each other. HQ Trivia have done this remarkably well of late.

But bigger traditional businesses have an advantage that many are not taking — existing forms of attention that can light the touch paper and convert a funnel of people into a new environment very very quickly. This is business gold and a way to future-proof older models.

One great example recently has been ITV’s Love Island (disclosure: a project I’m involved with). Undoubtedly the biggest TV format to enter mainstream culture in the UK since Big Brother. In many ways a traditional TV show with an alluring twist — but ‘watching’, was just one part of the fan experience.

The Love Island App

Over half of the audience watched the using some form of device or app, rather than broadcast TV. Yep, more than half. Many downloading the broadcaster’s streaming app just for the show.

However, theshow’s own dedicated app attracted more people engaging than the TV show itself sometimes (it had 2.5 million users), giving fans a way to catch up on exclusive clips when they want, but also to participate in key decisions live.

Because the vast majority of people accept push notifications, it means the content teams can generate audiences in-app that are similar in scale to traditional TV with one notification.

This is not to say don’t use other mechanisms; apps are just one technique. Chatbots like Messenger, live streaming on social platforms, or in some cases good old SMS might be great ideas. And of course, getting people to register with an email address then maintaining a ‘logged in’ state has immediate commercial benefits for advertising-driven businesses. But the hardest part is getting them there in the first place.

The Audience Dating PlayBook v0.1

So this is my best shot at the macro-view of how to build or maintain owned-audiences:

  1. Turn Heads: Have an idea, story, competition or concept that’s head-turning. (See Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow” analogy)
  2. Seed it: Use whatever channels of attention you have access to today to seed the idea. Websites, social channels, TV, in-store footfall, event attendees, travellers on a flight…anything! Hedge your bets and use at least 3, maybe more.
  3. Go beyond video: involve some form of interaction, the glue. Interaction gets the audience to physically take action — to choose, to share, to play, to participate.
  4. Ask for their number: Then, once you have the audience in a state of active, enjoyable engagement, that is the moment to ask the question: Can I see you again? If so, can I have your number? Or would you prefer to call me? (i.e. enable push, enable weekly updates, emails, SMS…whatever)
  5. Give them nice things: Like all relationships, you have to keep it fresh, keep it interesting to retain their interests. Provide them regular cool stuff, interesting stuff.
  6. Pop the question: At some point in the cycle, when the mood is right, and not before, you can pop the question: Would you like to [thing you want them to do]?

Your thoughts and contributions most welcome as always.

Happy dating.

Image Credit (Tim Gouw: https://unsplash.com/photos/J1bAgl8E8uQ)