Audience? What Audience?

We marketers often ask our clients about their audience. Who is your target audience? What are their demographics? Where do you find them? But that term can be misleading, not only to your customers, but, most importantly, to you.

It is a bit of a stretch to call your customers an audience. Nobody seeks out marketing messages. The term audience may have made more sense in the early days of television and radio, and then progressed to most forms of media, but today, few would attest to being a part of your audience. Audience implies that they have assembled for the purpose of hearing what you have to say.

John Jantsch, author of “The Commitment Engine”, says, “Building a business today means building a community. Now more than ever, we have the technical means to easily build community around shared ideas and shared beliefs, and businesses that, either locally or globally, tap that mindset… are the ones that are truly thriving.”

But most businesses still engage in marketing efforts designed to appeal to audiences. There are systemic benefits to thinking in terms of your community rather than your audience.

Becky McCray, author of “Small Town Rules: How Small Business and Big Brands Can Prosper in a Connected Community”, says, “A lot of what gets labeled as community building online is a lot more like audience building. If you are thinking of it in terms of getting more people to listen to you, rounding up more followers, getting more `likes’, you’re thinking `audience’.”

She goes on, “If you are thinking about connecting them, learning about them, hearing from them individually, and you’re thinking of people, then you are getting a lot closer to community building.”

Matthew Grant of MarketingProfs summed the concept up nicely, “Building community isn’t about you and your product, it’s about connecting the members of the community. Furthermore, building community means upending the audience metaphor and listening to the community. Putting it another way, you need to become the audience of your community.”

An audience is a group of people and we often treat them as just that, a large amorphous group — success is the number of followers on Facebook. We are all individuals and we buy only from companies or sales people that we trust and like. Thinking in terms of individuals in a community is a good step to earning trust and rapport.

A community comes to stay while an audience comes, then leaves. As a business person with clients and targets, I’d much rather become engaged with a community than preach to an audience. A good definition of ‘community’ is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. These are your customers and you should be absorbed in what they are saying and doing.

When you benefit the community, the community returns in kind. Even if not interested in your product or service they pass your name along. And you benefit the community by listening and sharing your knowledge, expertise and opinion. You give first. A community is the greatest asset that you can build as that is where your customers will come from. Give and you shall receive.

Embrace community and embrace the individual. They are there whether you engage with them or not.

We work closely with our clients to build community. Check out our St. Vital Centre Facebook page here and The Forks here