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How to build an audience for content marketing

How to build an audience for content marketing Rebecca Lieb

If you build it, will they come?

If you're super lucky, they will. Most marketers, however, are faced with a challenge that is familiar to publishers and broadcasters: audience development. This means connecting eyeballs with content.

One thing that publishers and broadcasters have going for them is that enterprises engaged in content marketing are only beginning to realize that audience development is an integral part of content strategy.

There are six essential components of audience development. The first four are internal and research-focused, based on figuring out who the intended audience is, what types of content serve the audience members' needs, and where (and in what formats) content ought to be produced. When it comes to audience development, keep the classic four "w"s in mind: who, what, when, and where.

The second tier of audience development is amplification. Content marketing, by definition, lives on owned media channels (i.e., in places owned and/or controlled by the brand). Often, content needs a bit of a bump to attract attention.

Research and development

Defining an audience is the first and most critical step. Rarely, if ever, is the intended audience "everyone," even if you're selling toothpaste and nearly everyone has teeth. Who's the buyer? The influencer? The decider? Campaigns may be focused to one or more of these identified groups. Rule No. 1 of audience development: Know who you're addressing with the content.

Once a target audience is defined, the work has only just begun. What are the target audiences' needs, wants, and paid points? Where do audience members go online, not just generally, but in pursuit of the type of content and messaging you intend to provide? When and how often do they visit? What media types do they prefer? Long-form articles, videos, images, infographics? Since you don't have the resources to do everything, research is essential for focus.

Persona creation
Personas are not real people. They are archetypical representatives of a target audience. Some examples of personas include a soccer mom, a career-driven urban single woman of 27, or a tech-savvy 30-something named Dennis in Madison, Wis. A persona is a composite portrait of a slice of audience complete with a name, a backstory, needs, problems, desires, and triggers. The point? Knowing who you're talking to modulates how you speak to them. You don't speak to your grandmother the same way you speak to your boss. Content directed to specific personas is part of content strategy, editorial calendars, and other audience-specific initiatives.

Channel selection
Do research around who and what influences where. Audience behavior, research, and persona development feed into determinations around a YouTube channels vs. a microsite, and whether to include Pinterest and a blog, for example. Until the initial research and homework is conducted, there's no way to intelligently determine where content goes. And without knowing where it goes, it's impossible to say which forms it should take.


Social media
Content must be portable in order to resonate enough with people that they'll share it with friends, family, and colleagues, amplifying the message and increasing the reach of the content. Social media channels amplify content beyond just the channels it's published in with likes, shares, commentary, reviews, and other forms of interaction. Rather than allow this to happen by happenstance, content must be designed to be sharable, portable, and promotable by its audience.

Paid media
By definition, content marketing is not paid media because no ad buy is involved in published, owned content on owned media channels. Yet content marketing by no means precludes advertising. In fact, the convergence of content marketing and advertising has led to native advertising, the topic of my current research. Many marketers need to drive traffic to content via advertising, either to build initial momentum or as part of a long-term strategy.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst in digital advertising/media for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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