Develop An Audience Or Pay For It!I recently listened (three times) to an interview with Jeffrey K Rohrs, the author of “Audience – Marketing in the age of subscribers, fans and followers”, on the Social Media Marketing Podcast with Mike Stelzner and was particularly impressed with Jeff’s views on Proprietary Audience Development. Together they discussed the importance of strategically building and engaging with your audience on an ongoing basis, developing that audience over time as an asset that will give your business a huge competitive advantage and as a result, create real value for your business.
As a business, you should be developing audiences containing your ideal customers. This can be done using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, your blog, email or a combination of these or other platforms, with email subscribers being the ultimate proprietary audience. Getting onto the inbox of your ideal customers should be an important objective of your marketing efforts, as despite changes to how people access email over the years, there is still a linear process of checking the inbox on an at least a daily basis for most people. In addition to this, most people still have a stronger relationship with email than social media.
It is called a proprietary audience, as your audience is captured in databases owned and accessible by your business. However, you never truly own the audience itself; people can, and do, opt out. That’s ok, because audiences are renewable assets.
Businesses usually develop audiences because they want to sell their products or services to that audience or because they want to sell advertising opportunities within that audience.
Jeff suggests that everything you are doing in marketing your business should focus on building the direct proprietary audience that are most meaningful and valuable to your business, as if you don’t have an audience, then you are going to have to pay for it in the form of advertising.

“Attention is the product of mass media. They are selling the attention of an audience.” Jeffrey.K Rohrs.

Instead of paying for advertising, by buying or renting someone else’s established audience in the hope that it will contain the eyeballs of your ideal customers, you should be investing in developing social media and email platforms. In doing so, you will be creating your own cross-channel proprietary audiences that allow you to become the media in a space that you know contains the eyeballs of your ideal customers.

Content Marketing And Proprietary Audience Development

“Content marketing and proprietary audience development are different sides of the same coin.” Jeffrey.K Rohrs.

Content marketing and proprietary audience development go hand-in-had together. You can’t just create great content and assume that you will be found if an audience has not already been developed. Developing a proprietary audience gives you a “push button” audience for your content to reach.

Proprietary Audiences Are Valuable Business Assets

Proprietary audiences are extremely valuable business assets. Using email subscribers as an example, whilst you will always get unsubscribers, in the long run and in most cases, a large majority of those people that opted in to receive your email updates will stay on your email list. They will continue to receive your emails, engage with your content and purchase from your business over time in far greater proportions than if they had not opted in to receive your emails.
Think about your audiences in terms of their aggregate value to your business, rather than in terms of the ROI on a single marketing campaign, which is how most people measure the value of an audience at present. Valuing an audience on a single campaign basis hugely undervalues the worth of your audience and misses the bigger picture of what it means to have a 100,000 email subscribers when your competitor only has 1,000. Consider the long term customer value this difference provides for your business.

The lifetime customer value of an email subscriber can be calculated and compared against that of a non-subscriber to determine the true value of your email subscriber database. This can be done for each audience (e.g. Facebook fans vs non-fans), as well as comparing different audiences. By doing this you will be able to work out which channels are more valuable for your business.

Different Types Of Proprietary Audiences

Jeff described three distinct types of audiences within businesses:



Seekers are people looking for information or entertainment (e.g. YouTube channel surfer or Google searcher). They are momentary. You can attract seekers with great content, SEO, through amplifiers and by paying for advertising. However, once they get what they want, they go without a trace unless you convert them to the joiner group. For most businesses, seekers are the largest group. For example, you may have 10,000 people coming to your website each month, but only 2,000 on your email list. Converting seekers into joiners should be your objective.


Amplifiers are people that choose to share your content with their audiences. Amplification is where your consumers turn into your best form of marketing; word-of-mouth with a much greater distribution and reach. Effective amplifiers are those people with influence that have developed a large audience, containing a significant proportion of your ideal customers. Amplifiers are often looking to grow their own audiences, so you can often do quite well when you engage them in ways that add to their prestige and the distribution of their message about your business. People can share your content regardless of whether or not you have a relationship, unless you have somehow converted them into joiners.


A Joiner is a person who has given you permission to directly communicate with them in the future via a specific channel, allowing you to deepen your relationship with them and increase customer opportunities. Your aim should be to convert seekers and amplifiers into joiners.
The ultimate joiner audience is a customer, as they have purchased from you and you now have communication opportunities around receipts, warranties, on boarding processes, ongoing customer support, etc. Employees and partners are another joiner audience as you have the ability to communicate with them either implicitly or explicitly as a result of your relationship.
Audience - Jeffrey K RohrsJoiners from a marketing perspective are subscribers, fans and followers. They give you permission to access them via their chosen method of communication on a regular basis for as long as you continue to meet their expectations. Those expectations are individual to each audience member, but in most cases would include a level of expectation around value add, relevance, interest and timeliness in the information that you share.
Seekers, amplifiers and joiners are not mutually exclusive. You can be a seeker, amplifier and joiner or any combination of these three groups at any point in time, and most people are.

How Do You Strategically Develop A Proprietary Audience?

You need to think strategically about how you can grow these audiences in meaningful ways. Too many businesses implicitly expect that they are going to grow their subscriber base, fans or followers without an explicit plan to achieve that.
As a starting point, audit the subscription capture mechanisms on your website for conversion optimisation, particularly in the high traffic areas of your website. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you asking for that overt express permission to email them?
  • Are your email subscription opportunities adequately planned?
  • Do you have several prominent call-to-actions, providing several different value-add opportunities in exchange for an email opt-in?
  • Are you clearly explaining what your subscribers are going to get in exchange for their opt-in?
  • What are your visitor to subscriber conversion rates like?

No doubt you are creating content to draw people to your website and grow your audience, so don’t skip the important step of looking for logical places to ask people to opt-in and putting some effort into creating opt-in opportunities that convert.
Some of those places you can ask people to opt in are:

  • Pop ups
  • End of blog posts
  • Tick box subscription option when commenting on blog posts
  • Social sign in (for creating social joiners)
  • Off-line (e.g. In-store)

Some people may argue that opt-ins such as pop-ups turn people off. That may be the case for some, but if you are going to make a business of this, then a little bit of friction is ok. If people appreciate the value of the content they are getting from you for free, then chances are they will want to hear more from you. Make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

The Benefits Of Proprietary Audience Development

As your proprietary audience grows, you will start to get better results each time you engage with your audience – giving you greater bang for your buck!
This is because you will be accessing more people with each engagement, allowing you to gain more sales directly and faster. With a bigger audience it will take less engagements (or effort) to get the same results. You can then re-direct some of that effort into efficiency, making sure that your marketing efforts are focused on engaging with and adding value to your audience, optimising conversion and further building your audience.

The Future Of Proprietary Audience Development

Businesses that focus on proprietary audience development in the years to come are going to build a huge competitive advantage. We are already seeing it with businesses such ad Red Bull who have developed huge push button audiences via email, YouTube, Facebook, etc. As a result, when they develop and share content, it goes directly to their audience of customers and potential customers. Their competitors don’t have access into those audiences, so they have to incur higher costs through advertising to reach those people, or miss out altogether.
Successful businesses in the future will have an asset based mentality, with dedicated resources focusing on audience development. They will recognise that they are building an audience as an assets that has real value for their business. This value will be measured in terms of size, engagement and conversion.

Tips For Proprietary Audience Development For Your Business

To summarise the above:

  • Make it easy for people (seekers) to find you by establishing a presence, providing value and engaging with your ideal customers in the places that they hang out. This includes social media platforms, good SEO for your blog and by creating awesome content that people (amplifiers) wish to share.
  • Create an environment that encourages people (amplifiers) that love your content, product and/or services to amplify your messages, allowing you to reach new audiences at less cost.
  • Put systems in place to convert seekers and amplifiers into joiners and preferably that joiner group (subscribers, fans or followers) that is most profitable for your business.
  • Build your audience as a means toward building market share so you can push a button and sell more of your products and/or services.
  • Develop a proprietary audience in a differentiating way that is specific to your business in terms of the value exchange for an opt-in. In other words, make your opt-in opportunities highly relevant to the products and/or services that you offer.
  • Keep your audience engaged with your business by providing value to that audience on an ongoing basis. It’s not enough to just collect the develop an audience in the same way that it’s not enough to just develop content and hope that it will be seen.

Social Media Marketing Podcast with Mike Stelzner Episode 66If you would like to learn more about concept of proprietary audience development, then you can grab a copy of Jeff’s book “Audience – Marketing in the age of subscribers, fans and followers”.
Do you have any additional tips for proprietary audience development? If so, please share them in the comments below.