You’re Still Not My Audience

Crowd jumping!!
Image by being LarsLars

Let’s be clear. You’re not my audience.

We have a relationship here, and you can talk back. Further, I realize that I am just one of you, all members of the same community.

I’m just lucky enough to have you come here now and again, and read my posts.

The miracle of social media empowers this very public symbiotic relationship of equals.

It’s also why communicators who call their stakeholders audiences drive me crazy.

I first espoused this anti-audience view when I wrote Now Is Gone, and in many ways my views of social media marketing have become much more conservative. There’s still one aspect that I firmly believe: People are not audiences anymore.

Communicators without Audiences

The perspective of messaging towards audiences offers a self centered attitude. It’s also a bad strategy. Audience assumes a position of authority over customers, and that a brand has captive attention just waiting for a performance.

No one wakes up and wants to be marketed to by tons companies and nonprofits throughout their day. It’s something most people endure.

People are audiences when they pay to attend an event, when they volunteer to receive a performance.

Further, when people want to listen to communicators in such a setting, it’s usually because of a relevant need. For example, a customer happens to be in the market for the car.

Only the most powerful brands like Apple have the power to command attention at will, and only with their loyalists. This ability to deliver a top-down strategy of messaging to audiences requires years of earning the right from customers to opt-in to your marketing performance.

Don’t forget, an audience can get up and leave. It can boo a terrible performer, too.

99% of marketers aren’t good enough to even put themselves in the performers class.

If you serve a performance, customers are going to know you’re insincere and might even throw it back in your face. More likely, they will just ignore your message and resent you for delivering it.

Start serving stakeholders, and get off the stage.

OK, the virtual chicken wire is up. What do you think?

  • Most accurate statement: “Don’t forget, an audience can get up and leave. It can boo a terrible performer, too.” This post is not just directed to PR practitioners to to marketers in general. I believe that it’s easy to drink the popularity kool-aid and forget that the onus is on the [fill in the blank] to continue to engage and create interesting content/ads/products, etc. When an individual or company ignores the power of the consumer, everything can go awry.

    •  No kidding. Too many people think they are wanted in our profession. Um, can I hang out on a used car lot, too?

  • Great way to put this. I think it really boils down to what value you offer and in what context. “More likely, they will just ignore your message and resent you for delivering it.” – I think this is a point that so many marketers miss. They drink so much of their own kool-aid that they assume their message just HAS to be what people want.

    •  Yeah, I totally agree. Consumers don’t care before or after the sale, only when they want something.  That’s it. Thanks for coming by!

  • The ability to talk back (provided comments are open) that’s a big part of it. The tools and networks are here, customers are talking back to either sign praises like Apple or rake you over the coals, too many to name. If all we do is brand managers push messages, talk at our stakeholders, and not with them as part of a community (and they w/ each other), then we’re not building communities at all; it’s audiences who will walk out, change the channel, click away. Good food for thought as I rethink how I consider the term ‘audience.’ FWIW.

    •  Yeah, once I read that original Jay Rosen piece, The People Formerly Known as the Audience, it was over for me.  Couldn’t use the word anymore.  Very cool.

  • Larry Anderson

    We forget that people pay attention to something for self serving reasons only – they’re not looking for companies, they’re looking for something they’re either lacking in their life or want to add to it. Brilliant idea to move from audience to need. So instead of building profiles and personas, better define the aspects of the need.

    •  Exactly. Read a great piece in AdAge about social toothpaste and how it can entertain you, but you’re still buying the cheapest brand at the end of the day.

  • I’m not so sure. People wear brands as identifiers. We learn to do this in early childhood when mom buys the “Hello Kitty” knapsack. I tend to agree with Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi – “What consumers want is an emotional connection – they want to be able to connect with what’s behind the brand, what’s the brand promise.” People actively participate by simply being present to receive the information. They Like and Follow. They stand in line for hours for the new Pumas.They describe themselves with brands… I’m a Mercedes, Brooks Brothers, Chris Craft, Ping kinda guy. If they were not interested they would ignore the message and avoid your products. I think marketing is becoming entertainment. Be remarkable and you will be rewarded. 

    •  Perhaps, I can definitely argue that the best brands achieve this position, not sure most of them do though.  Fair contrarian opinion, and I appreciate you bring it home.

  • Ugh. So, you had to go and pull down the drawers of a previously perfectly innocent term, did you? I get it and reluctantly agree with you. Reluctantly, because .. what now? Stakeholders doesn’t work in most cases either (I don’t consider myself your stakeholder, uh-uh.), target group is way too deterministic and aggressive. So?