When the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic started upturning our lives early this year, businesses across industries and all over the world scrambled to stay afloat.
Companies cut costs, downsized, and hit pause on production. They sent their employees home and brought their marketing online.
As the months rolled by, even the most drastic measures couldn’t save the hardest-hit businesses. Restaurants closed permanently, travel companies shut down, and small businesses that just got off the ground plunged right back down.
But amidst the chaos, fear, and instability, some businesses began to thrive. Quick-thinking restaurants switched to deliveries, fashion houses started sewing masks, and distilleries shifted from spirits to sanitizers.
While there are certainly many reasons behind the rise and fall of businesses, companies who manage to ride the changing tides have one thing in common: they all grow their businesses around a loyal audience.
Businesses who thrive during challenging times are those who turn to their audience and ask them what they need. Instead of forcing their products and processes on the changing needs of the world, they learn, grow, and adapt.
The restaurants followed their hungry audience home, the fashion brands inspired their customers to stay pandemic chic, and the distilleries found a way to stay relevant and play their part.
If you get obsessed with your solution – from your signature product to your editorial calendar – the world will leave you behind. But if you get obsessed with your audience – if you strive to always “solve for the customer” – you’ll always manage to pivot and adjust to the changing times.
If you build an audience based on mutual respect and trust, and you commit to showing up for them, they will always find ways to support you and help you grow, come hell or high water.
Your audience is the people who show up for you.
If you’re a pop star, they’re the people who jump and cheer the moment you step on the stage. They’re the ones who buy your records, go to your concerts, tweet your lyrics, and get into heated debates with your haters.
And if you’re an online business, your audience is the people who read your blog, share your social media posts, and buy your products. They are the ones who consistently show up and support your brand. They are also the ones who stand most to benefit from your products and services and the ones you hope to serve.
Building the right audience is the foundation of effective marketing and business strategies.
Building an audience makes running and growing your business a thousand times easier.
When you have an audience you genuinely understand, everything falls into place. You make better and quicker decisions, build more useful products, and launch more effective marketing campaigns.
SEO and social media bring new eyes to your business, but their algorithms favor content already being liked and shared. Having an audience who subscribes to your email list, follows you on social media, and interacts with you across platforms tells Google and Facebook that your business is worth ranking and showing on more people’s newsfeeds. And when new people arrive on your platforms and see your audience interacting with your brand, they’re also more likely to engage and speak up.
Nurturing your audience by consistently delivering valuable products and information is a great way to gain trust and build customer loyalty.
When you focus on your target audience, listen to what they are saying, and grow your business around their needs, they feel seen and understood. Forging that emotional connection with your audience motivates them to stand by your business and make your brand a part of their lives.
A loyal and engaged audience sustains your business through good and bad times. They tell you what they need, and as long as you keep listening and solving for your audience’s problems, you will have their support and the means to grow your business.
The moment you first think of starting a business, that’s when you should begin building an audience.
Like most foundational things, building an audience takes time and patience. It may seem overwhelming at first, but with strategic and consistent audience-building habits, you’ll enjoy massive returns and sustained business growth.
Let’s start from zero. If you don’t have an audience yet, think of one person who you think would most benefit from your business. Choose someone you are most likely to connect with and that you’ll enjoy serving.
What’s their story? Where are they now and where do they want to be? What’s holding them back? How can you help them?
Be as detailed as possible and write it down. Next time you write a blog, post on social media, or plan a marketing campaign, write for this one person.
Now that you have this one person you want to connect with, be the guide that solves their problems.
Think beyond your products. Besides buying your products, how else can you help them?
If you sell software that automates an aspect of their life, how else can you help them lead more productive lives? Address their pain points and share tips that give them quick wins. Write thought leadership content that offers them strategies and the mindset to tackle their problems.
Use content to attract your target audience and build a relationship with them. Show up consistently – 1-3 posts per week is ideal.
Once your audience starts showing up and engaging with your content, interact with them. Reply to comments, DMs, and emails. Take the time to know your audience and use what you find out about them to refine the target audience avatar you created in step 1.
If you already have blog posts, sales pages, and social media content published, now is a good time to optimize them for your target audience.
Go through your content and ask yourself: Does this serve my target audience? Does this speak to them? Can they relate to this and use this?
Rewrite your content to cater to your target audience’s needs and use SEO best practices to amplify your reach. Use the keywords your target audience is searching on Google, answer their questions thoroughly and comprehensively, and make your content easier to consume and share.
After publishing several optimized pieces of content and interacting with readers and followers, you now have a better understanding of your target audience. It’s time to reach out and find more of your people.
Find where your target audience hangs out. What websites are they reading? Who are they following on social media? Where are they learning new skills? Find this out by observing and asking your audience.
Make a list of the websites, social media accounts, and other platforms your target audience is likely following. Take time each week to reach out to a few of them and create content to share with their audience. Write guest posts for relevant websites, do an Instagram takeover to introduce your business to an influencer’s followers, or go on a YouTube or podcast interview.
As you approach the other business owners whose platforms you want to tap, make sure that you emphasize what you’re bringing to the table. What’s in it for them? Why would they want to help promote you? Make it a win-win proposition.
If you’re still building your brand, start with smaller websites and influencers. You can also promote your content through paid media – Facebook ads are a good start.
As you lay down the foundations of your audience-building strategy, stay on course by tracking key audience conversion metrics.
It’s great to produce viral content, of course. But what you want are long-lasting relationships with the people who are most likely to support and advocate for your brand.
Clicks and shares are great, but if you’re forgotten the next day, then it doesn’t help you build an audience. Neither does controversial content that only brings haters to your platforms. Having a unique perspective on an issue is excellent, but don’t do it just to provoke or sensationalize your brand.
Focus on the metrics that matter:
These numbers reflect the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy and the value of your brand and business. If these numbers are not improving with time, reassess your strategy. Are you targeting the right audience? Are you sending the right messages? Are you giving them a clear call-to-action? Are you building a useful product?
The ultimate goal of audience-building is to build and grow a better business. Having a huge audience that eventually does not convert into customers won’t serve your business in the long run.
Encourage your audience to consume and share your work with their friends. Do this by creating compelling content and useful products, but also by engaging with your audience. If you truly build meaningful relationships with them, simply asking them to spread the word about your brand is enough.
As you build and grow your business, continue engaging with your audience. Get to know them – not your target audience this time, but your actual audience. Reply to their emails and tweets, ask them for content ideas and product improvements, and deliver on your promises. Grow your business around your audience’s needs and stay relevant and top of mind.
An engaged and loyal audience is your business’s biggest asset. Knowing them – who they are, what they need, and what they care about – helps you grow your business through both good and uncertain times.
Strive always to listen, solve their problems, and show up where they are and when they need you.
Building an audience is a continuous process and it always helps to have a marketing expert by your side. From thoughtful branding to crafting an audience-focused marketing strategy, I help you identify and execute opportunities to supercharge your audience growth. Get in touch and let’s get to work.
Adriana Stein is an Online Marketing Consultant based in Hamburg, Germany. Originally from the US, she is a native English speaker and specializes in helping companies with their SEO & content marketing strategies, along with graphic design, brand copy and website development.