Speaking to your target audience

Audience development: What it is and how to do it

June 28, 2021 · 8 min read

There’s one thing every modern business wants and needs: an engaged audience. The transfer of publishing power from concentrated media companies to anyone with a social media account has created a highly competitive media landscape. Not only do legacy media outlets like The New York Times face stronger competition for audience engagement, but so do direct-to-consumer companies like Curology.

Curology, a bespoke skincare subscription service, has at least eight content channels: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest, a blog, and email. The end goal of maintaining all these channels is, of course, to drive sales of their skincare products. They do so through audience development.


What is audience development?

Audience development is exactly what it sounds like: getting consumers to pay attention to your brand, turning those consumers into customers, building long-term relationships with those customers, building loyalty in those customers, and so on. In short, attracting people to your brand and maintaining a committed relationship between that audience and your brand over time.

What good audience development looks like

It’s a basic mandate that’s difficult to execute. No matter what industry you’re in, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of other brands competing for the attention of the same consumers. Curology competes with many companies, including Proven, Nurx, and Geologie. It’s highly unlikely that any one customer will subscribe to multiple brands within the customized skincare space; beyond an initial comparison, there’s absolutely no reason to do so. Curology leads the pack in part due to their stellar audience development strategy and execution.

The top of Curology's Instagram account, viewed on a desktop browser

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Curology publishes relevant blog articles, covering topics ranging from how blue light affects your skin to how to prepare your skin for the transition from winter to spring. On their Instagram page, which boasts 448k followers, they post almost daily. Subjects include show-and-tell videos with interesting customers, skin tips, specific product recommendations, and so on. This basic strategy continues across every single channel they use to distribute content.

So, in summary, why is Curology such a popular player in the skincare space? They maintain a stellar audience development strategy, with specific content categories dialed in and posted consistently across as many channels as possible. They also know exactly how to create and manage that content, putting their trust in talented content creators and efficient content management tools.


How to build an audience

Audience growth is not easy. Going from first creating an Instagram account to your first 10k followers is no small feat. If you’ve already hit that milestone and gone beyond, congratulations! If your follower count has plateaued, or you’re just getting started, here’s a guide on how to create an audience development plan, attract new audiences, and work towards your loftiest business goals. There are five main steps in the process, meant to be repeated as needed.

1. Define your demographic and audience segments

First, you need to figure out what the right audience for your brand is. Who is most likely to buy your products or services? When defining your potential audience, it’s good to research what kind of audiences your competitors attract. Study who is engaging with their social media output. You probably already have an idea of who your target audience is, so flesh that out and do specific research around the wants and needs of those sorts of people.

2. Content strategy

Once you have an idea of your target audience, it’s time to create a marketing strategy that will resonate with that audience. This has to be a multi-channel approach, including everything from LinkedIn posts to Facebook ads to blog posts. Make sure you have the right team to produce the actual content — designers, writers, etc. Build templates and hire freelancers to fill in the gaps. You’ll also need the right content management tools — Hootsuite or Sprout Social for scheduling and tracking social content, Air for managing digital assets.

3. Optimization

Realize that your content strategy won’t be perfect to begin with. You have to be agile. Use your management tools to track everything (engagement, new follower rate, etc.) and figure out the barriers to faster growth. Is nobody visiting your blog site? Research how search engines work, improve your search engine optimization (SEO), and see if anything changes. Try A/B testing — when you push two slightly different versions of one email or other marketing asset to see which one gets more engagement. Repeat as needed.

Content optimization workflow graphic created by Killer Visual Strategies

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4. Amplification

Understand that none of your marketing channels are truly separate, and that your marketing plan as a whole must not be separate from other channels owned by people who aren't stakeholders in your brand. Ensure that content on one of your channels sends viewers to another one of your channels; build relationships with other brands or bloggers to get your content in front of their audiences. For example, write a blog post with useful statistics, link to it from an Instagram story, and send it to writers who might find the statistics useful for their own work.

5. Study your metrics

This last step isn’t actually a final step; it’s where this circular process restarts. Track every part of your marketing strategy — engagement over time, engagement per post, how time of posting affects engagement, clickthrough rate on emails, etc. Some of this you’ll have to do manually in custom spreadsheets, but the aforementioned content management tools do a lot of the work for you. 

Strategize ways to improve all those numbers, go through the steps again to test out your new strategies, study the metrics again, repeat. This is a never-ending process — the key to an effective audience development strategy is audience maintenance. Keep them loyal!

Long-term audience development

Audience development is a worthy investment of your time and money in the long term. Many companies actually have a dedicated audience development team. Even The New York Times created one in 2014. At the time of writing, Amazon had a job listing for a Senior Audience Development Strategist, specifically for their live streaming vertical, Twitch.

Signage on The New York Times Building

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Content marketing is simple on the surface. Marketers strategize how to convert people who’ve heard about their brand for the first time into potential customers. Then they push messaging to convert those people into new customers. Then, through content on social media platforms, outreach emails, and so on they turn all those people into a cohesive, loyal audience. 

The holy grail of any marketing strategy is a self-sustaining audience. Truly loyal customers spread their love for a brand through word of mouth referrals. You might say the end goal of any audience development strategy is to build a self-sufficient audience that continues the process themselves, building user-generated content and otherwise promoting your brand for you. How do you achieve that? Iterate those five steps, time and time again.


The right tools for the job

Two key ingredients define a good audience development strategy: metrics-backed iteration and a multi-channel approach. If you lack good tools to track and manage both of those aspects, you simply won’t succeed. Keeping track of everything gets way too complicated, and things start to fall apart.

For metrics-based iteration, you want tools that automatically track individual metrics and give you charts and tables of those metrics over time. Mode is a very useful product for data science that will allow you to collect, track, and analyze advanced metrics. Social media marketing and management tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social give you specific insights to your social channels and bridge the gap between metrics tracking and multi-channel management.

The aforementioned social management tools are great for scheduling and tracking individual posts and account-level metrics, but for the actual content — particularly visual content — you need a tool like Air.

Importing Instagram assets with Air

Air allows marketers and brand managers to maintain a central hub for all content creation and deployment. Get organized using boards (Air’s folder equivalent), creating a different one for each campaign, each platform, whatever best suits your needs. Maintain an accessible database of creative templates, brand guidelines, and logos, so every collaborator (internal and external) stays on the same page.

Deploy all of your content directly from Air’s in-browser platform. Send collaborators permissioned share links to individual assets or entire boards — links that never expire. With Air, creating the content that drives your audience development strategy is a breeze. Automate the busy work and spend more time on what actually matters: deploying and iterating. Start for free and scale up as your needs grow.

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