Marketing starts with audience

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Fire in the fireplace

I was talking recently with Jon Merz, author of the Kensei (if you dig vampires, definitely grab a copy) about how some authors can move much more inventory than others with the power of the email list a little while back. He was wondering how it was that some authors are able to throw out a newsletter and clock in thousands of dollars in sales in a few days, while other authors who are equally or more talented don’t manage that.

Unquestionably, having a good product is where you start in the big picture. If your writing is terrible, then no matter how good a marketer you are, you will not create a sustainable following that will buy everything you publish, from Tolstoyesque masterpieces to random scrawlings on a napkin.

That said, once you have a solid product, you have to start marketing it, and marketing is all about building the audience that wants your product. As much as some folks like to say that numbers don’t matter, the unfortunate truth is that numbers do matter a great deal.

I like to make the analogy that starting a marketing program is a lot like starting a fire. In the beginning, there’s a lot of smoke, heat, and light as you ignite the tinder and get the kindling burning. Once you’ve got a few coals, the heart of your fire – the heavy logs – can go on and make a sustainable, warming fire. It won’t be as flashy as those first few moments, but you need those first few moments of ignition to get everything rolling.

In the case of the author, you absolutely want to put some large numbers of eyeballs on your various properties to start. While you’re writing, spend time building your audience. Grow your database as quickly as time and budget will allow. Gain permission from as many people as possible to communicate with them about your upcoming project. Identify hubs of influence in the audience you’re targeting and get them involved as soon as possible so that they’re able to communicate to their audiences at launch. Use as many audience capture methods as you can get away with to build your initial base.

In Jon’s case, he’s got a relatively rich niche to start from. Go check Twitter search for the number of people tweeting about vampires. Yes, a decent number of them are the Twilight/Vampire Diaries crowd that might not stick around, but a subset of them will. Follow the heck out of them. Get them to visit the web site, hit them with ye olde popup, and get sending to them with stuff they want.

Over time, you’ll see that initial audience wear down, like the tinder of a fire. You’ll replace your initial flashes of light and heat with the heart of your audience that still wants to hear from you and participate in your work. These are the coals, and what throws more wood on the fire are word of mouth programs. All other things being equal, like interests attract like people, so having a strong word of mouth program will build that audience base. Give rewards to those who share more prolifically. Create a sense of exclusivity for your base with stuff that they get first.

Can you start with a word of mouth program and purely organic audience growth? Yes, if you like frustration, in the same way that you can start a fire eventually by taking your largest log and repeatedly holding matches to it. Eventually, it’ll burn as long as you have enough time and matches. Most people, however, don’t have an unlimited supply of either, just as you don’t have an unlimited supply of time and budget to wait for a marketing program to slowly catch fire.

Should you worry about things like conversion rate, calls to action, design, metrics, analytics, page layout, etc.? Absolutely. They’re critical pieces of your marketing infrastructure. However, none of them matter if you don’t cross the first hurdle of finding people to join your audience. The richest hickory Yule log is nothing more than a decoration if you don’t get it to catch fire.

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9 responses to “Marketing starts with audience”

  1. Hi Christopher. Great article, Great blog. I love your customer-focus, and your “building a fire” approach to marketing your work.

  2. Hi Christopher,
    I really like your approach but it seems there are two first steps.
    Is this about how you see it working?

    1) Have great content + find people to join your audience
    2) Ignite a fire (kindling, coals, logs, + spark)
    3) Keep it burning

    FYI – I read about your brief article on Chris Brogan’s blog, here:

    1. More or less. That’s how you start a fire.

  3. Christopher,

    This is a good reminder for me to keep on track as I finish my book.


  4. After speaking with you the other night, Chris, I went home and installed “ye old popup” on certain pages and figured out how to do an auto response letter when folks subscribe to my free newsletter. The number of folks who subscribed yesterday was about six times what it normally is. Thanks for the great ideas and I very much appreciate all your insight into this. It’s a far different world in publishing now than what it was, but it’s a pretty great time to be an author in the ebook world.

    Many thanks to you, my friend!

  5. I enjoyed the post, but one question – does it really start with having a great product? What I mean to ask isn’t understand the audience critical to developing great content or a great product?

    I mentor startups in the Philadelphia area and I find more often than not they are focused on the functionality that they are building and not always the problems of a potential targeted market. I’ve seen the same thing over the course of my career no matter how small or large the company is. Whether it is content, services, or product, there at times seems an overwhelming habit of placing audience last

    [Disclosure: this is a post on my blog ]this is an interview with former colleague of mine who does pretty good job of placing the problems of the marketplace centric in order to drive the development of a solid go to market strategy.

    1. It does in the sense that a sucky product is not sustainable for marketing. A solution without a problem is by default sucky.

  6. Man… you’s right. 🙂

    Like Sonia Simone said, there’s two parts to this whole Internet thing. The first is to get eyeballs, and the second is to get those eyeballs to crap bucks.

    No, that’s not exactly how she said it. She’s a lot more gracious than that.

    But that’s what it boils down to.

    And I’m finding this out myself. It’s kind of a fun journey, but it’s also a lot of hard work.

    I’ve been listening to y’alls podcast for a while, but I’ve not gotten around to subscribing to this here blog. But with Chris Brogan linking to it and all, I’m figuring it’s about time.

    Oh, and speaking of the podcast, I recall you rambling on about how that popup window was converting like a zombie on steroids. Yep, I entered my worthless email and submitted just to make it shut up.

    In other words, it works.

    You’ve got SUCH a cool voice Christopher.

  7. Enjoyed this piece. Thanks for the insight. I have a blog with a decent number of readers, but with a book coming out in eight months I need to start to really increase those numbers and your advice is excellent in that regard.

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