Why You Must Build an Audience Before Selling

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Jay Dillon

Director of Strategy and Creative at Inbound Experts
Jay is a digital marketer and producer whose creative and technical skills have developed digital brand strategies and sales campaigns using a range of complex internet applications from stand-alone websites through to Facebook API integrations.
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Some old school business gurus will recoil in horror upon reading the title of this post…

“Marketing before sales?” they might ask. “You’re living in a crazy world!”

Indeed we are – and that crazy world is called inbound marketing.

But luckily for you, this is a world that everyone should be living in if they want to maximise their web presence and reach the largest number of people.

If You Build It, They Will Come…

In the classic American film Field of Dreams, actor Kevin Costner plays Ray, a corn farmer who hears voices telling him to build a baseball field on his land.

The voices keep repeating the same refrain: “If you build it, they will come.” This inspires Ray to work hard at ploughing his land and building a field for baseball on top of it. Eventually, ghosts of players from the past show up at his field, proving that the mysterious voices Ray heard were right.

The work that Ray put in is similar to the type of work you’ll need to put in to build your online audience: long and sometimes repetitive. But, like Ray, you’ll find that if you succeed at building an online presence based on adding value for your target audience, you’ll eventually have a loyal base of followers who jump at the chance to become customers.

The reason this strategy works so well is that in the digital age, the most important currency is information. Generally speaking, people don’t care if they find answers from a free blog, an answers site, or a brand – they just want to find what they need to help them solve their problems.

An Example of the “Audience First” Approach

Arguably the most well known approach to this audience-first marketing method is the one taken by Copyblogger.

Copyblogger began in 2006 as a basic blog operated by one person – founder Brian Clark. Starting with just an idea and $1,000 in capital, Clark grew his brand from a humble online blog into a complex marketing software company that now turns over $10,000,000 a year.

How did Copyblogger grow so quickly? By adhering to the principles of content marketing. They didn’t have a sales team, a huge advertising budget or lots of capital. Instead, they focused on educating their audience and providing them what they wanted. Only after Copyblogger reached that point did Clark worry about monetising his platform.

Many other companies have taken this approach. Danish twins Emil and Rasmus Albrechsten created a hairstyle shop for men that enjoyed moderate success at first. But once they decided to build an audience on YouTube, their reach increased exponentially and they were able to build entirely new products based on their audience reaction, with great results.

The benefits are obvious: you don’t need to sink a tremendous amount of time or money into testing, developing, and marketing a product before you know it will work. It becomes obvious based on what your audience is telling you they want, and how they respond to your efforts.

How to Apply This Strategy to Your Business

If you’re thinking that this approach may not apply to you because you already have a well-defined product or service – you’re wrong.

Do you plan on keeping your product or service the same throughout your company’s entire life? If so, prepare to be at a serious disadvantage. In this age of digital disruption, those who rest on their laurels and fail to innovate, die (think Presto vs Netflix, or the taxi industry vs Uber). Companies who already have a product or service can apply this concept by using the feedback they receive from their existing audience to innovate their company offerings, the way they deliver them, or both.

Here are three actionable tips for how you can use these ideas in your business right now:

  • Send out a survey and use the results to tweak your offering. If possible, include a small prize such as a product discount or special offer to entice people to participate. This strategy is doubly valuable because you also get crucial data that you can use to improve your buyer persona.
  • Do a content audit – Analyse your previous content marketing results. Which web sites, blog posts, or pieces of content have resonated best with your target audience? Find these pieces and then create more content that addresses the problems or challenges that they solve for your audience.
  • Encourage interaction by leading by example – Forget Always Be Closing. The new mantra is Always Be Interacting: with your customers and prospects on Facebook, Twitter, your company website, and other places where there’s an opportunity to do so. Consumers who see that a brand is willing to engage and listen to them will value that brand over others.

It might seem like a backwards approach, but when you think about it, building an audience first really isn’t that crazy. If you can adopt these tactics successfully, you’ll find yourself in a great position to meet the needs of your audience, which will help you convert readers into customers and customers into raving fans.

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