Yes, You Can Reserve the Right to Refuse (Some of) Your Audience

Marketers like to throw around this quote from business guru Peter Drucker: “The business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation.” 

But the first part of that quote is often omitted, and it explains why Drucker believed that marketing and innovation were so important. Here’s the full quote: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only these two – basic functions: marketing and innovation.”

But what if you’re creating “customers” that aren’t good for the business? At what point do you actually create a customer? 

I recently worked with a vice president of marketing at a B2B software company. One of its larger customers was threatening to leave just six months into their contract. The software wasn’t working for them – because no one at the customer’s company had bothered to take the how-to training and onboarding classes created the software company offered. The customer expected the software to be intuitive enough to use without training.  

The brand had created good content for the how-to university, and most customers got more value from the software after completing the coursework. But this new “customer” said their people didn’t have time to take the courses. 

The marketing leader offered a significant discount on a multi-year contract if the customer would guarantee a certain number of their employees would go through the content and take the training. 

The customer refused. They wanted the discount without committing to the training.  

This was the answer the marketing exec had been waiting for. She knew – even though the client company had paid and was willing to commit to a multi-year contract – it didn’t count as a customer yet. She knew this client would eventually be bad for the business. And she let them go on their way.  

Today, content marketers look at early audiences as having the same kind of value as customers. We take a deep, experiential view of their needs across their whole journey.

But if you start to look at your audience, you may find you’re creating bad audiences along with the good. The customer isn’t always right – and the audience is not always right either.

If you audit your audience, you’ll see the marketing shortcuts that went into building it. Did someone buy an email list? Is the percentage of customers in the audience in the single digits? Are there people who will never purchase? Do you have fake social followers?

You also find there are very vocal, active, or otherwise “engaged” audiences that are encouraging you to do things that aren’t productive for your business. They may have you questioning your point of view on a particular topic. They may have you jumping through hoops to develop content that is off-topic or less useful to the rest of your audience. 

It can be tempting to believe all audience members have the same potential for results. Our job as content marketers is to invite guests to our ongoing show – and make the experience as awesome as possible while they’re here. And, just as we give some customers extraordinary experiences that they may not deserve, we’ll do the same with audiences.

But don’t hesitate to define who, when, and where your real audiences are. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people you’d be better served to escort out.       

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.