Internet marketers everywhere seem to agree that if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have a future. They argue that if you have to pay for traffic to make money, you’re not just being wasteful, you really don’t understand how the social web works, or where marketing is headed in the years going forward.
Well, I’m going to respectfully disagree. If you ask me, if you want your business to have a future, one audience isn’t enough. The truth is, the most resilient businesses are going to need at least two audiences if they hope to make the most of limited resources to succeed. Maybe that is why your marketing is failing.
Let me explain.
Meet your two audiences
You don’t know it yet, but you actually already have two audiences. The problem is, you’re probably alienating at least one of them. Here’s what I’m talking about:
1. Core audience
These are the people who are completely obsessed with the topic in question. The live, eat, and breath the stuff you blog about. In fact, some of these people will know even more about the topic than you do, at least when it comes to certain aspects of it.
2. Mainstream audience
These people have little or no direct interest in your topic, but they might have some tangential interest in it. For the most part, the only thing they want to know is why any of this should matter to them, and if you can’t keep them entertained, they won’t be hanging around for long.
While your business won’t necessarily die without both of these audiences, let’s just say that without some appeal to both of them, your use of resources will be…less than optimal.
Brands that failed to reach both audiences
There’s certainly no shortage of brands or campaigns that failed because they failed to reach both audiences.
Take the whole New Coke fiasco. Contrary to popular belief, most people actually liked the new flavor better. They succeeded at reaching the mainstream, but they alienated their core audience. This vocal minority destroyed the new brand, and while they may have ironically strengthened the classic brand with the whole experiment, New Coke itself was a disaster.
The same goes for Digg. Those of you who have been in internet marketing for a while can remember “the Digg effect” and just how powerful it was to have your site make the front page of the social bookmarking site. But Digg lost a huge portion of its audience after a site redesign that was aimed at a more mainstream audience, and eventually lost so much of its traffic that it was sold and replaced.
Brands that fail to reach a mainstream audience don’t fare any better. Internet TV startup Boxee was recently sold to Samsung, and is being shut down. Boxee had a strong core following, but it failed to reach the mainstream due to its steep prices, as well as too much focus on tech specs and not enough on the user experience, and an inability to strike up deals with content owners.
When you look at highly successful brands like Apple, PlayStation, or even Star Wars, you’ll find that they have appeal to rabid fanboys and mainstream audiences alike.
Is viral marketing a myth?
There’s a very good reason for this, and it has to do with audience growth. At CrazyEgg, we recently discussed why viral marketing is a myth, and why customer retention is the true barrier to growth. Brands with a growing audience must do two things: they must attract new members and they must keep their old ones.
It’s simple, really.
If you aren’t appealing to a mainstream audience, you aren’t going to get new visits. If you aren’t appealing to your core audience, you’re not going to keep your previous visitors.
Core audience is more important than mainstream
Now, I personally believe that your core audience is more important than the mainstream. Alienate your core audience and you don’t have a brand. Alienate the mainstream and they’ll probably just forget about you, and possibly rediscover you. Since staying in business is always more important than growth, I’ll side with a core following any day.
That said, having both audiences truly is the winning formula, so let’s talk about how to make that work.