Audience Marketing Strategy

The Marketing Strategy for Building Your Audience First

How does focusing your marketing strategy around building an engaged audience first help you sell to them tomorrow? Read the interview here.
Article Outline

Robert Rose believes you should consider killing marketing – at least how you’re doing it now – and instead focus your marketing strategy first around building an engaged audience today so that you can sell to them tomorrow.

Audience Marketing Strategy
Audience Marketing Strategy

Rose is the Chief Strategy Advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, consulting more than 500 companies around the world, including Microsoft, Dell, Hewlett Packard, UPS, and more. He recently co-authored Killing Marketing with his friend and colleague Joe Pulizzi. The two also host the popular This Old Marketing podcast that is published each Monday.

Recently, Rose joined Act-On’s CMO Michelle Huff on the Rethink Marketing Podcast to talk about the new book, the definition of content marketing, and the technology’s role in your audience-first marketing strategy.

Michelle Huff: Can you tell us more about yourself and Content Advisory?

Robert Rose: I am currently the chief strategy advisor with the Content Marketing Institute. And that’s a whole lot of mouthful of words to basically say I help with strategy, and run around the planet, and work with companies ‒ usually larger brands ‒ to help them figure out the operationalizing of content marketing. And within that, the Content Advisory is our group that works on that. And we basically focus on two things. One is education: corporation education, working with clients to hold workshops and advisory days to help them understand the process and function of content marketing. And then secondarily to do consulting around a number of things including content strategy, technology acquisition, training, as well as marketing strategy and those kinds of things.

As far as I go, I’m an old guy in marketing. I’ve been around for 30 years and discovered this whole content marketing thing quite by accident by doing it while I was a CMO of a software company. And then I met this guy in 2008, Joe Pulizzi, who was trying to form this thing called the Content Marketing Institute. And he said, ‘Hey, when you’re done with this software company, you and I should work together.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s funny you should mention, dot dot dot.’ And then he and I ended up writing a book together, our first together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What Is Content Marketing?

Michelle: How do you describe what is content marketing? And how have you seen it evolve since Content Marketing Institute started?

Robert: Content marketing has always been around. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years, is our contention. In fact, the namesake of our podcast is This Old Marketing, where we bring up old examples of content marketing that have been around for 50, 60, 100 years.

The key difference is that what digital has brought is the ability for us to create content at all parts of the customer’s journey that create value for that customer. And so, instead of only creating content for customers after they become customers and sending them a magazine, or a loyalty letter, or something like that, now we can create the media that we want to be on and that we want our customers to consume, and aggregate our own audiences. We can build our own audiences because we have the technology and the tools to be able to do that.

What do you mean by “killing marketing”?

Michelle: You’ve authored three marketing books. The latest is Killing Marketing, which you co-authored with Joe Pulizzi. What do you mean by killing marketing? It’s a very provocative title.

Robert: I hope so. Hopefully, we’ll sell a few books. Here’s what it came from. There’s a wonderful line that’s attributed to Mark Twain that, apparently, he never said, but it’s attributed to him anyway. And the quote is basically, it’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that gets you into trouble. We ask the question at the beginning of the book: What if everything we know about marketing is actually what’s holding us back?

The transformation of digital has really meant we’re just trying to continually do more and more and more and more of the same thing that we’ve been doing for 60 years. We’re running more and more campaigns, we’re running more and more tactics, we’re creating more and more content, we’re creating more and more advertising, we’re creating more and more, with less and less budget, and we’re expecting a different result. And that obviously is the definition of insanity, but it’s also this idea of something that is an opportunity for us to change.

The book opens up asking: What if all of that is just wrong? What if we wipe the slate clean and we said: What if we started with content? What if we started with a story? What if we started by building an audience? And then letting that audience help tell us how to market the products and services we want to be put into the marketplace.

That’s just a fundamental upset of the marketing that we do today. It’s not that different, but it’s just a different order and different kinds of activities that we do, to really get back to what Drucker would have told us the original remit of marketing is anyway ‒ to create a customer. And so that’s the idea of killing marketing. Killing the marketing we know to make room for the marketing that we want to create.

6 Best Practices for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy

What is the difference between a media company and a brand?

Michelle: That makes a lot of sense. You also talk about in the book ‒ maybe this is part of the building the audience ‒ but you say the lines between a media company and a brand no longer exist. How do you better describe that? Or what do you mean?

Robert: It’s something Joe said ‒ and I absolutely agree with ‒ is that the difference between a product company and a media company is there is no difference any longer. The business model is the same, which is building an audience. If you look at the newest media companies, what we define as media companies. There are four that come to immediate mind. You’ve got Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. So, let’s just look at them in order. You’ve got Amazon, an online book store that became a retailer like Walmart, that is now going to spend $6 billion creating original content. Because why?  Because they’re trying to become an integrated media and product platform. Because they know that if they have an addressable audience that they engage and that they entertain, they’ll buy more stuff, and they’ll buy more stuff from them. Apple, same thing. They said they’re going to invest $2 billion into new original content for their streaming platform.

Facebook has gone, I don’t know how long it’s been, 10 years since basically denying that they were a media company, and finally having to cop to it and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to develop new content to engage, and we’re going to launch this Watch platform, and it’s going to be awesome; it’s streaming video.’ And they’re going to invest a billion dollars, they just announced two weeks ago. A billion dollars into new original content for our Watch platform. And then finally you get to Google with YouTube that has said they’re going to invest up to $6 billion in new content, too.

All of that on its face is like, yeah, of course, I get that, I get why Google is doing that, I understand why Facebook is doing that, I get why Apple’s doing that. If you look at the cost, where they’re applying the cost of that, it’s not new products. They don’t look at these as new products, they look at these as marketing costs, to get to the direct attention and trust of an audience. And from that they can offer all kinds of products and services.

Now if you flip that around and you go all the way back, and you go to product companies, and you look at a company, like Lego for example … Lego is one of the best turnaround stories that you’ve heard in years. In 2002, 2003 Lego was a bankrupt, ready-to-go bust bricks and toy company. They transformed themselves into a media company, getting into the amusement park business, getting into the feature film business, getting into the television business, and really transforming themselves into a content company that also sells bricks and little toys. They have now completely reinvented themselves.

What we’ve seen is the power of the new marketing ‒ the new creating value in a business is: How do I get your attention, and keep it, and build trust with you over time? Content is one of the best ways to do that. And if I can create content that develops trust, engagement, and attention from you, well now I can sell you anything I want to. And now I don’t have to buy television ads. And now I don’t have to buy interruptive-based print ads. Now I don’t have to buy radio. Now I don’t have to buy ‒ because I am the media. I am what entertains you. Instead of trying to interrupt you with what is going to interest you, why don’t I just become the thing that interests you? And that is a powerful new way to look at the way we operate our businesses.

I like to say today, content marketing is not a marketing tactic, it’s a business strategy that marketing people happen to perform. And it’s that fundamental, I believe, to the business because it is part of the new business model.

What is technology’s role in your marketing strategy?

Michelle: How do you think marketing technology fits into all of this? And how does it fit into killing marketing and rethinking marketing’s approach to marketing strategy?

Robert: I think there are two things to talk about there. One is the overwhelming amount of technology that exists for marketers today. As I’ve been telling marketers in my workshop these days: You can’t dream it. In other words, if you dream of it, I guarantee you there’s a software company that does it. So just stop. Just stop trying to think of stuff that you need because you don’t need it.

Because the way most marketers are making decisions about technology right now is quite frankly they’re saying: ‘Oh, that company does something really cool. We should probably be doing that.’ And then they figure out a way that their strategy should meet the features and benefits of that new technology. And quite frankly what it leads to is a misuse of technology.

Your company, of all companies, knows this all too well. I think I saw some statistic that most marketers use between 4 and 6 percent of the features in a marketing automation solution. And that’s just sad because marketing automation solutions like yours are extraordinarily capable today.

And that is what segues into the other piece of this, which is: When we look at building audiences, what are the technologies that we start to see out there that are really relevant? Now, I’ll issue a challenge. I’ve written on this before. No one’s taken me up on it yet, and so I’ll take the opportunity now that I’m on your podcast to issue a challenge to you, that none of the marketing automation solutions are building audience-development tools. And it would be the easiest thing in the world for marketing automation to do this, to build not leads, not moving leads through a funnel, but building an audience, and assembling data, and valuation of audiences.

I think it’s an incredible opportunity for marketing automation. None of them that I know of have done it yet. And I think it’s an incredible opportunity because it quite frankly is the closest thing to an audience-development tool that even exists out there for marketers.

Take that for what you will. It’s either a wonderful endorsement of what you guys are doing or a big old challenge that you can run the gauntlet with.

Michelle: I love it because in many ways they’re very similar. It’s just how you think about the approach.

Robert: Right. They’re not leads. They’re audiences we deliver value to and build data-rich profiles on, building wonderfully data-rich profiles, looking at their content consumption, measuring what they do, looking at how they build over time with progressive profiling.

All of the things that fit wonderfully into the marketing automation bucket of value also fit so wonderfully into the audience development of value. The challenge is that, quite frankly, (and this is a marketer’s challenge as well) we look at the process of marketing automation as a simple way to spam people, and drip them through, and shove them through the pipeline as fast as we possibly can. That’s the mistake.

I love the fact we call it ‘lead nurturing,’ but our main goal is to shove them through the pipeline as fast as we possibly can. Why don’t we actually nurture the leads? Let’s actually nurture. Let’s actually take that ‘nurturing’ word at its face.

How can we learn more about you and Killing Marketing?

Michelle: Excellent. Well, I love this conversation. I think all your talk tracks around the stories behind killing marketing and the premise is very compelling. Where can we buy a copy of Killing Marketing? And how do we learn more about you and about CMI?

Robert: Well that’s very kind of you to segue into that. For Killing Marketing we have the website, where you can download a free chapter, get the video, see the trailer, and sort of understand if you’d like to buy it. And then of course it’s available in all your favorite bookstores.

For more on me, you can visit That’s where I centralize all my thinking, and have our team, and what we’re doing from an audience-development and audience-evaluation standpoint, as well as everything we’re doing on education, consulting, advisory, and stuff like that.

Michelle: Awesome. Loved the conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Robert: I did too. Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

6 Best Practices for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy

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