What is Audience Development & Why Are CMOs Prioritizing It?

What is Audience Development & Why Are CMOs Prioritizing It?

JK Sparks 4 min

Finding an audience is one thing. Developing one is another thing entirely.

In today’s digital landscape, it’s easy enough to find an audience. Cut a check to a TikTok influencer and voila: you’ve found an audience. But audience development is about more than pumping up your Google Analytics numbers. It’s also about discovering potential audiences, building an effective content strategy to resonate with those audiences, and growing your engagement for the long term.

What is audience development?

Audience development is the entire process of defining, growing, and sustaining an engaged community of fans. It goes beyond mere audience growth to include a wider marketing strategy that helps you find new audiences, forge strategic partnerships, and define your brand’s place in the world.

Let’s explore the answer to one key question: what does audience development actually mean?


Why Audience Development is “Table Stakes” for Today’s Business

In the past, businesses could borrow audiences and still expect engagement. What mattered was that media companies (publishers, TV networks, magazines) had their respective audiences. But in the digital environment, customers expect to find you directly. Without an audience development plan, you’ll give them little to discover. Customers are happy to go and find a brand community with more engagement.

But audience development isn’t a generic term for the same-old B2B marketing playbook, either. In audience development, discovery is still key. You’re looking to find potential customers by learning what they’re looking for. Those of us old enough to remember when Amazon was a bookstore and the chief rival of Barnes and Noble will understand how audience development can take you past a certain demographic—and onto bigger things.

With audience development, you’re also looking to engage with customers after they’ve purchased from you. In B2B marketing, you may simply be looking to optimize your message to an audience with which you’re already familiar.


The Goal of Audience Development

Audience development is about brand awareness to an extent. But it’s also about engaging with individual audience members on a much more personal level. Effective audience development is also relationship-building. In B2B marketing, you might have a few audience segments. But in audience development, you want a closer relationship with the specific customer personas you’ve discovered.

There are some overlaps with traditional marketing. Traditional marketers still want an engaged audience, for one. They have business goals like more user engagement, or maybe even your brand spread via word of mouth. The difference is that audience development brings a holistic approach to the entire process—finding, growing, and sustaining an audience beyond making the sale.

Audience development is about finding your role in your industry—and participating in it. When Google Adsense built a community around its advertising services, it invited customers to participate. Adsense became more than the service advertisers bought. It became a game their audience played.


The Benefits of Developing an Audience

Why focus on development rather than simple, good old-fashioned marketing? Because audience development creates the kind of engagement where word gets around. Here are some of the benefits to consider:

  • Sharing: 88% of consumers are more likely to trust a recommendation when it comes from someone they know.

  • Amplifying: Building a community from an existing audience, for example, can introduce new opportunities: referrals, podcasting, and having a platform from which to launch a new product.

  • Championing: One goal of every brand is to create “superfans.” These are the fans who don’t only buy what you’re selling but actively promote and advocate that other people do the same. This is especially potent with social media platforms, where superfans now have a larger voice than they did in years past.


How Today’s Top CMOs Think About Audience Development

  • “Audience development is marketing’s version of ’total addressable market.’ There’s strength in numbers, even for business-to-business brands. You never know who influences, approves, or even submarines a deal. The larger your audience, the more likely you are to cover your key stakeholders.” -Joe Chernov, CMO, Pendo.io

  • “The field of audience development will broaden further. We’ll mitigate the risks of our often uneasy relationships with Facebook, Google, and Apple by further doubling down on diversifying our audience sources and cultivating direct relationships with readers.”-Sarah Marshall, global senior director of audience development, social, and analytics, Vogue

  • “The customer doesn’t see marketing or sales teams. They just see the brand.” -Jeff Lowe, CMO at Smart Technologies


3 Strategies and Techniques for Developing an Audience

We’ve previously talked about building an audience. But full-scale audience development strategies require a head-to-toe approach. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Discover your audience through experimentation. You may need a jumping-off point. One example is working with a social media influencer with an established audience and a penchant for creating valuable content. But be willing to try new things. Track your engagement numbers and watch where your highest conversions come from. If you try different audiences, they’ll likely tell you which one is your home.

  • Build a first-party data strategy. Personal data is going to be harder to come by in the future. But you can still develop an engaged audience by asking website visitors to fill out surveys, for example. Or you can ask your user experience team about the feedback existing customers give them. The key is to find these insights without tracking your customers—and use that data to fuel your audience development plan.

  • Reassess. Staying in touch with your audience is part of what makes audience development such a special term. It’s not just about finding customers. It’s about bringing them back. Schedule regular times to reassess your marketing strategy, see what’s working/what’s not, and remove those aspects of your brand which seem to contribute to customer churn.


The Tech Stack Marketers Need to Build a Loyal Audience

Today’s B2B marketing tools are great, but they also come with a singular purpose: demand generation. This makes them transactional. They’re not focused on building a loyal, long-lasting audience that continually engages with your brand.

If you’re putting together an audience development team, they’ll need more than B2B marketing solutions. Growing an audience is part of the equation, sure. But so is discovering that audience, engaging with that audience, and building a one-on-one conversation with that audience that makes your audience feel heard.

To fill in the missing piece of your tech stack, consider AudiencePlus. Switching to an “owned media” strategy—where you own the channels you use to connect with your audience—is far better for audience development. Join the community at AudiencePlus to learn how marketers are preparing for the next evolution of marketing—and developing, rather than inflating, their audiences.



JK Sparks | About the Author

Head of Marketing, AudiencePlus

JK is allergic to the words “guru, ninja, and hack” when used to describe anything marketing related. Instead of chasing the latest “growth hack,” he’s focused on building sustainable and predictable levers that fuel long term success. By implementing this approach over the last decade, JK has helped organizations in both bootstrapped and well-funded environments scale from <$100K to more than $100M in revenue. You can follow him here.

JK Sparks 4 min

What is Audience Development & Why Are CMOs Prioritizing It?

Building an engaged, authentic, loyal audience is one of the biggest differentiators in marketing today. Here's how top CMOs are thinking about it for 2023.

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