June 23, 2008

Audience Development: Here's A Mistake I Made

Back in November, I asked readers what they wanted to learn about. I received many responses from folks who wanted to learn more about my thoughts concerning Catalog Choice.

So I spent a lot of time writing about Catalog Choice in December and January.

Traffic, and more important, subscribers, increased by almost 20%. Almost instantly!

Good for Kevin, right?


Audience development is all about cultivating the right audience. In my case, I attracted an additional two hundred subscribers, folks who were actually offended by some of the topics I wrote about. I received e-mails from individuals who challenged my integrity and knowledge of my industry. All of a sudden, a vocal minority didn't like me!

I developed the wrong audience.

I began to receive unsolicited e-mail from organizations friendly to Catalog Choice, asking me to help spread the word about various ecological issues (ironic, given that stopping unsolicited mail is the objective of the folks marketing to me --- but unsolicited digital mail was ok).

When I stopped covering Catalog Choice, subscriber counts plummeted. The unsolicited e-mail campaigns slowed, but to date, have not stopped. It takes a lot longer to correct an audience development mistake than it takes to build a non-congruent audience.

For direct merchants, building a productive customer file is probably second to merchandising in importance. And yet, we make mistakes comparable to the mistake I made all the time.

I purchased an item from a company six months ago, at full price. Since then, nearly every e-mail campaign sent to me by this brand offers me up to sixty percent off my next purchase, if I use the code offered in the e-mail campaign. Clearly, this brand is trying to develop an audience that enjoys the thrill of "x" percent off merchandise offerings.

An executive recently told me that his e-mail marketing list of over a million individuals only responds to free shipping, buying more than four times as much merchandise if free shipping is offered than if it isn't offered. He developed an audience that only responds to free shipping. He cannot get away from free shipping unless he develops a new audience. It won't happen by wishing, only by hard work.

I've made countless mistakes developing an audience that enjoys and participates in Multichannel Forensics. Let's learn from our mistakes, let's develop audiences relevant to the niches we serve.


  1. Anonymous9:54 AM

    I'm very sorry that happened, Kevin. I'm glad you were willing to write about Catalog Choice, because it's an important issue, and your perspective is insightful.

    I, too, was surprised at how many people visited my now defunct, local eco-blog after I wrote about Catalog Choice. There were at least three or four industry people who took time to leave comments. They were generally very respectful in their dissent. They didn't change my mind, but I'm honored that they cared enough to stop by and express their thoughts. The only spam I got was from a competing third party opt-out service.

    Although Catalog Choice has helped me tremendously with opt-outs, the methods you've developed and refined are a critical part of the solution. I don't have a problem with direct mail that's correctly targeted, and you are helping others to do so. I sent one at least one commenter over here, to MineThatData, because I wanted him to be aware of your writings about errors in matchback analysis. I remember your response to him was both smart and diplomatic.

    I'm not a subscriber, but because I've grown to care about these issues, I enjoy visiting your blog at random times to read what you've written lately. Please never mind the "wrong" audience (although that goes against everything you've just said), and keep up the good work.

  2. Based on your comments, you wouldn't be part of the wrong audience.

    I suppose the wrong audience is one where folks have an expectation of the writer that the writer cannot meet or exceed.

  3. Anonymous10:26 PM

    You are too harsh--none of your posts are "mistakes". First off, your blog offers information and opinions, for free. Your hope, as you explained, is to grow your consulting business and to some extent your book sales although even that is subsidiary to your consulting.
    Catalog Choice is a topic that effects your potential clients. You can't ignore it, and it did spread your name out there drawing people doing a google search who ordinarily wouldn't know your blog exists(I was pulled in by an opinion you did on Marshall Fields 2 years ago--I've since shared several of your posts with colleagues and friends). Don't be afraid to hit a topic even if you feel bump in audience is only temporary or worried majority of your audience would disagree with you. Keep up the great work!
    Interesting your comment about free shipping trapping a retailer. You mentioned this before, and it becomes more of an issue with rising fuel costs. Department stores have same fate with constant promotions so people wait for next sale, and don't purchase at anything close to MSRP. In fact most people realize MSRP is 200% markup and want to pay something closer to retailer's cost of goods which in long run really hurts retailer who has other costs(store ad, advertising, freight, etc).
    How do we retrain consumer not to expect so much off MSRP?

  4. In my opinion, you don't re-train customers. You find new customers who are willing to pay a fair price for an item.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Mohawk Chevrolet

Here's a little bit of levity for a Monday morning (click here) . Going forward, you might think about how marketing efforts fit on this...