You can either build your own audience, and talk to them for free, or you have to pay to reach someone else's.
This has always been true, but I feel like it’s especially relevant in the current climate of online marketing channels. I think some businesses act as though Facebook and Instagram ads, Adwords, and the like, will always be around, or always be a viable channel.
They never stay the way they are. Marketing channels either
Now, obviously that doesn’t mean these channels are all bad. After all, marketing is simply letting your ideal audience know you exist, the pains you solve for them, and where they can find you if they’re interested. And that audience is paying attention somewhere. They are reading, looking at, listening to, or watching something. Those are what I’m calling “channels”.
If you want to reach people, you can either be the thing they are paying attention to, or use the thing they are paying attention to, or (ideally), some combination of the two.
Each has pros and cons.
Paying to use other channels is usually faster, because you’re not building the following from scratch, you’re reaching an existing following. You also get to “borrow” the owner’s trust. Facebook might not have much trust, but the owner of a popular newsletter, blog, or podcast may have lots. When they share, endorse, or promote you, they’re talking about you to an audience that trusts them, and values their content.
I’ve already mentioned the downside to paying for channels. They get expensive over time, as more people use them. They get less effective, as low-grade, selfish marketers use them and turn people off. And some just fade away, replaced by another, newer channel.
In the podcasting world, marketing on other channels looks like running ads, or being a guest on other shows. This lets you talk to your ideal audience immediately. You could be a guest on 20 shows in 6 months, reaching somewhere between 5,000 and 50,000 listeners.
In one of our recent episodes on BTP, we talked with Laura Roeder, the founder of Meet Edgar. She’s grown her business through a number of marketing channels, but she cites podcast guest appearances as the #1 way Meet Edgar has grown their brand.
She loved it because it was fast, she could benefit from other people’s hard work building trust, and simply show up and tell her story, without all the production and promotion.
The downside to all this of course, is that awareness of your company stops, once you stop investing. Stop paying for online ads, and site visits drop.
Being the channel (or building your own audience) allows to “own” that audience, builds trust, and lasts longer. But it also takes longer.
Probably the best, but hardest route, is for your company to build the YouTube channel, event, podcast, social following, or blog that people come to. You’ll build trust, loyalty, and best of all, you’ll “own” your audience.
By “own”, I mean that people are searching you out, and engaging with you. You’re not paying someone else to reach their audience. You’re talking directly to yours. I also mean that it’s less likely that the price will dramatically change, that you’ll lose them to competition, or that the channel will dry up.
Now, every channel is different. Facebook famously started limited organic reach, which simply means that when a business page would post something, the number of followers (which they worked to build) who could see it was limited to a fraction. To reach the whole audience, businesses were encouraged to pay, to “boost” their post and get more views.
I still think building your own audience on a YouTube channel, Twitter account, or LinkedIn page is better than using someone else’s over the long-term, but just be aware that you never really own anything. The platform isn’t yours, you don’t get their emails to communicate with them directly. And those platforms can change the rules.
Podcasts, blogs, or newsletters on the other hand, are different. They’re more open. It’s much more unlikely that the rules will change on you. You have direct access to your audience, and in the case of email, or podcasting, can talk directly to them, anytime.
Just because having your own podcast, YouTube channel, newsletter, or blog takes time and effort doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It means you should start doing it now.
And just because the spaces where you reach potential customers are always changing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in them. It just means you shouldn’t expect them to stay the same forever.
Ideally, do both. Find out where the people you’re trying to serve are hanging out, and figure out how you can be there, delivering value or a solid ad. And while you’re doing that, take on the challenge of building something more permanent. Something that’s going to bring them the most value possible, help them do their job better, or just be something they enjoy.
If you can do that, you’ll have the best of both worlds.