Build Audience Ecosystems, Not Campaigns

/ Thoughtspace - Audience Targeting, Blogs, Marketing Strategy

The New Approach to Audience First Marketing

You’re not at war with your customers, so why are you “targeting” them with campaigns? 

It’s time to shift advertising’s rhetoric and redefine what it really means to be audience first.

From my perspective, placing the consumer at the center of your marketing strategy requires marketers to stop running advertising campaigns and start creating audience ecosystems. 

What is an audience ecosystem? 

An audience ecosystem is the culmination of a brand’s omnichannel marketing and communication touchpoints surrounding, and informed by, a core audience group. It blends paid, earned and owned content. It breaks down the walls between marketing communication channels. This takes brand marketing to a more holistic level where the results are greater than the sum of its parts. 

Each audience segment you’re looking to influence needs a unique ecosystem of media touchpoints tailored to their identities, values and behaviors. This is key to creating authentic messaging and organic placements that show up in their day-to-day experiences.

How can the audience ecosystem benefit your brand?

Curated audience ecosystems provide a flexible framework from which you can select content channels and nurture lasting relationships. It is a tool to focus media planning and brand messaging on audience insights. This helps avoid the rat race of clamoring for attention through one-off ad campaigns, or trend hopping to the next shiny marketing opportunity that may not matter to your consumers.

Brands need to take a backseat and let the customers drive. Your business success hinges on your ability to align with their needs, beliefs, values and personal identities. So, your media plan should be a reflection of those consumer insights. The ecosystem model serves as a playbook  to sustain long-term brand growth by avoiding waste, improving brand perception, and keeping the brand top of mind to defend and grow market share.  

The Audience Ecosystem in Practice

To start building an audience ecosystem, use consumer research and insights to identify potential marketing placements within the following categories: 

Depending on your brand and budget, you may not be able to tap into each of these buckets at once. But, that should not stop you from brainstorming – dream big, then scale back as needed. 

Take a look at an ecosystem proposal we built around an ‘Avid Gamer’ audience for a CPG beverage brand:

Gamer Audience Ecosystem

This shows how incorporating media activations on gaming sites, exploring partnerships in the gaming space, and amplifying the brand presence on key retail media networks can cooperate to anchor the brand in the daily life of an avid gamer. 

The 5 Step Process to Creating Audience Ecosystems

Now that we’ve discussed the philosophy behind the audience ecosystem, let’s discuss five practical steps you can take to begin implementing this for your brand:

#1 – Research & Planning: Aligning with Identities and Community Values 

First, determine what your community will find the most value from in your product. From there, craft a unique messaging strategy for each audience. 

  • Which of your brand’s value propositions matters most to this audience? 
  • What pastimes or hobbies does this persona participate in? 
  • How does this audience self identify – and how does your offering compliment that?
  • What type of media do these people watch, read, listen to, and engage with? 

Use your intuition as a guide, then support or refute with research. I recommend social listening as well as syndicated research to strike a balance of quantitative and qualitative data. Once you understand where your audience is engaged, you can show up with contextually relevant, personalized messaging. 

You don’t want to invasively interject into their lives. Instead, the goal is to align with their identity and add to their badges of self expression. For inspiration, look to brands with distinct value propositions and well-cultivated community bases like Dove, Trader Joe’s or Lego. These beloved brands truly tap into human behavior and community values – business performance follows naturally. 

#2 – Channel Selection: Surrounding Your Audience with Meaningful Touchpoints 

Next, use that consumer knowledge to show up where your personas are most present – physically and digitally. You want to show up in expected and unexpected ways. Where is there a lot of noise, and where is there competitive white space? Identify which channels you believe will create the biggest impact and strategically invest. 

Remember, people don’t want to be attacked, targeted, or followed with advertising – just look at the latest changes to privacy laws. Consumers want personalized advertising that makes them feel understood, not watched. 

#3 – Activation: Bringing the Ecosystem to Life

By planting an ecosystem of media tactics around each audience, you can develop strategies to allow each channel to add new life to the ecosystem and support one another. Ecosystems are delicate and require tending to operate functionally. It will take some experimenting to find the right balance of media spend and channel mix to drive the results you want.

You can rotate attention across different elements of the ecosystem to align with timing whether it be tentpole events, product or service seasonality, socio-political climate, changing user behavior, or a variety of factors. Knowing you have the support of the greater ecosystem, you can feel more comfortable lifting focus from certain channels to lean into others. 

#4 – Optimization: Fertilizing to Fuel Brand Performance

Finally, map out and assign value to each touchpoint within your ecosystem based on the expected impact. With campaigns, the goal is direct attribution. With ecosystems, the goal is incremental improvement over time. Test and learn to see what blend of tactics keeps your ecosystem in balance. Determine what areas need more or less attention to lift up the entire system and drive full-funnel business outcomes  

Also, experiment with measurement beyond media KPIs. For example, organic reach is necessary to drive business outcomes and instrumental in evaluating the integrity of your holistic ecosystem. But it shouldn’t be the media campaign KPI. You should complement reach and frequency with tangible metrics that indicate consideration such as clicks, video completions, downloads, and landing page visits. 

#5 – Rinse and Repeat: Continue Learning and Refreshing

Unlike a campaign, this process never ends. You can’t expect the audience research you did 12 months ago to apply precisely today – the environment changes, people change. Data can become stale in as little as 3 months. You have to continue to learn and refresh to avoid becoming obsolete.

This is why today’s marketing plans need to be living documents. Yearly planning and even quarterly media planning is becoming less feasible, and brands that are inflexible to changing market conditions and consumer behaviors are falling behind. The ecosystem model allows for long-term planning without injuring what is already in place on the campaign level. 

With that in mind, understand that the primary challenge of the ecosystem approach is timing. Like a garden, it needs time to grow and flourish. There’s a lot of financial pressure and limited patience surrounding marketing performance from business decision-makers. You’ll likely need to balance the campaign-centric and audience-centric playbooks, but the goal should be to prioritize sustainable brand success over quick wins. Slow thinking is critical when you consider the complexity of measuring all the diverse channels in your ecosystem. 

Remember These 3 Key Mindset Shifts When Going from Campaigns to Audience Ecosystems

The audience ecosystem methodology makes omnichannel media planning more digestible and flexible, which is key for today’s marketing landscape. But even more importantly, it can help brands build more meaningful and lasting customer connections. 

After reading, I hope you leave with these key mindset shifts: 

  1. Place the audience, not the brand, at the center of your media plan 
  2. View marketing efforts holistically, rather than through a campaigns lens
  3. Use marketing to add to your audience’s identity, not your brand’s status

For help bringing this transformation to your marketing strategy, contact Coegi today

Want to dive deeper? For more discussion on how to implement the audience ecosystem model, listen to our podcast episode here

From Campaign to Ecosystem Podcast Episode
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