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4 Ways to Shift Your Thinking to Truly Focus on Your Audience


Audience first.

Are you tired of hearing this mantra? I am.

But, here’s the thing: Too many marketers say and even think they are all about the audience, but when you dig into their programs, you see it’s still all about them.

While it’s not easy to make a genuine shift, here are four twists in perspective to truly make sure your audience is at the center of everything you do.

Instead of saying: “We’re going to target this audience.”

Ask: “Who are the people we can help?”

The notion of “targeting” an audience is like nails on a chalkboard. It sounds like an unwilling participant you want to coax using less than savory means. I don’t want to be someone’s target, do you?

Instead of targeting your audience, shift your thinking to who, specifically, you can best help.

Don’t pick target audiences. Think about people you can best help, advises @MicheleLinn. Share on X

If you are like a lot of marketers I know, you think, “Well, there are so many different people I can help.” While you have many use cases for your product or service, that thinking isn’t helpful. All those possible segments are your total addressable audience, but that is not very useful from a content marketing perspective. You need to be specific.

Your opportunity lies with your core audience – the specific group of people you want to help. Or, as I recently read in a newsletter from Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners:

If you’re going to focus on anything, it should be figuring out precisely who your best prospects are and then slavishly serving them everything they need to become your best customers.

If you’re going to focus on anything, it should be figuring out who your best prospects are, says @dougkessler. Share on X

And, here’s the thing. This group doesn’t need to share demographics or psychographics. It could be an audience of those who have a similar experience or challenge.

For instance, take MassMutual which hosts Society for Grownups, a “learning initiative aimed at helping people get more adult about their money and lives.” The core audience isn’t based on an age group but on a state of mind. It’s those people who realize, “Now I’m a grown-up,” which may have been sparked by anything from living on their own for the first time to getting married or having a new job.


Once you have this frame of reference in mind, it’s easier to see how you can create content that can help them.

If you’re thinking, “OK, but I really do have several distinct audiences,” don’t fret. If your product or service caters to many audiences, then it’s your job to cater your content to them.

Take BabyCenter (a great content marketing play from Johnson & Johnson). This is a digital bible for many new parents because the information is specific to their needs. Subscribers are asked to identify the age(s) of their children, to calculate their due date, or to indicate if they are trying to conceive. Then, Baby Center tailors the information for each subscriber.


While I haven’t been an active subscriber for a while, I keenly remember looking forward to the emails when I was pregnant with and then parenting my first daughter. I wanted to know how big my baby was when I was pregnant (she’s the size of an avocado this week!) or I looked forward to reading about various stages in her development.

In short, get as specific as you can about who your audience is – and create a program for its specific needs.

Instead of saying: “We’re going to ‘do content marketing because everyone else is doing it.’ ”

Ask: “How can we help people in a way no one else is?”

I guarantee you a terrible reason to have a content marketing program is because you – or the executive team – think you should. Your reason for content marketing needs to be clear and it should focus on how you can help someone in a way that no one else is.

Your reason for #contentmarketing should be how your brand can help someone no one else is. @MicheleLinn Share on X

Creating content with a differentiated point of view is key to getting noticed when there is so. much. noise. No one wants more basic content on topics covered ad nauseum.

As an I-don’t-go-as-often-as-I-like member of Lifetime Fitness, whenever I am there or receive its magazine in the mail, I am impressed with its content play around its mission, healthy way of life. In fact, Lifetime is so committed to that mission that it recently announced plans to change its web address to reflect the evolution from a fitness company to a lifestyle brand – Lifetime, The Healthy Way of Life Company.

As it explains: “We offer more than fitness; we help people change, get healthier, reach new goals and do things they love. We are champions for healthy, happy lives.”

This branding evolution ties in directly with its mission and supports everything Lifetime does, from the in-club experience to the print magazine, to products it sells and more.


TIP: If your brand’s “why” is not clear, consider this question from Michael Jr.: “If you didn’t need to make any money, but you wanted to help your customer, what would you give them?”

If you didn’t need to make money but wanted to help your customer, what would you give them? @michaeljrcomedy Share on X

Instead of saying: “We need more leads!”

Ask: “How can we focus on building an audience which wants to hear from us?”

Riddle me this: Who is an audience who wants to hear from you?

I’ll tell you who it’s not: Leads.

Leads are those people you have targeted and captured. Yes, you have permission to email and reach out to these people, but that’s it. You have zero ability to command their time and attention – and truly, those are the qualities that matter.

Instead of thinking of your audience members as leads, think of them as subscribers. This subtle shift in mentality is key. Think about those things you subscribe to – or those things you look forward to.

For instance, my kids became huge fans of the TV show America’s Got Talent this summer. They looked forward to each episode, talked about their favorite acts, and even impersonated the judges. My 5-year-old has even taken to fashioning fake nails out of clip-on barrettes and donning a British accent to pretend she is Mel B.

While I’m not suggesting your audience should become that obsessed, what if the content you produce created a strong positive reaction from your audience? That goes way beyond the reaction a lead would ever have with a brand.

A subscriber has a connection to a brand that a lead never would, says @michelelinn. Share on X

It comes down to not only creating content that people want to sign up for but continually providing something your audience anticipates.

TIP: Not only do you need to shift your mindset to think about subscribers instead of leads, but you also need to make it easy people for people to subscribe. Aaron Orendorff has a killer list to help you.

Instead of saying: “Look at our shares, ‘likes,’ and traffic.”

Ask: “How can we measure the impact of the audience we’re building?”

I feel this post now is ranting too much, but there’s one more thing I’m tired of hearing – marketers sharing how many shares, “likes,” and page views their content receives. While those metrics provide clues to what your audience wants to hear about, they do not directly translate into anything meaningful for your business.

A better way to measure the impact of your content marketing is to look at the impact your subscribers (remember: not leads) are having on your brand.

For instance, TD Ameritrade publishes thinkMoney. It found that subscribers trade five times more than non-subscribers.

Another example is Sainsbury’s magazine. Eight of 10 readers have bought a product from Sainsbury’s after learning about it in the magazine.

TIP: If you want to learn how to calculate the value of your subscribers, check out Robert Rose’s Audience Valuation Engine.


Your answers to these four questions will let you see if your brand is truly focused on your audience. But they aren’t the only ways to test your perspective and see if you’re really doing what you think you are with your brand’s content marketing. What other ideas do you have – or what approaches have you used – to get people to shift their mindset?

To learn more about how to truly put your audience first to grow a successful content marketing program, access presentations from dozens of Content Marketing World speakers who talk about this very thing.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute