The audience listening to James Akrigg's presentation at Partner Connect 2013

What Makes Your Audience Tick? An Interview With ExactTarget's Jeff Rohrs

  |  January 23, 2014   |  Comments

Rohrs discusses his new book, the growing importance of audience development, and proprietary audiences. Plus, he's giving away copies of his book to five readers.

Jeff Rohrs really gets the complex world and nuances of customers, prospects, subscribers, fans, and followers and what makes them valuable to your company. Rohrs is a veteran executive of ExactTarget and author of the new book Audience, Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers, and I was thrilled to talk to him about his new book, what brands are doing well in terms of audience development, and related trends. Plus, he has generously offered up some free books. I am hoping my audience here stays the course with this article as you can see how to some freebies below.

Jenkins: First tell me why audience is important and what is different than our previous and traditional view of what makes up each of our audiences?

Rohrs: Without an audience, all of our marketing -- not just content marketing -- is a tree falling in the forest that no one hears. That's why since the dawn of marketing, we've been so willing to pay for advertising; we need audiences to grow and thrive. Advertising is a quick way to access audiences without having to worry about their creation, care, or feeding.

But now, thanks to the rise of email, websites, SMS, podcasting, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more, marketers find themselves with unprecedented opportunities -- indeed, responsibilities -- to build, nurture, and grow direct, proprietary audiences on behalf of their companies. These direct audiences don't supplant paid media entirely, but they give their developers a much faster, lower cost means to reach a larger number of interested consumers.

Jenkins: What is proprietary audience development and who does it well?

Rohrs: Proprietary audience development is the long-term process of developing, engaging, and increasing the value of audiences that your company and your company alone has access to. Media and entertainment companies are in the business of content creation and audience development, so they have "Directors of Audience Development." However, there are few marketing organizations who have someone focused exclusively on audience development. More often, they have someone focused on content marketing and some organic audience growth.

The prime example is Red Bull. A darling of the content marketing industry, I'm more intrigued by the proprietary audiences they have built -- over 3.2 million subscribers on YouTube (and growing). By carving out a sponsorship, content production, and media niche in the world of extreme sports, they have built an on-demand audience that most brands (let alone broadcasters) would kill for. Whereas their competitors post a new video that goes to a few hundred thousand subscribers, theirs go to 3.2 million people -- and they don't pay a dime for that distribution. In fact, their videos can be sources of revenue thanks to YouTube advertising and partner distribution. Their success illustrates a critical point -- content and audience are different sides of the same coin, each reliant on the other to succeed.

Jenkins: If I have a customer base and have built a strong email and social presence -- is that enough?

Rohrs: No. Building is just step one. You then have to engage to increase visibility and performance over time while continuing to add new audience members over the long-term. Proprietary audience development is a core marketing discipline, not a one-and-done campaign.

Jenkins: What are some unique ways companies are building renewable energy sources via email, social, and mobile?

Rohrs: You're beginning to see more companies understand that email, mobile, and social do not and should not be siloed channels. Rather, they should work together to build and engage your proprietary audiences whenever possible. For instance, we've all seen emails designed to generate Facebook FANS (likes) and Facebook tabs/posts designed to generate email SUBSCRIBERS. With the advent of social advertising, however, we're also seeing the rise of advertising products like Facebook's Custom Audiences where your email SUBSCRIBER base can be leveraged as a means to better segment your Facebook advertising such that FANS who aren't SUBSCRIBERS can be served highly targeted ads to encourage them to subscribe via email. This sort of "cross-pollenization" between email and social is just one of many ways proprietary audiences add value beyond direct messaging.

Jenkins: Are amplifiers what every brand wants to acquire and how do you take a typical customer and move her to be an amplifier?

Rohrs: Amplifiers are your audience members with audiences all their owns. They are the fundamental building block of EARNED MEDIA, and the people who make things "go viral." You can't force anyone to amplify your message, but you can incentivize or build relationships and experiences with your brand of such a caliber that people inherently want to share the experience. I see this in my own backyard of Lakewood, Ohio, where Melt Bar & Grilled developed such a reputation for amazing, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches (and an authentic rock club vibe) that anyone who ate there just had to tell someone about the experience. In that case, the very essence of the brand/restaurant/experience yielded the AMPLIFIERS. Thus, marketers who are having a difficult time getting amplification should examine what, if anything, related to their company is worthy of sharing. If not, it may be a yellow flag that the issue isn't with your marketing, it's your products and services.

Jenkins: What's next as it relates to the strategies and tactics in your book? where do great brands go from here?

Rohrs: I think we're going to see brands start naming directors of audience development who will work across channels to increase the size, engagement, and value of their proprietary audiences. We have people in charge of brand, advertising, website, social, and content -- all of which benefit greatly from bigger and better direct audiences. So, a director of audience development feels like someone who will add a lot of measurable value across the marketing organization.

Jenkins: Last but not least, as an author myself I am curious on what has been the best and most challenging part of this book project?

Rohrs: The best part is actually having the book publishing and getting feedback from readers around the globe. The worst part was the time between turning in my manuscript and that publication date. You desperately want to discuss the book with people, but have to wait for it to hit the street.

Jenkins: Any last thoughts, especially on how to get the attention of the C-suite on this important topic?

Rohrs: Audiences are a business asset with real monetary value if you calculate the difference between the LCV of customers and customers who are also specific audience members. The C-Suite still thinks of marketing as a cost-center, but Proprietary Audience Development allows you to demonstrate to them how marketing can contribute to the bottom line over the long-term. If marketers embrace more of an asset-based mentality toward their efforts, they'll find themselves gaining more support, respect, and opportunity in the board room.


Now dear readers, thanks to Rohrs, we will try a little contest where five people will win a copy of Audience. To enter, please leave in the comment section below your best description of what makes your customer audience unique and what are you doing to fully engage with that audience.

We will pick the best five responses and contact you to let you know when you should expect your fresh copy of it.

Starting now... go!

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Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. The award-winning firm specializes in elevating email marketing and digital messaging programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a world-class client list including Affiliated Computer Service (A Xerox Company), Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, Phillips66, Porsche, and Southern Company. The agency was recently ranked among the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.

Jenkins was awarded the prestigious AMY 2010 Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association for being the top agency marketer and the Email Marketer of the Year at the Tech Marketing Awards held by the Technology Association of Georgia. Jenkins is regarded as one of the leading experts in the email marketing industry and is regularly cited by the media as such and called upon by the financial community to provide market insight and consulting.

Jenkins is the author of two definitive and highly regarded books on email marketing; The New Inbox (published in April 2013 by ClickZ/Incisive Media) and The Truth About Email Marketing (published by Pearson's Financial Times Press in 2008). Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news and commentary in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.

He has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Bloomberg TV, Wired Magazine, and scores of other leading publications and media outlets. Jenkins is a regular speaker at major digital industry and general business conferences.

Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of and, the leading authorities on email and social media metrics. Prior to founding BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media.

Jenkins serves on the eMarketing Association's Board of Advisors among other civic and professional boards. He is also a mentor at Flashpoint, a Georgia Tech-based startup accelerator program. Jenkins is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio and resides in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood with his wife and three children.

Follow and connect with Simms on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, The BrightWave Blog, and his book websites at and

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