Digital Audience Development

This is a copy of a presentation I did for PostMedia – Canada’s largest newspaper company – about the need for their clients to engage in digital (and mobile) audience development.

My name is Rob Woodbridge, long time digital junkie. I’ve been involved in the webspace since the early part of the 90’s back before the Internet was a commercial anything. I’ve been a part of every single great digital revolution that has come, stuck around and gone since then. I’ve delivered papers, been a magician, sold cheesecakes, pirated music, run an ISP, taught myself to be a terrible programmer, started and run a half dozen companies, helped a lot of other companies raise a whole lot of money and now run a web TV channel on the mobile industry.

I’m here to talk to you today about the importance of digital in your audience development efforts.

What are we doing here today, I mean really, what are we doing. I have been wracking my brain around this topic, this simple, excruciating, important topic for days and I’ve honestly come up with nothing. There isn’t a great way to tell you in the audience, looking up at me, that if you aren’t engaged in digital audience development of some sort – be that display ads, email marketing, SEO, SEM, mobile, whatever – you are fucked.

Here’s why.

I’m 41 and have a beautiful family, a wife, twin 5-year old boys. I play baseball in the summer, plan to teach the boys to ski this winter. I drive a Mazda CX9, love Bruce Springsteen, travel extensively (well, I did before I had kids), eat out twice a week, buy my clothes from Joe, The Gap, and Harry Rosen, have 4 computers in my house, carry an iPhone, iPad and macbook pro wherever I go, have a President’s Choice savings account, an RBC MasterCard, a massive mortgage and make more income in a year than my parents ever did and you know what? I don’t watch cable tv, listen to the radio or read the newspaper.

How do you reach me?

My kids. Jack and Ben. These guys amaze me because at 5 years old they are 2-year veterans of the iPad and would rather play with that or on than their Wii. They would rather watch youtube videos about hurricanes instead of teletoon or treehouse. They are, as all kids are, on demand 24/7. They don’t wait for Dora, they watch Dora now. They will never know the anticipation brought on by a tv guide nor will they grow up using a remote control (they walk up to the tv and swipe left to right to try to change channels). They are growing up digital and haven’t seen 1/3 of the ads their counterparts who watch TV have.

How do you and will you reach them?

What about my 35 year old brother who lives in Vancouver? He’s deaf. Profoundly deaf – been that way since he was a 1 year old that got off lucky with meningitis. He’s worn hearing aids his entire life, has not been exposed to ambient brand noise, watches little TV (NFL football and NHL hockey aside), can’t CAN’T listen to the radio and talks to us through texting and FaceTime. He reads lips and most of his communications and reading is done online (YouTube has closed captions – helps in SEO and opens up a new market for video).

How do you reach him?

It wasn’t too long ago that reaching people was simple – mad men style simple. Suits, cigarettes, budgets (remember those days?). Advertising meant something completely different – it meant broadcasting, reaching as many people as possible, pushing, interrupting. It meant trying to sell something that half the people that you were reaching weren’t even interested in. Can you imagine doing this now? In this world of highly trackable, infinitely segmentable data, can you imagine simply throwing out a message to everyone and hoping it sticks with someone, anyone? Back in the day you bought an ad, peaked an interest, relied on a customer reaching out to you, sold to that customer and then started again hoping you had created a deeper connection with them.

What a shift we are seeing. Today it is about relationships. It is about speaking the same language, using the same terms, wanting the same thing (to help), creating a valuable bond with a customer and bringing them back time and again. It is, as Gary Vaynerchuk calls, Small Town Rules. The baker and butcher know your cupcake and cut of meat because, as he says, they give a shit. Welcome to the give a shit economy.

So how do you go about building an audience – it is daunting that’s for sure. But there are three things you should be doing right now. They aren’t big – in fact the smaller the better, the smaller the easier. The smaller the cheaper – sometimes.

The first is to Stop relying on **blank** only.

Blank can be many things – it can be print only, it can be radio only, it can be TV only or even only billboards. Whatever it is it should not be in isolation.

Now, that doesn’t mean you stop the blank, noooo, that blank is good man. What it does mean is you need to enhance the blank out of that blank. You need to compliment it with digital. YOU NEED TO COMPLIMENT YOUR BLANK WITH DIGITAL. For starters, you can add a QR code to your ads in the Citizen, do a contest over SMS, make your website mobile ready and click to call enabled, if it suits your business offer a coupon or two for loyal customers through swarmjam. Whatever. The key is to do it. Enhance your blank.

The second is to find an audience that is bigger than yours.

Seems logical doesn’t it? To sell more you need to talk to more people so find a room full of more people and talk to them. Easy.

Easy if you are a newspaper that has a 98% brand recognition, reaches almost 50% of the entire city on a daily basis and is, quite frankly, one of the very few premium brands we carry in Ottawa.

You should be asking yourself how you bring your message to more of their audience here and across the country. On this, don’t be afraid to invent. If a product doesn’t exist that targets your customer properly, make one. Better yet, work with someone like the Citizen to build it for you and help target it properly. Can’t hurt to ask. Can’t hurt to try. May hurt if you don’t.

The third is to think mobile. The way people consume content and communicate is being irrevocably changed because of this “third screen” – third because it is seemingly behind the tv and computer however it is the device we engage with the most – some of us checking it more that 200 times a day. What other piece of technology consumes us this much?

The simple truth is that mobile is a shift in the way you reach us, the consumer. It is a sacred place and we don’t let everyone in nor do we remain quiet about intrusion. It is at one point the perfect marketing end and at the other an impossible fortress to breach.

Things change when you put context within content and messaging – magic happens and it can build or destroy brands if not handled properly.

We are at a step in technology and this is one of those times we will witness the birth of some of the next generation companies and the death of the old guard. Which will you be?

So, coming back to my kids – a topic I enjoy quite a bit. They are the first true digital generation. There was that great meme floating around the internet with a pencil and cassette tape with the caption “Our kids will never be able to put these two together” – they are and will be a different breed. To connect to them you need to be where they are with the right message at the right time and it will all be digital.

So how did I end up here, in front of you, talking about the Ottawa Citizen. Good story. In fact, it was a printed, mailed letter. Not emailed but mailed, snail mail – you know, the ones with a stamp on it (how much does a stamp cost?). It started with an email asking for my mailing address. Next I received the letter and it was from Gerry Nott, the publisher, who asked if I would participate in a round table on the future of the print industry and digitals influence on its fate. I’ll be honest with you, I laughed when I received it and was set against participating but, on the urging of my father who said it was my civic duty, I showed up. I still have the letter and, by the fact I’m standing up here talking to you today, it shows how important a digital strategy is when paired with print.

Gerry was able to reach me – now what about you?

Thanks for your time.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

/* ]]> */