Content Marketing

‘Growth Is Not a Hack’: 7 Strategies For Building a Loyal Audience

By Yael Grauer June 20th, 2014

At its core, content marketing comes down to one big challenge: building and sustaining a loyal audience. It’s not an easy task.

During the Contently Summit on Wednesday,  PureWow Director of Marketing Alexis Anderson, Mediaco Editorial Director Erin Scottberg, and Refinery 29 Senior Director of Marketing Irene Lee detailed some of the strategies they’ve successfully employed to build a loyal audience, as well as the steps they’ve taken to ensure that their audience is growing in the right way.

1. Focus on quality, not quantity

As the entire media industry shifts away from vanity metrics, the number of readers becomes far less important than their level of engagement.

“Size doesn’t matter to us much anymore,” Anderson said. “It’s very much about the perceived quality of audience. We’d rather have 100 great readers than 1,000 mediocre ones.”

When acquiring an audience through a paid distribution campaign, it’s crucial to track the quality of those new visitors. Are they spending time with content? Are they coming back?

“We want people to be interested in engaging with our content,” Anderson said, explaining that PureWow isn’t interested in acquisitions of readers that are less engaged than their organic readership—no matter how cheap and efficient it is to acquire those readers.

“Refinery29 spends a little at a time to see how people do and if they’re the right audience,” Lee said of her company’s experiments with paid audience acquisition.

2. Email is the key to building an audience

As BuzzFeed VP of Agency Strategy Jonathan Perelman said, “Content is king, distribution is queen, and she wears the pants.”

Anderson is quick to tout the benefits of focusing acquisition campaigns on email, which give you an audience that you own—as opposed to one that you rent, like on Facebook or via display.

“Don’t buy display; buy dedicated emails,” she recommended.

3. Embrace the power of partnerships

“What has been the most successful for us in terms of growth is partnerships,” Lee said, noting that partnering with like-minded sites is a great way to not only introduce a new audience to your content, but to acquire those oh-so-valuable email addresses as well.

Scottberg pointed out that brands need to trust their partners’ understanding of their audience, which can help ensure that the campaign will resonate.

4. Always be testing

“The key to our success is that we test a lot,” says Lee. Refinery29 A/B split tests everything that they send out. They also use data to determine when content will perform best and optimize email and social media engagement. Lee and her team pull back the curtain on those tests in brilliant detail on R29’s Intelligence blog, which launched last month.

5. Create high-quality content

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to remember that building an audience always comes back to creating high quality content that’s tailored to a specific type of user.

This includes headlines, and Anderson was quick to emphasize the huge role that PureWow’s “compelling, smart and a little risqué” headlines play in engaging their audience via email and social. “No offense to [Refinery29], but we have the best writers on earth,” she said.

But of course, highly clickable headlines still need to deliver on their promise, as Scottberg noted.

6. Remember that design matters

Great design isn’t just about good images; in our modern tech world, it’s absolutely imperative to make sure that both your emails and site are mobile-responsive.

Lee points out that simply changing the email signup module on mobile, which was previously buried and inaccessible, yielded over a hundred email subscription signups a day in a limited test. It showed proof of concept and allowed Refinery29 to devote time to perfecting the module.

7. Don’t take shortcuts

If Refinery29’s Intelligence blog is any indication, the ongoing process of consistently iterating and improving content, design and strategy in response to data is never-ending and takes a lot of work. But it’s possible for most any publisher to follow in their footsteps.

In the powerful words of Anderson: “Growth is not a hack.”

What’s the deal with The Content Strategist? It’s something we created at Contently because we believe in a world where marketing is helpful, and businesses grow by telling stories that people love. Take advantage of our tools and talent and come build that world with us.

Image by Jacquelyne Pierson
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