Marketers: You Can’t “Own” Your Audience. But You Can Own This
“We are one of something like 800 competitors in our category. This idea is what makes us stand out compared to the other 799 companies all doing cookie-cutter marketing to the same people.”
I recently spoke with Ben Battaglia, director of marketing at B2B software company Lessonly and proud speaker of the words above. (At least, he should be proud, because he understands what too few do.) Ben’s company sells what’s known as “learning management software” — tools to help facilitate internal team trainings. Lessonly specializes in helping sales and customer support teams learn — or at least, they used to.
Don’t misunderstand: they haven’t pivoted their business model, nor overhauled their product. They still serve the same audience — sales and support teams. Heck, they haven’t even changed their brand’s messaging all that much. What they did realize, however, is the specific thing which made their most successful customers most successful. These customers don’t use Lessonly’s platform to learn. Not really. They use it to practice. That subtle difference makes all the difference in the world — for those customers, sure, but also for Lessonly. And they chose to point this new insight at a new project: a podcast.
Ben and his team at Lessonly has decided: We’re going to own the idea of practice.
As makers and marketers, when we try to build an audience, we often run into the same recurring theme — sometimes from others in the industry, sometimes popping up in our own minds: “owned audience.” We want to “own” an audience. Don’t just run paid ads to borrow attention. Don’t just generate traffic which comes and goes. Create a subscriber base. Build a loyal community. Do things that cause others to return, time and time again. The intention here is fine, but the word itself is not. You don’t own your audience.
But you might own something else: a concept in their minds. And it’s that specific concept which causes people to remember you, return to you, and refer you.
How do you own a concept?
Back to Lessonly’s podcast — they could have launched a show where they interview managers, executives, and learning-and-development leaders who train sales and support teams. But they want to own the idea of practice, so instead, they run Practice First, a show with a genuine premise beyond generalized success/advice/interviews. They want to elevate the role of practice in the corporate world.
What does that look like outside the echo chamber? They talk to athletes, winemakers, and chefs. What does practice look like back inside the industry? They want to tease out the techniques, frameworks, visual models, and revealing answers to tough questions. Nobody else in their competitive set is talking about this, or exploring this, at least not to this degree. While everyone else goes shallow across dozens of topics relevant to their niche, Lessonly is going deeper into one crucial idea.
It’s theirs to own.
By owning the concept of practice, applied to the corporate world, they become the go-to guides into that subject matter. They ask questions Google can’t answer, then take their audience on a journey of understanding. Lessonly wants to change something with and for their audience. (But make no mistake: They do not, in any sense of the word, “own” that audience.)
By the way, that’s just fine! By trying to own the concept, not the audience’s information, they are earning serious trust and love with their audience. They occupy important brain space in others’ minds. Whenever you think of practice, think of Lessonly. Want to learn about it? Listen to the show. Want to execute on it? Buy their product.
Lessonly serves the audience more deeply by exploring one topic more deeply in a world full of content that trends shallow. (“But hey, the general how-to stuff ranks on search!” Yep. So do all those bullshit eHow posts, and nobody gives a damn about whatever basement-dwelling keyboard monkeys sling that digital feces for a living. The point isn’t to rank on search. The point is to serve the audience. Subtle differences can make all the difference in the world. Just ask Lessonly’s practice-first customers. Lessonly did. And that’s why they put Practice First out into the world in the first place.)
I fully expect Lessonly to write the bestselling book on practice someday — a concept-driven, deep exploration, with examples and stories from a wide range of people and industries, and some kind of methodology that the most successful practicers use. I fully expect Lessonly to publish endless digital content, launch dozens of big-hit projects and spinoffs, and generally rise to the enviable position of THE resource for all things practice in the corporate world. And why? Because they strive to own a specific concept in people’s minds.
This week, when you leave the friendly confines of this blog and return to the competitive reality of your work, I’m asking you to think more deeply about your audience, your brand, and your desire to serve them, all by asking this one question: What are we trying to own in their minds?
“Success in [topics]” won’t cut it. “Curated ideas and news about [stuff]” ain’t it, either. Go deeper. Focus more narrowly. Find your point of view, angle, premise, or single critical subject.
“We make X easier to understand. Stories of Y. The most in-depth, raw, honest, neat-o burrito podcast interviews with Z.” Nope. Nope. And an extra-spicy, cheese-covered Nope, hold the guac. (I know it costs extra, and I refuse.)
What are you trying to own? It can’t be the audience, nor can it be any general list of topics or broadly applicable idea. Those are already picked over by competitors, and to that I say, good. Don’t touch ’em! Don’t need ’em! Each of us needs to dig deeper instead.
Talk to customers. Access insights hidden in all the data. Take a deep breath, ignore the urge to make a general show talking to general people about general things, and focus on that one, narrow, powerful, breathtakingly simple question:
“What are we trying to own in their minds?”
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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