Mixing ‘Personality and Brand’; How to Hit the Right Notes With Your Audience

Building a trusting and two-way relationship with your audience matters more than ever now. In a recent report, only 38% of respondents said they are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of audience/member needs. And only half believe they have a good understanding of their reader, member and advertiser needs. That’s not enough.

At the Kennedy Center’s opening of its RiverRun Festival last night, historian Ricky Riccardi told us that Louis Armstrong’s first studio recordings were with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band for Gennett Records on April 5 and 6 of 1923, exactly 100 years ago.

In 2022, Riccardi won a Grammy Award for Best Album Notes for The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Studio Sessions 1946-1966. Exciting to know that written content can win you a Grammy Award

Next up came Grammy winner Nicholas Payton (pictured) and his 12-piece jazz orchestra, paying tribute to Armstrong. He showed how important it is to establish that audience connection—announcing Hello Dolly (to applause) with, “but this isn’t your grandmother’s version.” Afterwards, all my friends said that perked their ears up.

Last year, Joy Robins, chief revenue officer of The Washington Post, perked publishers up with this advice: “You must pinpoint your true value proposition; ask, ‘What do you do better than any other publisher serving the same audience?’ Then you need to ask how else you can serve those readers.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing personalities matter—journalism was the original creator economy so how do you also ensure that you have journalists who are increasingly developing relationships with readers? Getting the right mix of personality and brand isn’t easy to achieve, but it’s worthwhile.”

Whether it’s Louis Armstrong’s years spent on Mississippi riverboats or whatever floats your audience’s boats, it’s vital to establish a connection. Here are some examples:

Encourage two-way communication. In a recent Q&A with Media Voices, Sarah Ebner, executive editor and head of newsletters for the Financial Times, talked about the reader-publisher relationship. “One of the great things about a newsletter is that direct communication with a writer, and we always make sure that you can contact them back in our emails… We get a lot of responses from people, and they love that personal interaction. They love contacting [Associate Editor] Stephen Bush and saying, ‘Oh, you’ve said you’re coming to Edinburgh, I’d recommend you go to this restaurant,’ and he replies!… You can’t get this stuff unless you sign up for the newsletter, so there’s a definite value proposition.”

One more tip from Ebner and FT’s 35 newsletters: “You can have great editorial content, but if you don’t know how to find or sign up for the newsletters, it’s not really worth it.”

Hit your audience’s pain points. Workweek’s chief people officer Hebba Youssef, who gave a lunch keynote at BIMS, sends out a blog post every Monday titled I Hate It Here by “a Workweek friend.” This week’s title is, Why Does Working in HR Feel So Lonely? “Sure, we may seem like we KNOW everyone but sometimes it can feel surface level,” she writes. Adds CEO Becca Sherman said: “We believe our creator-first model is both the key to our growth and the future of media. Each creator is building a brand with an audience of fans who feel personally connected to and deeply trusting of them, which in turn enables rapid organic growth, lower-than-average CACs, higher-than-average CPMs—and, ultimately, a very high RPU and LTV.” That’s a lot of acronyms.

“’What keeps you up at night?’ just isn’t good enough anymore,” said media sales consultant Ryan Dohrn. “Your questions simply have to be better. One of your main questions that makes me nuts and that I hear in my ad sales training is this: ‘Tell me more about your business.’ C’mon, you’re better than that… And then, ‘What’s your budget?’ You can do better than that. Those are three questions we do need to ask, but maybe ask them in a more vibrant kind of way so that we don’t sound like every other media salesperson that’s calling on that customer.”

Understanding the user journey. “Increasingly we are trying to ensure that our product focus follows what the audience needs, as ultimately this drives the business,” Robins said. “Our entire business strategy is rooted in our audience insights, and being able to better serve our readers will ultimately lead to a stronger business. So much can be missed by not focusing on the reader. We’re spending a lot more time understanding the user journey, the user story, where they come from, what experience they are having with our content, etc. By understanding this better, we can continue to evolve the product in a way that gives readers a better experience over time.”

Educate your editorial staff. At Industry Dive, the audience and marketing team creates actionable dashboards for the editorial team. “This not only helps us measure more of the things that matter to our audience, but it makes it really easy for our editorial team to get actionable insights and make [informed] decisions,” said editor-in-chief Davide Savenije.

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