Is audience development “marketing” in disguise?

Last week I had an interesting discussion about whether or not the term “audience development” was simply a new term for something old, “relationship marketing.”

Wikipedia defines relationship marketing as:

Relationship marketing is a form of marketing developed from direct response marketing campaigns conducted in the 1970s and 1980s which emphasizes customer retention and satisfaction, rather than a dominant focus on point-of-sale transactions.

Relationship marketing differs from other forms of marketing in that it recognizes the long term value to the firm of keeping customers, as opposed to direct or “Intrusion” marketing, which focuses upon acquisition of new clients by targeting majority demographics based upon prospective client lists.

The practice of relationship marketing has been facilitated by several generations of customer relationship management software that allow tracking and analyzing of each customer’s preferences, activities, tastes, likes, dislikes, and complaints. For example, an automobile manufacturer maintaining a database of when and how repeat customers buy their products, the options they choose, the way they finance the purchase etc., is in a powerful position to develop one-to-one marketing offers and product benefits.

It is organized around processes that involve all aspects of the organization. In fact, some commentators prefer to call relationship marketing “relationship management” in recognition of the fact that it involves much more than that which is normally included in marketing.

Martin Christopher, Adrian Payne, and David Ballantyne | [3]at the Cranfield School of Management claim that relationship marketing has the potential to forge a new synthesis between quality management, customer service management, and marketing. They see marketing and customer service as inseparable.

Relationship marketing involves the application of the marketing philosophy to all parts of the organization. Every employee is said to be a “part-time marketer”. The way Regis McKenna (1991) puts it:

“Marketing is not a function, it is a way of doing business . . . marketing has to be all pervasive, part of everyone’s job description, from the receptionist to the board of directors.”

I have to admit that from the above definition, audience development certainly uses relationship marketing, however, and a big however at that, audience development is, in my opinion, so much more.  Audience development has a specific task attached to it – developing an audience.  Yes, it uses the building of relationships to do this, but the specific task of moving the audience member from a one-time interest to a happy and loyal and involved patron is what sets audience development apart from the generic relationship marketing.

The fact that the definition of relationship marketing goes on to suggest that the main benefit is “to develop one-to-one marketing offers and product benefits,” separates audience development from relationship marketing even more.  Audience development is not used simply to be able to market one-on-one, but to actually get to know the patrons in order to build a sense of partnership, to get the patron involved (not just a customer of).  Also, audience development is not just about relating to the patron one-on-one, but serves to establish relationships between patron and patron.  Audience development builds a sense of community among all the patrons, something that relationship marketing does not do.

Lastly, relationship marketing seems to be a means to obtain a customer and to keep a customer, while with audience development this goal is still the after thought, what naturally happens.  The goal of true audience development is the relationship.  Treating the customer as a friend is relationship marketing.  Making  friends for life is audience development.

All in all, audience development uses the “relationship” part of relationship marketing, but doesn’t necessarily use the “marketing” part.  To me, audience development is a unique entity all its own and something well worth pursuing.

Until next time, may your audiences be happy and loyal ones, and if they are not, feel free to contact me!


Shoshana Fanizza is the founder of Audience Development Specialists. Her mission is to introduce artists and arts organizations to their existing and potential audiences and to help them to form more rewarding relationships.

Audience Development Specialists’ Facebook Page! for up-to-date news and information about audience development!

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Filed under arts marketing, Audience Development

9 responses to “Is audience development “marketing” in disguise?

  1. Sorry, but I don’t see a useful distinction. This sentence, in particular, seems odd: “…the specific task of moving the audience member from a one-time interest to a happy and loyal and involved patron is what sets audience development apart from the generic relationship marketing.” Relationship marketing is all about repeat business and the improvements that can come from getting more honest feedback from customers. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much point, would there?

    As for the relationships between patron and patron, social marketers are, in fact, working this angle like crazy. “Viral” marketing is based on this idea. PepsiCo’s intentions with their make-a-Doritos-ad YouTube campaign were obviously profit motivated, but that doesn’t change the fact that they understand customers talking to customers about Doritos is sometimes more effective than PepsiCo talking to customers about Doritos.

    Ultimately, I don’t see how audience development is an end in itself. The reason to engage in it is to lead to either better products or ongoing patronage from the customer. If you don’t have one of these things, you don’t really have an audience. You have a vampire. Arts and audiences feed each other, rather than suck the resources from each other.

    From my perspective, the fact that you can call this something different from marketing simply suggests that way too many arts organizations still don’t understand the breadth of their marketing responsibilities.

  2. I’m glad the conversation has begun. To me both marketing and audience development are important, but to me they are different.

    “Sorry, but I don’t see a useful distinction. This sentence, in particular, seems odd: “…the specific task of moving the audience member from a one-time interest to a happy and loyal and involved patron is what sets audience development apart from the generic relationship marketing.’ Relationship marketing is all about repeat business and the improvements that can come from getting more honest feedback from customers.”

    Let me reiterate a bit. Audience development is not simply about gaining customers or gaining repeat customers, it is about building a relationship that translates into a partnership. With audience development, the customer/patron becomes a part of your specific arts community. With a partnership formed, you will see your audience members becoming volunteers, donors, sponsors, etc. Relationship marketing is about repeat customers while building relationships for audience development is about building people energy for your organization or business.

    Marketing can generate word of mouth or customer to customer buzz (your Doritos campaign example), but it is not going to increase the likelihood of a customer wanting to volunteer for the organization aside from passing on that they like that campaign. They are not going to want to start selling Doritos or donating to the company because of this campaign. Sure they may buy more Doritos, or not, but for the arts, it is not simply about selling a tangible like a consumable product. More than simply spreading the word to increase ticket sales or art sales is needed to support an artist or arts organization. I have seen many artists and organizations do the best they can with their marketing and not see the results needed to fully support the organization/business, and I am speaking about savvy marketers.

    I do agree that audience development can be used to better products or increase ongoing patronage, but when it comes to art, it is better if the relationship goes much further than this. This is where audience development continues on, the relationship continues to build.

    I do understand how to apply relationship marketing, and this does lead to happier customers and repeat business, but when I started applying audience development, getting to know the people more personally beyond demographics, this is when it lead to loyal customers that wanted to help the organization grow and develop. Everyone needs support, and support is not about using others like vampires, it is about building strong friendships so we can help each other out.

    This is the difference between marketing and audience development that many of us are beginning to realize. Audience development is about building a community around your art.

    • Actually, that whole Doritos campaign is a very compelling example of turning a huge corporation’s customers into volunteers. Every ad was created by some customer with zero compensation. A great deal of creative work and technical work was given to PepsiCo for free. The customers did it either just for fun, or in hope of winning the competition, or perhaps to build their own portfolios, or perhaps because they really love Doritos, and were excited to be asked to participate.

      I do see that your goals go beyond those of traditional marketing, but they are still the goals of nearly every nonprofit organization, already. Why bother taking something that is usually done in cooperation with the development and volunteer offices and call it something different? Does calling it Audience Development help to break down organizational silos? If so, that’s cool, but wouldn’t it just be more useful to address the silo disfunction head-on?

      Where I work, my boss (CFO) is always trying to build these relationships with professional suppliers like actuaries and consultants, which helps us out a lot. This seems exactly like what you are saying, except the focus is on suppliers and not audiences.

      My point simply is that, in a well functioning nonprofit, what you are talking about is already happening in Development/Advancement, the Volunteer Office, on the Board and in Board Committees, and, indeed, in other offices like Marketing and Finance. There are certainly nonprofits that don’t function that well (obviously, or there would be less need for consultants 😉 ). But if you call all of these functions Audience Development, doesn’t that muddy the waters a bit and make these functions more mysterious and increase the learning time? It obviously muddied the waters for me, leading to this discussion.

  3. I’m not saying that marketing does not use audience participation. The Doritos campaign was about audience participation. In that sense they are volunteering their time and efforts, but I’m not sure the reason behind why they were volunteering was the same for why someone would volunteer for a nonprofit. Maybe, maybe not.

    I think we are getting somewhere in this conversation. Yes, the goals of nonprofits are the same. However, a good vehicle for reaching these goals has not been properly defined until now. Audience development is a means to succeeding and reaching these goals. The goals have been there for ages, but actually defining a way to achieve the goals has been the muddy part. Audience development is the way to get more people involved to volunteer, donate, support, etc. and it is a way to change the focus of these functions from simply what the organization needs to how a person can become a part of the team (there is a difference). The functions themselves, yes, they have been around, it is how we function that is the difference. 😉

    • Hmm. I actually see some danger in trying to create a distinct discipline out of what you refer to as audience development (remembering that other people often mean something different when they say those words). I see that danger by looking at a parallel, unnecessary distinction between “strategic planning” and everybody else’s work.

      There are frequent small and large failures all the time when marketing and development and programming and PR and etc, within the same organization, separate themselves off into different camps with non-integrated goals, or worse, unhealthy, undermining competition that goes beyond positive, competitive tension. I imagine that these failures are part of the reason why you say that there has not been a good vehicle for the relational/partnership goals we’ve discussed above. It looks like these goals are too frequently not met, or not understood to be anybody’s responsibility.

      But, I contend that creating another discipline or department is potentially going to exacerbate the cooperation breakdowns. If a marketing director thinks about relationship building but says, “no, that’s audience development’s role,” then that marketing director become remarkably less effective. I think the relationship building you are talking about is everybody’s job, and to call it a separate function is to give many people an excuse not to do it.

      It is sort of like calling “strategic planning” its own thing, as if everybody doesn’t already have to do it. I mean, I took a class in business school called strategic planning; I got a whole concentration in strategic management, and I’ve used what I learned there in real life, so I do understand that there are skills and techniques in this area that can be learned through classroom and through experience. And yes, strategic planning is frequently made into its own department and given its own mandates. But, in my humble opinion, as somebody who seriously considered a career in this area, strategic planning will be far more effective if everybody learns to do it as a regular routine. The more it is established as a separate discipline, the more you create separate incentives for people in that discipline, the less effective it becomes.

      I definitely think you should keep making the case for relationship building that results in constructive partnerships with audiences. And if it is easier to call it audience development while making that case, fine. But there are lots of organizations who use those words to describe different tasks (again, just like the words “strategic planning”). I think you will keep hearing from many people and organizations that they already do this, and that they call it marketing, or development, or public relations, or programming, or simply, art.

  4. Audience development is about team work, not separation. Part of the difficulty with marketing is it has become a separate function that shouldn’t be. Audience development can bridge the gaps that have occurred.

    Perhaps we are getting hung up on what we call it. I like to call personal relationship building, audience development. Good marketers use audience development and audience development can use marketing. The two hand in hand is the best combination.

    From Financial Dictionary:

    Marketing definition

    The activities of a company associated with buying and selling a product or service. It includes advertising, selling and delivering products to people. People who work in marketing departments of companies try to get the attention of target audiences by using slogans, packaging design, celebrity endorsements and general media exposure. The four ‘Ps’ of marketing are product, place, price and promotion.

    Investopedia Commentary

    Many people believe that marketing is just about advertising or sales. However, marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Even the small tasks like writing thank-you letters, playing golf with a prospective client, returning calls promptly and meeting with a past client for coffee can be thought of as marketing. The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company’s products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensure profitability.
    This is a great definition and commentary. I agree that this is what good marketing should be. However, the bottom line is about products and services, which is a part of art (or nonprofit), but not the entire picture. Do we put on a play simply because it makes us money? Do we help people simply to make money? There is a mission and a heart that goes beyond products and services and this is what audience development is about.

    There is a reason why “audience development” is being used as its own entity. Otherwise, why is this term even being used separately from marketing? We would simply be calling it relationship marketing. I learned about audience development in 2006, and I personally saw the difference. I was not the one who created this term or distinction. There is a sector of us that acknowledge that it is something special and different from marketing, thus we differentiate it by calling it audience development. I have seen first hand how audience development has increased support beyond marketing efforts.

    I will continue working on finding better ways to educate about the distinction as I see it. Audience development is still fairly new (more so in the U.S.), and we are all exploring what it can be and do. I am grateful you have given me the opportunity to explore even further.

    • That’s fine. I’m really not trying to argue about what you do. I’m just insisting that marketing is wider and broader than how I hear you describing it. In the consumer goods industries, product development is part of marketing. Finding the right match between a product and a customer is a major task that is sometimes best completed by working on both sides.

      Of course, in the arts we would hate to think that marketing has any say in the product, but that is because we have an unfortunately narrow and mercantile view of marketing. I think that when a playwright or director reaches out to a group of kids to collaborate on developing a new work, THAT is also marketing. It connects the customers in the market (the audience, the kids) with the product (the play) and results in a product that is going to be more valuable to the customers in the market. This is certainly marketing in my book, even though we would rarely admit this in the arts.

  5. Aaron, you are touching on something here. Marketing can be more, and there is a definition of marketing that right now might be binding it from being more. Could marketing be evolving and could it be heading towards becoming something more like “audience development?” Audience development certainly is a term that was, well, developed since it goes beyond the definition of marketing. People can view marketing as something more beyond the definition and still call it marketing, but others may actually term it something new like audience development. Ah-ha moment!

    I guess the main difference I see is that the reaching out to the group of kids to collaborate on developing a new work is not about selling tickets, products, services, it is about getting them involved with the art, which is audience development to me.

    Thanks again, Aaron. I really enjoyed this conversation! I have learned something new too. The main thing is my belief is now stronger that we need to evolve past terms and definition and focus more on what really matters to all of us, healthier arts (artists and organizations)!

    • Yeah, you’re right. We need to focus on getting the work done more than arguing about terms. Says the guy arguing about terms. I’m from a more corporate/MBA perspective of marketing, where the marketing department really runs more of the process than it does in the arts. Thanks for the conversation.

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