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Why All Ecommerce Businesses Need an Owned Audience

Posted by Sam Schrup | May 26, 2021

Building an audience is hugely important for any business.

Your regular audience is where you develop loyal customers, repeat business and hopefully, referrals of new customers as well.

As an ecommerce business, you invest a lot of time and money into building an audience in the first place. It’s one of the crucial steps to making your business visible among the thousands of others online. That’s why it’s important that you’re able to keep your audience following those efforts.

An owned audience is one way you can have more control or say over your messaging and your customer experience. Here’s why you need to build one:

What is an owned audience?

First of all, let’s define different types of audiences that you probably have already:

  1. Unowned audience. Do you have followers on Facebook or other social media channels? They might engage with your business and like your posts, but you still don’t own the audience - the third party platform does.
  2. Temporary audience. If you use cookies or pixels for remarketing campaigns, the audience you gather is always for a set window of time. Your goal should always be to convert them over to owned or unowned (preferably owned), before the time is up.
  3. Owned audience. This is an audience you can directly contact because you’ve gathered their key data (such as email addresses, phone numbers or physical addresses). You don’t have to rely on any third party (such as social media channels) to contact them because with the data you have, you can utilize different options for making contact.

Of these three types of audience, you can see how having an owned audience gives you more choices. From our perspective, if you’ve invested time and money into building an audience, it’s worth owning the data rather than relying on a third party (or losing it altogether when your pixel expires).

What are the benefits of an owned audience?

Let’s start with an example: have you noticed how challenging it has become to gain any organic reach on social media? The social media platforms have been operating a “pay to play” environment for business owners, meaning that they have deliberately reduced organic reach on posts. They want you to spend on paid advertising!

Do you have to spend money on an owned audience? Well, yes and no. For example, you can gather email addresses onto a list via a signup form on your website, allowing you to email whenever you like. You’ll just pay any fees associated with your email platform.

The same can be said for text marketing. You can gather phone numbers via some kind of free means, you’ll just pay for sending out text messages.

So that was straight to the “bottom line,” but what are other benefits of an owned audience? Reaching a true target audience is one. If someone has opted in and given you their phone number or email address, there’s a very good chance they’re part of your target market. On social media, you can often set parameters for targeting paid ads, but you still won’t be completely certain you’re reaching the right people. Some might be completely missed, whereas with owned audience methods, you’ll at least get to their inbox, text messages or mail box.

Another benefit is that you can avoid potential problems from major changes because you still have the means to contact your audience. Here’s an example – did you know third-party cookies are on their way out? There has been a trend toward ad blockers and other means of preventing advertisers from gathering data for years. This is coming to fruition with Google announcing the phasing out of cookies and introducing GA4 - their new analytics package which uses AI technology to predict behaviors rather than relying on data from cookies. While they may still be around for a little while, the signs are pointing to limited days for those “temporary audiences” which you can remarket to.

Algorithm shifts are another example, and play a big role in why businesses have less organic reach on social media. An algorithm shift won’t impact your ability to send out text marketing messages, for example.

You can also use your owned audience to do better on social media. For example, you can target lookalike audiences on social media, in the hopes of driving them to become part of your owned audience. It’s a vehicle you can use to help your business grow.

What can happen when you don’t have an owned audience?

Have you heard the expression in digital marketing about “building your house on someone else’s land?” This is one point which we’ll look at further, but it’s analogous to how you can run a risk of losing what you’ve built. If a house sits on someone else’s land, they can choose to make changes or perhaps sell the land. They can make rules about what is allowed on their land, and all of that can impact how you operate.

In digital marketing, we refer to this scenario as “platform risk.” When someone else owns the platform, they get to make all of the rules, leaving you vulnerable to things like algorithm changes. They can also restrict the types of things you’re allowed to market – if you happen to sell surveillance equipment, that’s not allowed in a Facebook advertisement. You can still market to someone who has opted in to your text or email list though.

It’s not that you don’t have rules to follow for email and text marketing - you do. For example, getting people to opt-in is a must for texts and a best practice for email. Too many spam reports for either can get you banned by the platform you are using.

However, you still have more control over your reach than you do with an unowned audience, and that’s the bottom-line risk of not owning your audience. Your reach could be crippled at any time.

How can you build an owned audience?

There are a number of things you can do to build an owned audience - they start with having the mechanism to collect key data on your customers. At the very least, you should have a good email tool and a list created to collect email addresses. Of course, we strongly advocate for building a text list too! To do this, you need a text marketing platform.

The next thing needed is a mechanism (or several) by which your audience can opt in to your list. For example:

  • Have pop-up or fixed opt-in forms on your website.
  • Have an offer associated with signing up - e.g. a special coupon.
  • Drive traffic to a landing page to opt in from your social media or from PPC ads.
  • Harness the power of SEO via the content on your website. Have opt-ins on any piece of content that people are getting to via search.
  • Have a referral program that encourages your customers to refer their friends.

Final thoughts

Having an owned audience is essential for all ecommerce businesses because it gives you more options and more control over how you can reach people. No matter what happens, you still own that audience as long as you maintain their contact details. That’s not the case for third-party, unowned audiences.

Text and email are two essential channels for communicating with owned audiences. (Check out why “reply to buy” is the best thing in text marketing here!). Take control of your messaging and build your own audience.

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