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Genuinely engaging your audience is a critical part of sales enablement and content marketing.

Messing that up is what gives Sales a bad reputation. And that Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad energy is why I was inspired to write this series.

Your website copy and blog posts are not meant solely for a search engine algorithm.

Believe it or not, you do want actual humans to read and engage with your words, images, and videos. Ann Handley shared a raw story about her first diary in a recent edition of">Total Annarchy, her newsletter, and it underlines this idea: What's the point of writing if no one reads it?

And if the point of writing is an audience for those words, then let's learn from an industry that is audience-obsessed.

The performing arts don't exist without an audience. The art form is designed to be performed with audiences of more than one person experiencing the same thing at the same time. It's communal. It's live.

It's a great example of why personas amount to only one snapshot that can in no way encompass every member of your audience in all their rich individual detail.

The likelihood of all your website visitors' fitting within the confines of your customer persona or ideal customer profile (ICP) is low—even if you've developed multiple personas or profiles!

Personas are a directional hint for marketing to remember their audience. ICPs are a filtering mechanism for sales to focus on one segment at a time.

Audiences are a rich and layered quilt composed of individual people. They are not a monolith. Just look at Hamilton: It was loved by politicians, history buffs, and music theater lovers alike.

The thing that is amazing about marketing is that you get all kinds of feedback from your audience—if you know where to search.

Feedback is your audience's gift to you

Live theater performances provide nearly incessant and instantaneous feedback loops between the audience and the performers.


From the performers' point of view, they are noticing...

  • Laughs
  • Gasps
  • Yawns
  • Gapes
  • Squirming
  • Active whispering
  • People pulling their phone out of their pocket (you merely thought you were being subtle)

And all of that while performing!

There are differing philosophies in acting about whether to react to and adjust your performance. A local Shakespeare-focused theater company performed its core summer season outdoors, which meant it had a process in place for actors to automatically react to planes flying overhead with a carefully controlled pause.

As a marketer, you also receive a lot of feedback from your audience. It likely feels less instantaneous, unless you're doing a livestream, but the info is still there:

  • Site visits
  • Time on site and bounce rate
  • Newsletter signups
  • Demos or consults
  • Contact-form fills
  • Social engagement
  • Referral sources
  • Visit logs
  • Lead sources

That valuable information can switch your perspective of your audience from monolith (all of your site visitors) to an understandable segment (people who visit your site from LinkedIn posts).

By digging into those feedback loops, you can better understand which segments of your audience are most engaged and what is engaging them.

That helps you know which content matters. It can also help you know which channels are worth investing time in for promoting your content.

Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable

In the tech space, if you get content placement in Hacker News it can feel like a big win. The referral traffic is huge and effectively instant. But, depending on the content, you could end up with huge bounce rates to go along with your spike in traffic. (Seriously, the discrepancy is wild. If you're curious, I'm happy to do a pairing session, talk about referrals, and swap screen shares of patterns we're observing. Let's collaboratively learn about how to respond to a rapidly changing environment. Join me?)

People who click on a link shared in dark social (private communities on Slack, Discourse, Discord, etc.) or in a more niche newsletter (for us, Ruby Weekly, The Changelog, Ruby Radar, and others) are an engaged audience. They're more likely to give the content a full read because someone they know shared it, or because it's in a newsletter they trust and follow.

By contrast, Hacker News can feel impersonal, leading to a lot of curious clickthroughs but no follow-through.

That tells me I should invest more time in inspiring people to share content with their coworkers or groups they're in. And I shouldn't even bother with trying to get Hacker News placement.

By understanding the audience, I can adjust what I invest in vs. what I reduce investment in. Time is your most valuable resource. Knowing what content brings you more engaged traffic can be huge in streamlining your content strategy.


Paid-ad or boosted content campaigns can provide you with near-instantaneous feedback on select audiences. Separating out campaigns in an ad group by audience can be especially helpful for understanding them in a non-monolith, more specific fashion. Because paid platforms are designed with audience filtering in mind, odds are your audiences in campaigns are more specific than your broader website audience.

That can provide a rich testing ground for determining what messages or content resonate most with certain audience segments. You might be surprised by the overlap of seemingly disparate audience segments who respond positively to the same content but with different points of view.


One of my favorite audiences at the theater where I worked for seven years was for Dracula. There were tween and teen student matinee performances, and the energy was so different from primarily adult audiences in the evenings. You could hear kids screaming from the outer lobbies as well as the basement level walkways underneath the theater.

Public performances for adults were a combination date night and friends outing. There were still screams, but the energy was different: 300 teens screaming in unison vs. adults laughing nervously.

"It's important not to get too comfortable with whatever it is you're doing." —Nicolas Cage

In the spirit of National Treasure: Nicolas Cage by Lindsay Gibb, "Embrace the contradictions." Learn to hold both of those realities in your head at the same time. Your audience is made up of individual humans who all have unique points of view. And perspective is reality.

Analyzing your boosted content campaigns can help you decode energy engagement, especially if you A/B-test the promo copy by adjusting various hooks. It's like a litmus test for whether certain topics actually resonate with an audience segment. Boosting content is often a more efficient buy, and let's be honest: That's nice.

* * *

Over the course of a theater production, the director and actors often fine-tune their performances, especially if it's a new play. And the changes are informed by the instant feedback loops received from the audiences.

You can do the same thing across content and messages by running small, lower-risk boosted content campaigns and organic promotional tests.

More Resources on Audience Engagement

Six Ways to Spice Up Your Marketing Collateral to Quickly Engage Audiences

Niche Marketers, Is Your Customer Engagement Strategy Up-to-Date?

The Missing Piece of Revenue Intelligence: Content Engagement Data

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Audience Engagement: What the Performing Arts Can Teach Marketers

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image of Cathy Colliver

Cathy Colliver is the marketing director at Test Double, a software consulting agency. She loves simplifying challenges, and her marketing career spans five industries. Cathy volunteers in arts and education.

LinkedIn: Cathy Colliver

Twitter: @CathyColliver

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