Better Marketing

Highly Opted-in Audiences

There's a new model emerging that eschews the traditional transactional opt-in arrangement. I think it's for the better.

Typical subscription businesses exist to give you more of what you’ve already received. They can’t easily alter the deal. 

This is because they’ve only got transactional opt-in. The buyers and sellers came to an agreement with pre-defined terms — for this amount of money you’ll send me this thing at these intervals. 

That’s pretty much the definition of doing things the way they’ve always been done. 

I’m seeing the outlines of a new model emerge, and I couldn’t be more excited. 

If you’re able to earn a highly opted-in audience you can do almost anything. Most importantly, you can take risks. You can try something new and you can invest in things that don’t have a clear path to market.

The hard part is doing something that’s worth supporting. It’s different than doing something that’s worth buying. 

I spent the better part of a decade doing SEO for a major online news company, and I’ve seen the shifts in the scenery. Larger publishers, made up of lots of individual voices, are beginning to feel real competition from those individual voices once they become independent creators. 

The shift though, is larger than just migration. It’s an ideological change in the way that the work is created and monetized. The same people are writing new stories for smaller segments of the same audience. 

They’re getting paid today for the work they’ll do tomorrow because their highly opted-in supporters believe that it’s important and they trust the creator to make something worth seeing. 

For these creators, the financial incentive rests on the quality of the content. They’re incentivized to make the content as good as they possibly can. 

For those traditional publishers, the value rests on the size and characteristics of their audience. They’re incentivized to do whatever brings them more people. Sometimes that’s higher quality content, but beyond a certain point there’s a very real law of diminishing returns. Great content is expensive and the game they’re playing is largely one of scale.  

The bigger picture takeaway is that if you want to do great work you probably don’t need permission anymore. You don’t need to get picked by a publisher. You don’t need to write a winning proposal. 

You just need to figure out how to get others to support your vision. You need to earn the trust of a highly opted-in audience. 

The good news is that you can start today by figuring out what you stand for. The bad news is that it’s hard to define yourself so clearly — and that’s what stands between you and your customers.

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