Build your audience like your life depended on it

Welcome to Community Week on {grow} as we feature thought-provoking, original thinking from our community members. First up is  Jamie Lee Wallace, who helped me with an outstanding ROI and measurement blog series last summer …

Your business’ survival depends on your ability to build, retain, and convert an audience. Sounds simple, but the marketplace is full of distractions and prospects can be a fickle bunch.

Today’s lesson comes straight from the streets. Not the mean streets of B2B Marketing, but the cobbled streets around Boston’s Faneuil Hall where I watched a couple pros demonstrate how to get the job done in under twenty minutes.  David and Tobin are street performers and they hustle. They have to capture the attention moving targets, turn them into fans, and get them to open their wallets.

Watch and learn, people.

Step 1: Build Your Inner Circle

Before the show started, the guys made a big deal setting up their “stage” (a red rope on the ground), and arranging all their props. The minute anyone got curious and paused, David or Tobin would engage them in light banter. No big sell, no big deal – just an acknowledgment, a smile, or a quick joke. Sometimes, they’d ask the passerby to lend a hand, thus making them part of the team, or “Inner Circle.” Nine times out of ten, these people stuck around for the show.

Lesson: Don’t wait until the curtain’s about to go up. Engage your audience immediately. Build your Inner Circle. These are the people who will be your first audience members.

Step 2: Create Excitement

Once the stage was set, the guys started warming up in earnest with a few flips. The fast movement caught the eye of a few more passersby, but they usually kept walking. Here’s where that Inner Circle came into play. The guys asked those of us who were lingering to “step right up.” They drew us in tight and close. No longer just a bunch of scattered individuals, we were now a cohesive group – an audience. Now they had us make some noise. David and Toby instructed us, in a conspiratorial whisper, to whoop and holler when they announced the beginning of the show. They were completely transparent about this, saying, “If you make a lot of noise, everyone will think something really exciting is about to happen, and they’ll all come running.”

Lesson: Use your Inner Circle to build a bigger audience through social proof, word-of-mouth, and testimonials. Be clear about wanting their help and make it easy for them to step up.

Step 3: Make the Audience Part of the Show

Audience rapport is critical to conversion. An audience is just a bunch of onlookers until you make them part of the experience. David and Tobin did this by “letting us in on the joke,” pulling people from the audience to assist or even be a “star,” and keeping their banter very personal and “localized.” They weren’t tossing out canned jokes, they were riffing on what was happening in the moment with the people who were in the audience.

Lesson: Create an interaction that is genuine, personal, and relevant. Don’t be afraid to let people participate. Build trust by listening closely and adapting based on what you hear.

Step 4: Ask for the Sale

You’ve created an audience and turned them into fans, now – and only now – can you ask for the sale. David and Tobin asked for our support while balanced some forty feet up in the air on a ladder that was held steady by four audience volunteers. They explained that street performing is how they make their living. They asked if we’d had a good time and what we thought the show was worth. They joked about how they’d never gotten a $20 tip before. Without pulling out the guilt card (too much), they presented their bid for compensation. Then they added the “dare” with the $20 comment. I gave them $10 – the most I’ve ever given a street performer.

Lesson: It pays to ask, and once you’ve established a good rapport, it’s much easier to make your case and get the results you want.

Bonus Tips

David and Tobin’s act leveraged two other important, Big Idea tactics: offering entertainment and giving it away for free. As Mark has said, people want to be entertained . (Granted, street performing is entertainment, but you get the idea.) The giving-it-away strategy is explained well in David Meerman Scott’s book, World Wide Rave. Sometimes, to make money, you have to put stuff out there with no strings attached.

So, there you have it. Four simple steps to build, retain, and convert your audience. Do you leverage any of these strategies in your marketing? What could you do more of?

This post was inspired by David Graham and Tobin Renwick of the “acro-juggling” act, “The Flash.” You can catch them doing their acrobatic-juggling-comedy thing from Nevada to Scotland to Australia.

Jamie Lee Wallace provides full-service and DIY marketing solutions to entrepreneurs, start-ups, and creative types. Visit her at

Illustration: Acro juggling

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  • Oh goodness, I absolutely LOVE this analogy. In social media, it’s often the case that you’re starting from scratch. I think you’re right to encourage community-building before “the show” because sometimes launching a community with a contest or campaign just doesn’t work.

    The only thing I could possibly think to add is to be sure to still have set goals and direction in mind before diving in. A firm strategy does not need to be absolutely set in stone, but you should never just dive in for the sake of diving in.

  • Great stuff, Jamie! I love how you shared this story to illustrate your point. It truly is an art to accomplish what talented street performers can do. Businesses sure could learn a lot from this. It’s time to create some excitement!

  • @Laura – “Excitement” is key and sounds so much bigger and better than plain, old “engagement,” doesn’t it? 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by & for taking the time to leave a comment. Have a great weekend!

  • Jamie,

    This is brilliant stuff. The lessons learned “straight from the street” are great advice and I wouldn’t have seen the parallels without you recognizing them and sharing it here.

    It helps to step back from the obvious B2B Marketing tasks at hand and see things with a fresh perspective. Thanks to you and the street performers for some helpful and refreshing lessons.

  • @Billy – 🙂
    Yes, I am a marketing geek – I see those parallels in everything … street performers, forests, beaches, and sometimes my Cheerios. It’s kind of like those sightings of Elvis on toast and potato chips. 😉

    In all seriousness, though, you make a great point about fresh perspectives. Some of my most successful work has been accomplished by taking the tired-and-true from one industry or niche and applying it to another. It’s easy to get stuck in the routine of what-everybody-else-does … but you can make magic if you mix things up a little by putting that fresh perspective to work.

    TKS, as always, for your input. Have a great weekend!

  • Great stuff! You make a lot of great points, particularly “Make the Audience Part of the Show”. Today’s marketing is really a lot about getting your clients/potentials to be part of the process.

  • @Bryan – You’ve hit the nail on the head, as the cliched saying goes.

    When you make your customers part of your team, your posse, your tribe … they no longer feel like they are being sold, they are simply supporting a shared cause. That was the feeling with David and Tobin … we ceased being detached onlookers and became friends enjoying an inside joke.
    All in 20 minutes. Wow.
    TKS for stopping by! 🙂

  • Jamie – what a fantastic way to put forward critical factors in a comprehensible way.

    I’ve attended a few Buskerfests over the years and can attest to the illuminating sense of power one can feel after being in the company of such energy and passion for a period of time. It’s very contagious – and you leave feeling like you’d do almost anything to pass the feeling on to another.

    I have given $20 to street performers before. Not always – but those who shift my own energy or perception of my day in the time I’m with them have earned it, I think. (As well, I’ve had my two daughters with me, and I figure 40 or more minutes of enjoyable entertainment for three people is worth a $20 spend.)

    Great waiters/waitresses inspire the same feelings of generosity within me – as do great teachers, great service professionals, great anyone who invests themselves wholly in what they’re engaged in ~ with a view to ensuring my experience is memorable, too.

    Thank you for this. I’m so glad you Guest Blogged for Mark!

  • @Sally G – Thanks for the note & for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am also inspired by people who give their all – with honest enthusiasm – even when others might consider the task at hand menial or mundane. My beau and I recently vacationed in Acadia & were both marveling at how attentive, engaging, and friendly the various staff were. From bartenders to kayak tour guides, these people were loving what they were doing & sharing that love with their customers. It made the experiences (on both sides) SO much more fun and fulfilling. Those “front line” employees are CRITICAL to a business’s success. THEY are the touch point that makes or breaks customer satisfaction.

    Thanks again & see you on Twitter & your blog (just RSS’d) 🙂

  • Jamie.. interesting part of it is that sometimes it IS, quite often, the FIRE! and SPLASH! that attracts people to us but if we don’t have conversation and substance, they’ll never stay (or tip us in this instance). As most of us learned in high school, if you don’t have some brains, all the beauty in the world won’t help you 😉
    Great piece!

  • Jamie – LOVE this parallel. Thank you so much for sharing. We – as consumers – crave an *experience* so why shouldn’t we as business owners look for opportunities to create memorable experiences for our clients, vendors and employees?

    Each of these groups are our “inner circles,” as you described, and will become our greatest assets as we redefine our environments and how we interact with the people on whom we all depend for our success.

  • Jamie- One thing I love about this post is that it uses strong marketing ideas from an artsy, eclectic duo who are clearly miles away from the corporate world and yet the marketing strategies mentioned within the story have major potential for use in the corporate world.

    (Although I find a lot of CEOs are still struggling with moving in said direction)

    “When you make your customers part of your team, your posse, your tribe … they no longer feel like they are being sold”

    Love this quote. So true.

  • @Kristen – Another great point … you need the “splash” for the initial draw, but if you can’t back up your big entrance, it’ll all be for naught.

    @Arminda – You guys are just rolling in insightful observations. 🙂
    YES – I think B2B can learn a lot from B2C in the realm of customer service. When you get down to brass tacks, you’re always trying to connect to a person – whether it’s consumer or B2B. The experience counts.

    @Nathan – 🙂 Yessir. Maybe some of those CEOs should walk the walk of that over-used “thinking outside the box” concept. It can be very effective, and – as a bonus – fun! Glad you like the quote.

    THANKS to everyone who’s visited and commented so far today. I’m so glad to be able to hold down my little part of the fort for Mark & think that the {grow} community is hands down one of the best in the space – smart, caring, engaged people who are generous with their time, knowledge, and friendship.

    I’m off to get fried clams with my daughter. Will be back in a bit.
    Thank you.

  • Nicely done! I love your presentation and the comparison. Those are great tips. I like the tip to start from your inner circle. That applies well to businesses, who usually do have a circle to start with, but may not remember to use them. And I love “make the audience part of the show,” because that’s what it’s all about in social media. The other piece is, of course, to make it fun. Just like your post made it fun as well as informative.

    Thanks for such a great write-up!

  • @Neicole – I’m so glad you found the post “fun.” That IS the point. 🙂 As Mark has said in previous posts, if you can educate and entertain all at once, you’re golden. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Gini Dietrich

    LOVE! I see so many people who have something big to sell or even announce and get frustrated because no one cares. No one cares about you until you care about them first. I sometimes want to shake my friends and say, “You’ve given them no reason to care!”

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  • Jamie…
    First – loved the real life story (how did you manage that photo?)

    Your Lessons are so true, and valid for all of us who are consultants – even outside of Social Media! My line of biz lends itself very much to word of mouth, and Lesson 2 works…

  • @Gini – Exactly. It’s not that people are thinking, “Why should I care? What have you done for me?” It’s more like you want to give them a reason to be thinking, “Wow. That was really nice. I’d like to return the favor somehow.”

    @George – 🙂 Real Life story, but I can’t take credit for that image. I pulled that from their Web site. Here, however, is one of my pics from the day:

    I agree that lesson #2 is very effective. I think it’s one people miss out on quite frequently because they are so wrapped up in getting everything “perfect” before they pull back the curtain. Much better to invite people backstage. 😉

    TKS for the comments, guys!

  • @Rebecca (way up there at the top!) – So sorry I missed your comment when you first put it up. Another great point from the {grow} community – making sure you have some kind of a plan in place … with goals. Though I agree it shouldn’t be written in stone (everything moves so fast these days, and you must be able to adapt!), you should have an idea of where you’re headed. In the case of David and Tobin, they’ve got their act down cold & then they get to have fun customizing it for each audience and location.

  • Jamie, I really enjoyed this piece and the connection you have made between the experience and the sale. The inner circle concept particularly struck me, since once something is walled off it often becomes more desirable. Now I’m thinking about ways to include the audience into my own show 🙂

  • @Mike Ward – That’s a great way to encapsulate the post – “the connection between the experience and the sale.” We are emotional beings and – no matter what some people may say about the left-brained side of things – our emotions to impact our decisions … even business ones. 😉

  • Awesome analogy! Excitement breeds even more excitement and, really, you don’t have to look any further than this blog for another example. It might be just me, but don’t you get the same feeling as if your parents left on a getaway and you had the house all to yourself?

  • @Johnny – HA! Yes, I do. But I still can’t wait for “dad” to get home. 😉

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