The 7 Pillars of Audience-focus

Andrew McIntyre describes the 7 pillars of Audience-focus and how to identify if your organization is driven by product, marketing or audiences. 

Read Andrew's article in full, including advice for applying the 7-Pillars to improve your organization's Audience-focus, here

Our sector is hurting, our colleagues’ jobs are in the balance and our organizations face uncertain financial futures. What we do next is going to shape the sector for the next decade. So, rather than looking backwards in an effort to re-create the way we were, this crisis presents us with a unique opportunity to take a leap forwards.

The 7 Pillars of Audience-focus is a framework to help us do that. 

Pillar 1: Vision-led

Product-focused organizations envision their own excellence as an end in itself. 
Marketing-focused organizations claim ownership of territory, types of content, and market position. 

But, Audience-focused organizations articulate a proper Cause. They believe what they do enriches and transforms people’s lives and makes society more equitable. They invite the audience to be stakeholders and make common cause.

Pillar 2: Outcome-oriented

Product-focused organizations are not concerned with outcomes for audiences. 
Marketing-focused organizations pay attention to outputs like visitation, ticket sales, retail, food & beverage income, visitor satisfaction, brand awareness and market share – rather than outcomes like the difference they make to audiences and communities. 

 But, Audience-focused organizations measure success in three ways. First, by how deeply audiences engage. Secondly by the social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs that engagement meets. And finally, by the difference the institution makes to society and the world.

Pillar 3: Interdisciplinary

In Product-focused organizations, the program is ordained by a priesthood of content experts and delivered by downstream functional departments, each operating as a siloed hierarchy that stays in its own lane.

In Marketing-focused organizations, money talks and responsibility for earned income gives marketers a seat at the table. But, instead of a team, this often creates a stand-off between programming ambition and the anxiety that it won’t sell.

In Audience-focused organizations, programs and projects are delivered by interdisciplinary teams of all the talents, valuing expertise but breaking down silos and setting aside hierarchies. It becomes everyone’s job to understand, think about and respond to the needs of audiences. Rather than rely on fickle ‘push’ sales, they build solid demand.

Pillar 4: Brand DNA-driven

Product-focused organizations distrust the whole idea of Brand, but jealously guard their reputation.

In Marketing-focused organizations, the Brand is owned, controlled (and often policed) by marketing. The logo’s now a visual identity complete with tone of voice. There’s usually a brand model (circles and pyramids are popular) listing out brand values, attributes, benefits, personality traits, positioning and propositions. Despite all this, internal adoption (compliance) is often patchy.

But, in an Audience-focused organization, Brand belongs to everyone and is fully understood to be the DNA that informs every aspect of their work. It’s the Essence of who they are and what they own, the Belief that fuels their commitment and the Cause they’re serving.

Pillar 5: Meaningfully-segmented

Product-focused organizations have no real need for segmentation: you either come or you don’t. 

Marketing-focused organizations need to categorize existing audiences to push ticket sales and prospect for more of the same to push the unsold tickets. But, ‘past-behaviour’ segments just lock people into narrow patterns, while demographic segments usually just tell us where old, white, affluent people live. There’s been an attempt to jazz this up, combining postal zip codes with ticketing and survey data, in a futile attempt to auto-predict (guess) audience mindsets. But the data science used to sell refrigerators simply doesn’t illuminate people’s engagement with culture. 

Audience-focused organizations have swapped these fumbling demographics for powerful, reliable psychographics. Segments are based on the deep-seated values, needs and motivations that frame how people actually engage and respond. It gives staff and teams a common language across programming, experience design, communications and everything in between.

Pillar 6: Insight-guided

The Product-focused organization has no need for audience insight. Nor has it any intention of being ‘guided’ by it.

The Marketing-focused organization needs to gather a raft of audience metrics to report against its many output targets. Big on quantification, there’s often great detail on the who, what, where, when and how many, but far less on the more important why and how.

In contrast, the Audience-focused organization is fascinated with what makes the audience tick. Rather than counting heads, they want to know what’s going on inside those heads. Instead of the high-level findings that ‘big data’ may offer, they get far more personal, collecting much richer, deep data, revealing insight that can illuminate every aspect of audience engagement. All staff use this insight: it’s the life-blood of the organization.

Pillar 7: Interactively-engaged

The Product-focused organization prioritises relationships with its peers and with a select core of well-connected insiders.

To the Marketing-focused organization, audience members are principally consumers, so the default mode is one-way, downward, ‘push’ marketing, with a side-helping of social media.

But, the Audience-focused organization seeks a continuous two-way exchange. It engages audiences with artists and experts, co-creating content and building community around the institution. It pursues external partnerships to extend resources and relationships with the wider community, especially those with the least access. It builds trust, earns brand equity and grows social capital.


A co-founder of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, Andrew is one of the UK’s leading authorities on...

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