1 million followers vs 10 million followers

The value of your minimal audience

Engaged audience
  • Would you rather have 1 million followers or 10 million followers? This is not a trick question: there is a right answer and a wrong answer. If you automatically said 10 million, my strategy is probably not for you, and you should find something else to read. If you stopped to think about it and realised that 1 million right people are more valuable than 10 million wrong people, you got the correct answer. Read on.


For a long time I’ve been concerned about businesses that blindly chase numbers, obsessing about how many followers/customers/sales they have without ever stopping to think what those numbers mean. Then I had a chat with author Seth Godin and was relieved to discover that I’m not the only person who thinks mad number chasing is the wrong strategy.


In the greater scheme of things, your million followers may be a drop in the ocean, but if they all want to be there, they are your whole ocean. Think of this as your minimal viable audience, a strategy that advocates focusing your marketing energy on a mindset rather than an arbitrary number.


This is not about demographics; it’s about your tribe. Say you’re selling red shoes, and only red shoes. The people who like them are anywhere and everywhere. They cross the generations, the country, and the pronouns, making the old-fashioned demographics redundant. Instead, what you have is your tribe in all their varied glory. The value of your tribe is not so much its size but, more importantly, the fact that it becomes your community of evangelists. Your tribe are the people all on the same journey looking for what it is your product aims to achieve. Organising them distinguishes you and helps those who care about your vision to have a place where they can belong. 


Key to this strategy is to forget about trying to change the minds of the people who want blue shoes and focus only on those who love your red shoes. Believe me, they are out there. In fact, you’re more likely to find a tribe that already exists than you are to build a brand new tribe.


No brand sets out to make an average product for an average person, yet that’s what the brand chasing 10 million followers is doing. Successful brands set out to serve the tribe who want and like what they have to offer. Starbucks started by selling a certain kind of coffee to a certain type of coffee-lover. Nike set out to make specialist trainers for athletes who saw the difference in what they were doing. These brands focused on the product, and the people who liked it came to them. To this day, half of the US population doesn’t like Starbucks but the company has an enormous existing tribe.


Your job as a marketer is to put your red shoes out there and then organise and connect the people who like them. When you stop chasing everyone else, you use your time and marketing budget much more intelligently than if you chase the whole world.   


One of the benefits of this strategy is that the noise level is manageable. Modern marketing channels are so crowded, offering an endless free smorgasbord that has everyone piling their plates as high as they can go. The problem with piling your plate too high is that you can’t find the caviar because your plate is chaos, and there’s too much else in the way. If you put less on your plate and take only what you really want, you get to enjoy the smorgasbord. This is how to think about your tribe.

When you’re not arbitrarily posting on all the social media channels 10 times a day but rather focusing on horizontal conversations with people who care about what you have to say, you’re going to be heard, and you’re not going to be competing with all the top-down shouting that everyone else is doing. This is the way to create the conditions that enable your tribe to tell others about your product – and they will.


The most successful brands today are not built on major advertising campaigns. They are built with the network effect, by word of mouth and direct interaction. Remarkability works. Successful agencies are good storytellers who tell their clients’ stories to the right audience and at intelligently spaced frequencies. Advertising is not the answer. The product is the answer and it must become the story.


This article was published in Mail & Guardian

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